Human beings are a very late arrival on the scene, but they are no afterthought; Homo sapiens is the climax of God’s creative work, and its completion. Biologically we are part of the animal kingdom, created on Day 6, but we are also unique; God takes a special interest in us!
“Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule…” (Genesis 1:26)
What is God doing here? The world is to be His dwelling-place, His temple, where He is to be worshipped. This perhaps explains why the creation takes seven days: the timescale for building God’s Temple is always measured in sevens (seven months to make the Tabernacle at Mount Sinai, and seven years to build Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem). And just as all ancient temples had an image of the deity in them, so too does this one – but it’s a totally different kind of image!
What is it about us that constitutes “God’s image”? Obviously not our physical appearance (because God is spirit and has no form), nor our intelligence (many other species of animal have a measure of intelligence). Although difficult to define, we recognise that there is a qualitative distinction between us and even the closest of our primate relatives. We have a capacity for abstract thought, a sense of morality, and the ability (and the responsibility) to make moral choices. In a small way, we are actually like God…
So here we are, representatives on earth of the God who made it. And we have a commission: to rule the earth as His stewards, and to oversee its future development. “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:28) Incidentally, the fact the earth needed ‘subduing’ suggests that there were indeed some aspects of God’s creation that were less than ideal – even, perhaps, unruly!
This is our great privilege – but also a great responsibility, for the world still belongs to God, and we are accountable to Him for how we manage it.