Note: This article describes one of the four ON short talks on theology and economics designed to be used as class assignments.
Creation in God’s image is one of the most profound ideas in the Bible. The Oikonomia Network is pleased to offer a new resource that will help your Old Testament or systematic theology students explore this idea more fully – and see its applications in real life.
God’s image provides indispensable context for the gospel, but we haven’t fully grasped the image of God if we only cite it to establish human culpability and then rush on to redemption. The image of God structures every area of human life. In particular, the personal identity and social nature provided by the image of God reveal to us the critical importance of work and economic activity: We were created to work together as stewards of God’s oikonomia of all things.
In this moving talk, “Creation and Economics,” Evangelical Theological Society Executive Director Michael Thigpen describes how, working in a bank, he encountered:
- A bank employee living in fear because she hadn’t filed taxes in a decade
- A successful manager who felt he was “dying” inside
- His own sense of vocational frustration
Thigpen unfolds how the Genesis account of creation in God’s image points the way to a Christian understanding of why these and other economic problems are so important, and how God brings healing and restoration into this area of life.
Below is a brief outline of the talk. We hope you will find this a useful tool to help your students see the importance of structuring all of life according to our identity and purpose in the image of God!
Why was I so frustrated when an unplanned career was successful? Why was my sense of identity so tied to the source of my income? As I’ve considered these questions and more, I’ve come to conclude that my occupational angst was rooted in a misunderstanding of my identity.
If we are looking to understand our identity, there’s no better place to start than with creation. So for the next few minutes, let’s examine three connections between our creation and our economic activity.
First Connection: Our economic activities flow directly from our identity.
To understand the relationship between our identity and economic activities we have to understand the grammar of Gen 1:26. “Let them have dominion” is best understood as a purpose clause. In other words, “Let us make man in our image so that they may have dominion . . .”
The language of being made in God’s image supports the necessary connection between identity and economic function. As ones made in his image and likeness, we are like him as a son is like his father, and we represent him as a crown prince represents the king as he administers the kingdom. We clearly see the relationship between identity and economic activity illustrated in Adam’s life in the garden…
Like Adam, Sarah, a young woman I worked with at the bank, understood the inherent connection between economic activity and identity. She came to me one day, clearly distraught, and asked if we could talk. Sarah confided that she had not filed taxes for nearly a decade. She lived each day in the fear that her career in banking would be ended by a tax conviction, and that she might lose her home. But more than those horrible outcomes, she was afraid of what her son would think about her if he found out. That thought drove her to reach out for help. So what happened to Sarah? She contacted the IRS and with the help of an accountant, she filed her past taxes and paid her fines and penalties. Oh, and she found out after all that, she was still due a refund. Most importantly though, she told her son what she had done so he would better understand who she was and who she wanted him to be.
So what’s the relationship between your economic activity and your identity?
Second Connection: Our economic activity is worship.
Intentional word choices in the text indicate that we should understand Adam’s work as worship. Adam was placed, literally “caused to rest,” by God in the garden in order to work and keep it… Adam’s work is his intentional, reverential response to God’s provision and a pointer forward to later work and worship.
But not all work and not all worship is flourishing. False worship is consistently described in work language…We are the work of God’s hands, his economic activity as it were. Our economic product is called “the work of our hands.” But idols are also the “work of our hands.” When work ceases to be done within the framework of our identity, our creation in the image of God, we direct our worship to our economic output, whether literal idols or vocation, resources, or social standing.
David worked harder than anyone at his office. He was not only eager, he was good. Consistently outshining his fellow salesmen, David quickly climbed the corporate ladder and soon found himself a vice-president. The requisite trappings of his new position came quickly – a beautiful wife who was a skilled hostess, a home in an upscale community, and memberships at the right clubs. The predictable problems, though, were not far behind. His beautiful wife was not quite beautiful enough. His suggestions of surgery to make her perfect haunted his imagination and their relationship. His house was nice, but the most recent remodeling job at his manager’s home gave him a glimpse of what it would take to salvage his place.
David never failed at work. His career stayed on the right path, but the houses, cars, and wives never quite seemed to satisfy. David would remark often to his friends that he felt like he was dying. Most of them couldn’t understand. He was, after all, so successful.
Work is worship, and true worship distinguishes flourishing from mere prosperity. So is your work an intentional, reverential act in response to God’s gracious provision?
Third connection: God intends a flourishing society, not just flourishing individuals.
Humanity is commanded in Gen 1:28 to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth. But to be fruitful and multiply…husband and wife must form the most basic unit of society…The natural implication of the creation command is that a flourishing society, not just flourishing individuals, is to be formed.
I know some of you are thinking, that’s right, but only in the garden, only before the fall. After the fall, God’s focus is on the flourishing of his people…After the fall, God still intends for humanity to flourish, but they would need to be led to flourishing; it would no longer come naturally. God focused his redemptive work in Israel, the family of Abraham, and through Israel, God continued to demonstrate his intention for humanity to flourish.
The same idea of God creating a flourishing community to represent him in the fallen world is in place in the New Testament…Jesus and Paul teach that we are ambassadors. We are citizens of heaven living in communities on earth, earnestly representing God and his flourishing society, the kingdom of God.
Being made in his image, every facet of our lives is informed by our connection to God, and every facet of our lives reflects him to the world around us. Through our economic activity—our work, our cultivation and use of the resources he provides, our participation in our communities—we exercise his reign in our lives so that the world around us, both the church and society in general, might flourish to his glory and praise.