cathedra“By putting male and female together as the image of God, there’s something very powerful being said about the rest of creation… about how the male and female together have the task of bringing the love and life and stewardship and care of creation of God into the rest of the world.” –N.T. Wright

Christians believe that all humans are created in the image of God, a notion that shapes our understanding of human dignity and transforms our view of human destiny. In Genesis 1, God pairs this truth with his command to “be fruitful and multiply” and to “replenish the earth,” showing us how bearing his likeness points toward a particular kind of service and stewardship.

Yet for as much as we focus on the general reality of all this, how often do we consider that other part: “male and female he created them”? God created two distinct sexes to reflect his image — to work alongside and complement each other in enacting his purposes throughout the earth in divine unity. What does this imply for our approach to dominion and whole-life stewardship, and if we fail to recognize it, as the broader culture seems inclined to do, what might we miss?

In a video series for the recent Humanum event, an inter-faith conference on marriage and family, these questions are explored at length, beginning with a stunning introductory episode on the meaning of marriage and its importance for human destiny.

As N.T. Wright makes clear around 12:50, God created man and woman together to display his image and likeness, to serve as a symbol of our Creator, and in doing so, to bring “the love and life and stewardship and care of creation of God into the rest of the world.”

In the very first chapter of The Christian Family, Herman Bavinck also lays his foundation on this very point, noting how God’s design for humanity — as man and woman — tells us something profound about his design for all else.

Christian Family, Herman BavinckGod is the Creator of the human being, and simultaneously also the Inaugurator of sex and of sexual difference. This difference did not result from sin; it existed from the very beginning, it has its basis in creation, it is a revelation of God’s will and sovereignty, and is therefore wise and holy and good…Both are good, even as they both come forth from God’s hand. Together in mutual fellowship they bear the divine image. God himself is the Creator of duality-in-unity…

…For only in the human race is the image of God unfolded, and only in its dominion over the whole earth does the human race achieve its vocation and purpose. It is God himself who subdues the earth under his feet through the human race, and it is God himself who desires to display his own glory in the discovery of all of creation’s treasures. Both—man and woman—stand thus with their distinct gifts in a united sacred service, both fulfill a shared precious calling, and labor at a single divine work. But they are able to respond to this their exalted vocation only when together they continue to obey the divine command, before everything else, to continue respecting the image of God in themselves and in each other, and as a consequence, keep living in the most intimate mutual fellowship…

…Upon this fellowship of love, then, God has bestowed his blessing in a special way. He is the Creator of man and of woman, the Inaugurator of marriage, and the Sanctifier of matrimony. Each child born is the fruit of fellowship, and as such is also the fruit of divine blessing. The two-in-oneness of husband and wife expands with a child into a three-in-oneness. Father, mother, and child are one soul and one flesh, expanding and unfolding the one image of God, united within threefold diversity and diverse within harmonic unity.

As the rest of the Humanum series powerfully explains, God created marriage and family as a source of flourishing for the world, as a spring of life and love across all creation, in our churches, communities, businesses, institutions, and governments.

This “harmonic unity,” as Bavinck calls it, cannot be forgotten, for if it is, it’s a sign that we’ve forgotten much, much else.

For more on how marriage influences Christian stewardship, see Episode 2 of For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles: