Every time I return to the beginning – to the “in the beginning” of Genesis 1 – I am surprised to find these words in verse 19: “Let us make humankind in our image.” God’s name may be “I am”, but God’s pronoun is “We are.” It seemed all too fitting for preaching on an MLK weekend.
Oh, happy accident, I said last Sunday. This historical holdover from a divine pantheon has gifted us with a profound truth. We are each made in the image of God, and yet we are made different, I said, because God’s image is many. For quite some time, liberals have espoused that “we are all the same”. It comes with good intention – all too often, I do this myself. Someone is telling me a story of their life or of a struggle, and I am only looking for the ways the story is similar to mine. I may have good reasons for doing so, but in the end, it is a damaging exercise. Because such universalizing means that we strategically ignore the parts of a narrative that differ. And not only does that do harm to folks’ whose stories are further from the centers of power (ie people of color, queer folks, and those from non-dominant cultures), but it means that we miss the opportunity to embrace the many images of God.
That was Sunday. Then there was Tuesday. At Spirit Cafe, we looked at the text together, I asked folks why God is speaking as a “we”. The first person who responded suggested that God was speaking as the Trinity. (This is an often considered trope, and by the grace of God, I resisted going down a rabbit hole into the dangers of an inductive reading of scripture). The second person, however, shared something completely out-of-the-ordinary.
“God is speaking for himself and the earth. He made the earth, and then he made people in his image and in the image of the earth,” she said.
It stunned me in the moment, and kept me thinking for days after. God, in speaking for God’s self and for the earth, declares that people will be made in the image of God and in the image of dust. It is a prelude to the second creation story in Genesis, as if the story about God forming people out of the earth were a midrash on just these few simple pronouns: “We” and “our”.
In the past few weeks, I have been made newly aware that we are made of dust. Where once I saw endless possibility, there have been signs of human fragility all around me. Were it not for remembering God’s “we” and “our”, I might have mistaken these signs only as marks of decay and failure. But this fragility is more than a flaw. It is in our nature: We, made in God’s image, also carry the image of the earth. Our lofty inspiration is inextricably commingled with the most mundane of being.
This week, I have taken a small step into the realization that our human frailty is not a divine failure, but an earthly gift. I have looked around at the piles of dust that are our human bodies, and had moments of seeing divine fingerprints everywhere. And I have been reminded that it is never too late for frail human beings to learn something new about God – especially on a Tuesday.