With, Be, Do: What it Means to Be Made in God's Image

NOTE (2021.07.26): The 'With, Be, Do' framework was inspired in large part by Church of the City's vision and purpose: tangible presence, counter-formation, and sacrificial mission.

Jesus was a threat to all of the powerful interests in his tribe,[1] and some people from one of these groups wanted to expose him. So they asked the troublemaker a tough question on a thorny issue.

“Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?”[2]

Jesus responded by having his audience think about a story from the tribe’s scriptures, the one told on the first couple pages, which we now know as Genesis 1 & 2:

“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female? ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate,” he said.[3]

His questioners were puzzled by this response. Why then had Moses permitted divorce?[4]

Jesus explained.

“Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”[5]

Jesus seemed to see in the literature of Genesis 1 & 2 a picture of what’s ideal: the shape the world and its inhabitants take when all parties involved possess evergreen significance, satisfaction, and strength.[6]

According to Jesus, the ideals on display in Genesis 1 & 2 have not been cancelled. And since Genesis 1 & 2 show us what’s good,[7] Jesus viewed them as worthy of deep, prolonged meditation.

So then what do Genesis 1 & 2 say is ideal for human beings?

In an ideal world


Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”[8]

Ideally, we’d be with God. As Geoff Holsclaw says, “We were made for union with God as the divine “idols” placed within the garden/creation temple of God.”[9] Dr. Crispin Fletcher-Louis says it like this: God “made the human, man and woman together, to be his real presence in the cosmos.”[10] There are, then, at least two senses in which, in an ideal world, we’d be with God: we’d be where he is (basking in the light of his presence), and we’d be associated with him (functioning as the light of his presence). We’d be his representatives.


And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.[11]

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”[12]

Ideally, we’d be people who resemble God by receiving the wisdom that comes from God. The tree of life in the middle of the garden represents God’s wisdom, and to eat from the tree of life is to listen to God, to be guided by him, and ultimately, to be filled.[13] On the other hand, when we eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we suspect that God is holding something back from us, something exceedingly good, and we define ‘wisdom’ for ourselves, based on what seems good in our own eyes.


And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”[14]

Ideally, we’d do…dominion. We’d be rulers of the cosmos, in partnership with God himself. Our power would grow and grow and grow, yet we wouldn’t use it to exploit the world for selfish gain. Instead, Earth would blossom under our care.

In an ideal world, we’d with, be, and do.

People are saying

Like Jesus, the writers of the other 1187[15] chapters of scripture seemed to have Genesis 1 & 2 on the brain. They referenced Genesis 1 & 2 all over the place, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly. Here are just a handful of examples:

  • The writer of The Exodus tells us that God spoke to Moses through a bush (apparently the Hebrew word translated as ‘bush’ is also the word for ‘tree’)

  • The Exodus also describes the tabernacle (i.e., the tent in which God met with humans), and the priests who served there, as bearing images of pomegranates and trees, which were meant to evoke Eden

  • Solomon’s temple, which was the tabernacle’s successor, was structured concentrically (courtyard -> holy place -> holiest place), just like the place in which God met with Adam and Eve (region of Eden -> garden -> tree)[16]

  • The writer of the first psalm says that those who listen to God and obey him are like a tree planted by a stream of water

  • The writer of Psalm 8, reflecting on the wonders of creation, expresses amazement that God has given lowly humans so much honor

  • In Proverbs 3, wisdom is personified, and ‘she’ is described as a tree of life

  • Mark writes that chaotic waters (i.e., the Jordan river), a hovering Spirit, and a voice were present when Jesus was baptized, just like in Genesis 1:2-3[17]

For Jesus and the authors of scripture, Genesis 1 & 2[18] hang over nearly everything else.

Ideally, we’d with, be, and do, and our ‘with-ing’, being, and doing would revolve around God himself.[19]

We don’t with, be, and do in this way, though, do we? We struggle.

Representation, resemblance, rule…ratioed.


[1]: Brooks, David. Jesus is a Jew. Comment Magazine, 2020.

[2]: All scriptural quotations are taken from the English Standard Version, unless otherwise noted. Just about any version will do, though.

[3]: Matthew 19:4-6

[4]: Moses : Israel :: U.S. Founding Fathers : America ...kinda

[5]: Matthew 19:8

[6]: significance + satisfaction + strength = flourishing

[7]: …and what is very good

[8]: Genesis 1:26a

[9]: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/Jesuscreed/2019/10/02/reviewing-david-bentley-hart/

[10]: https://bibleproject.com/podcast/did-Jesus-really-think-he-was-God/

[11]: Genesis 2:8-9

[12]: Genesis 2:15-17

[13]: Many ideas in this post are riffs on ideas I picked up listening to the BibleProject podcast: https://bibleproject.com/podcasts/

[14]: Genesis 1:26b-28

[15]: That is, the remainder of the Hebrew scriptures, the Gospel accounts & Acts, the letters, and the revelation to John

[16]: 1 Kings

[17]: Mark 1:9-11

[18]: And Genesis 3, for different reasons

[19]: In The Reason for God, Pastor Timothy Keller describes God as a community of dancers. As they twirl, each dancer lovingly and selflessly revolves around the other two. “You first.” They invite us to join them.

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All are welcome, because we humans are a family of strugglers.

Copyright 2022 Josh Robertson. All rights reserved.