Why did God create humankind? In many of the creation accounts of the ancient Near East, humanity was created with the sole purpose of being a slave to the gods. For example, the Mesopotamian creation story Enuma Elish describes the creation of mankind by the god Marduk:
Blood I will mass and cause bones to be,
I will establish a savage, “man” shall be his name.
Verily, savage-man I will create.
He shall be charged with the service of the gods,
That they might be at ease!
The biblical record of the creation of people by God is very different than what we see in other ancient Near Eastern accounts. In Genesis 1, mankind’s creation is the very crescendo of God’s creative activity, and so theologians call people the “crown of creation.” And, unlike any other element of creation, God makes humans in His own image (imago Dei). God does this because He designed men and women to be in relationship with Him. Man knows God in part by enjoying His presence, and this pleases God. Man is not God, but he resembles God in many ways, and he is to imitate God. As God subdued and ruled over the creation through the medium of the word (Gen. 1), so is man to subdue and rule over creation by cultivating the garden (2:15) and by naming the animals (vv. 19–20). As God filled the heavens with a starry host and filled the earth with animate life, so is man to fill the earth with produce and with his own image-bearers (1:28). Man is called simply to imitate God in how he lives and acts (imitatio Dei).
Another important distinction between the ancient Near Eastern stories of cosmogony and the biblical narrative of creation is the relationship between humanity and the gods. For example, the gods of Egypt are impersonal and distant; in fact, they are mere personifications of the different natural elements of the world. These gods are remote and for the most part unapproachable. Not so the Hebrew creator God. When God created mankind in the garden, they had direct access to Him. He spoke directly to them without a mediator, and He even appeared to them. In Genesis 3:8, it says that “they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” The main point of this passage is to demonstrate the presence of God in the garden.
When mankind fell into sin, the consequences were far-reaching and disastrous, and brought about disharmony. The whole human being as imago Dei was adversely affected. Every aspect of the human nature was twisted: reason, will, desire, emotion, body, and spirituality. Adam and Eve were alienated from one another (Gen. 3:7); they were alienated from the garden (v. 23); they were alienated from the whole created order (vv. 17–19); and they were alienated from the tree of life (v. 22). But most importantly, they were alienated from God (vv. 7–11), and they had an anxious fear of Him rather than fellowship with Him. By the close of the account of the fall, mankind was banished from the garden, from eternal life, and from the immediate presence of God Himself.
God, however, did not leave mankind or the rest of creation in a hopeless condition. He promised, immediately after the fall, to send a Redeemer who would come to set all things right (3:15). He would be the last Adam and the true image of God (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15). He would be Immanuel (Isa. 7:14), that is, “God with us”—the very presence of God would be the coming Messiah. He would come to defeat God’s enemies, to redeem God’s people from their sin, and to restore harmony and order in creation (Col. 1:15–20). People would be restored to the proper image of God by being “in Christ” (1 Cor. 11:7; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). God’s people would again enjoy His presence, and God would take pleasure in His church. All of that redemptive work is something that the gods of the ancient Near East never promised and could not accomplish.