Job 7:17, “What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him, visit him every morning and test him every moment?” (c.f. Psalm 8:4)
Job here associates his suffering—and, indeed, the sufferings of humanity—with the attention of the Lord. If mankind were not under the scrutiny of YHWH’s eye, they would not suffer so terribly. And why is mankind under YHWH’s eye? Because of YHWH’s purpose for humanity – that they should truly become the image of God.
The clay left in the ground is at peace and remains only part of the sleeping earth. However, the clay chosen by the sculptor is ripped from its slumber and taken into the workshop. It is pressed and pulled and torn and re-formed until it takes on an image that reflects the mind of the maker—and in this case, that image is of the maker himself.
During the sculpting process, the clay may desperately wish that it had been left to its slumber, where forming hands and carving tools and the careful eye of the artist were far away. And yet, to take on the form of the artist himself, and so to meet his gaze with a face that reflects his own—that is a good far exceeding the silent oblivion beneath the earth.
In the same way, YHWH has chosen mankind as the clay in which He will fashion His own image. But, that is not really the best way to say it. Prior to choosing “mankind,” YHWH chose—from all eternity—“a man,” *the* “Son of Man” as the clay who would perfectly bear His image within the created world. And this clay—drawn from the soil of the human race, and yet encompassing that soil in Himself—is formed into the image of God through the severe artistry of Cruciform Love. As the Son offers Himself in the Spirit to the Father on Calvary, the clay of humanity is fashioned into the definitive image of the Artist Himself, such that to look upon the Son of Man lifted on the tree is to see the Face of God.
There is only one Son of Man, there is only one Image of God, there is only one Human: the one eternally known in the heart of God and temporally fashioned on the Cross of Calvary. We, in turn, become images of God and true humans as we are found IN HIM and fashioned into His image throughout our entire lives. Yet it must be said that all the fashioning pains we will experience as we are molded by sovereign love into the image of Christ are only temporal instances of the True Fashioning that Christ Himself endured on the cross.
Yes, the “all things” that work together to form us into the image of Christ (Rom 8:28-29) have already, in truth, happened to us in the body of Christ—to which we are united by the Spirit—on the cross (which means that He is, by love, present with us in all our sufferings even as He stands before us as the hope beyond them). His fashioning IS our fashioning because we approach God as humans and images only by virtue of union to the True Human and True Image, the crucified Jesus Christ who is Risen.
So, this image depicts—first of all—the True Image of God (the crucified and risen Jesus) as He is known—and in some sense “fashioned” or “generated”—eternally within the heart of the Trinity “before” all time. It secondarily depicts the formation of humanity as those patterned on and formed within this True Image….a formation that will not be complete until the True Image appears within humanity (through the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection) and—recapitulating their race—gathers them into Himself.