What factors are common to every human whenever they live, wherever they live, and however they live? In other words, what are absolute certainties of our common humanity?
It was Benjamin Franklin who wrote “in this world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” There’s some truth to that. Most of us pay taxes; all of us die.
Are there absolute certainties of our common humanity, and if so, what are they?
I will propose three absolutes, but first a caveat. My caveat is a forthright declaration of my basic presumption.
My presupposition (and we all have them), is that the biblical record is true and reliable. This presupposition is based upon certain facts, arguments and reasons – but I won’t go into them here.
Basically, this is an invitation to look for the answer through the lens of the Bible – what I call “God’s perspective.” From this perspective I argue that the way forward becomes clear, and the implications for living become obvious.
As we approach the first pages of the Bible (Genesis 1-2), it is helpful to remember that this is an ancient text, not a 21st Century scientific treatise. This in no way undermines the reliability or truthfulness of the Bible – rather it is a reminder that we need to listen carefully to what it says on its terms, not dismiss it or distort it.
The creation of humanity in Genesis 1:26-31 is the apex of the creation account (Genesis 1:1-2:3). After creating the universe and all other living creatures it is announced:
So God created man in his own image,
In the image of God he created him;
Male and female he created them.
What does it mean for us to be “image of God”? I have dealt with this in greater detail in an earlier series titled “Who am I?” What follows here is a summary.
Three inter-related responses are commonly given to the question “What does it mean to be 'image of God'?”
One explanation is that the “image of God” is substantive – there is something about what we are that bears characteristics of God – such is the nature of an “image.” As “image of God” we bear characteristics of God, but we are not God.
Second, as the “image of God,” humans are distinctively relational – this is what we are to and for others. Each human is, actually or potentially, capable of being a nexus of relationship with God, with others, and with creation.
Third, is the functional understanding of the image of God – this is what we do as representatives of God. These functions, actually or potentially, include what we do toward God, toward others, and in responsible stewardship toward creation.
Functionally, relationally and substantively, the God-humankind relationship invested humans with dignity, authority and responsibility. As “image” and “likeness” of God, humanity stood in place of God in the same manner that a royal agent stood in place of an Ancient Near Eastern king. Humans belonged to God, and were to faithfully represent God within the boundaries of the mandate he had given them.
As much as we may seek to deny this “image” it is not erased. This is “Absolute #1”: Every human – whenever, wherever, and however they live – is wired for God, others, and creation because each of us is “image of God.”
All of us are imperfect. We do, say, and think bad things; bad things happen to us; we get sick; we die. Does that mean we are as bad as we can be? No, but in many ways, it means that we are as bad off as we can be. Again, this has been dealt with in greater detail in the earlier series titled “Who am I?”
Genesis 3 tells the “story” of humans “stepping over the line,” or transgressing, when they did the one thing that God told them not to do. That act was “essentially a breach of trust, an illicit reach of unbelief, an assertion of autonomy.” Immediately they began to experience the effects of the relationship they had broken – they became alienated from God.
As for their relationship with creation, life became hard and dangerous work; to borrow a quote, this relationship now offered blood, toil, tears and sweat. Although it still provides food and other resources for life, it also unleashes destructive forces indiscriminately: tsunamis, earthquakes, typhoons, epidemics.
As for their relationships with other humans, the event in Genesis 3 set in motion all of the discord and conflict we experience: strife in marriage; rivalry among brothers and sisters; hate, violence and abuse; sickness, aging and death. Each of us was born, and each of us will die – an unavoidable reality check for each of us.
Here’s “Absolute #2”: The image we all are has become distorted or marred – we have somehow been diminished.
I propose that there is at least one more absolute common to all humanity. I’m not sure what to call it, but I’ll attempt to describe it. This absolute hovers somewhere near our deep-rooted sense that there has to be something more than ‘this’.
If you’re like me you sometimes wonder why bad things happen to good people, or why God doesn’t do something about evil. There’s an upside and a downside to trying to answer these questions.
A downside is that when we try to make sense of “bad things” and “evil” we end up diminishing our understanding of God. Chris Wright says:
God with his infinite perspective, and for reasons known only to himself, knows that we finite human beings cannot, indeed must not, “make sense” of evil. For the final truth is that evil does not make sense. “Sense” is part of our rationality that in itself is part of God’s good creation and God’s image in us. So evil can have no sense, since sense itself is a good thing.
Evil has no proper place within creation. It has no validity, no truth, no integrity. It does not intrinsically belong to the creation as God originally made it nor will it belong to creation as God will ultimately redeem it. It cannot and must not be integrated into the universe as a rational, legitimated, justified part of reality. Evil is not there to be understood, but to be resisted and ultimately expelled. Evil was and remains an intruder, an alien presence that has made itself almost (but not finally) inextricably “at home”. Evil is beyond our understanding because it is not part of the ultimate reality that God in his perfect wisdom and utter truthfulness intends us to understand. So God has withheld its secrets from his own revelation and our research.
An upside to wondering about why “bad things happen to good people” is how it can expose a sense embedded within our essential humanity that this creation – including ourselves – is not as it should be, or could be. This sense betrays (in a good way) the illusion of some that there is nothing more. This sense holds the glimmerings of a possibility of return to our true humanity with its proper relationship with God, with others, and with creation.
This not quite hope but it points toward hope. In some way, this sense is a combination of the first and second absolutes – our existence as “image of God” coupled with our distortion by sin. Deep down we somehow “know” intuitively that we are made for something more; that ‘my’ life and environment are not as they should be, or could be.
Even though I don’t yet know what to call this, “Absolute #3” is the ‘knowledge’ that we are made for more, and our lives are not as they could be.
In our exploration of “Christ and Culture” we will be inquiring about God, Christ, Culture, and Christians. As such we will examine, among other things, who Jesus Christ is, what makes our various cultures what they are, and how we live our lives within these cultures. This will require us to make certain observations, assessments, and (perhaps) conclusions or judgments.
I have proposed three absolutes: (1) every human is “image of God”; (2) every “image” is distorted by sin; (3) every human knows intuitively that life is not what it could be – there is something more.
Without such absolutes our conclusions can only be personal opinions made by those whose feet are firmly planted in mid air. With these absolutes we have (some) boundaries on reality that will serve us well in searching out answers to crucial questions.
I encourage you to critique, challenge, and add to these absolutes. I look forward to hearing from you.
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