Human beings are a fascinating bunch. Without a doubt, we have some pretty… interesting ideas about ourselves, either seeing ourselves as beings of supreme importance or try to convince ourselves of our own insignificance. Some of us broadcast every thought and life event, no matter how insignificant (and when that doesn’t work, we selectively edit to make ourselves look better). We downplay our abilities in exchange for compliments. Some of us arrogantly act at though we are better than every other human being because of socioeconomic status, nationality, ethnicity, or even denominational traditions. And others still spend inordinate amounts of time trying to convince us all that we are all, essentially, cosmic accidents of no greater value than any other organism on this planet. Indeed we might even be the worst once you factor in overpopulation, pollution, and The Bachelor.
(Okay, that last one might be a stronger one.)
But theology challenges all of these attitudes and beliefs.Last week, I shared how theology shapes how we see the world, reminding us that we are under the authority of a Creator who is intimately involved with His creation. But it does more than that. Theology puts humanity in its proper perspective. Although there are many—many—passages worthy of consideration, two will suffice for giving us a starting point.
Genesis 1:26: “Let us make man in our image…”
The creation account gives us our starting point for understanding God, but also ourselves. And it’s profound. According to this passage, humanity is unique among all creation not because of our destructive capability. It is something else entirely. We are, according to Genesis 1:26, made in the image of God, in his likeness.We are, in some mysterious way that we cannot fully comprehend, a way that doesn’t fit neatly into utilitarian categories, like him. We are moral agents, yes. We think and feel and act. We have a will and desires. We are relational creatures… We are made to rule over all of creation (or have “dominion” depending on your translation), acting as God’s representatives within the created world.
Humanity doesn’t really make sense without a grasp of this truth. It’s what makes compassion and justice and love and marriage make sense.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, because the Bible doesn’t stop there, and neither can we.
The road to Romans
Although the first two chapters of Genesis offer a breathtaking picture of perfection and the potential for human flourishing, by Genesis 3, that potential had been squandered as the first humans were deceived and sinned against their Creator. In essence, they made a theological choice: they believed something false about God. They believed he was holding out on them, keeping something good from them. So they chose disobedience, thinking it would bring them closer to being like God—forgetting that they already were and condemning all the rest of us along the way.
The Scriptures paint a bleak picture of humanity following this first act of disobedience, with a downward cycle into death. A cycle of rejection and restoration that continues to our own day. Whether it’s the accounts of a global flood as seen in Genesis or what you read on Twitter this morning, the evidence is there before us. Humanity openly thumbs its collective nose at its Creator, taunting him to do something. Is it any wonder Paul summarize the state of humanity as he does in Romans 3:10-11? Quoting the Psalms, Paul wrote, “There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away; all alike have become worthless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one.”
Humanity doesn’t make sense unless we also grasp this truth—we are made in the image of God, yes. But there is something profoundly broken in us. We don’t seek what is truly good or the One who made us. We know he exists, but we deny him because we love other things more. This is what helps us understand the mess we see all around us. Indeed, the state of the world makes no sense at all unless we begin to grasp that it’s not something we can be educated out of. The issue goes much deeper than that.
Why a level playing field matters
Theology levels the playing field, It puts us in our proper perspective. And that matters because, especially for those of us who are Christians, we need both if we’re going to pursue the mission to which we’ve been called. If all human begins are made in the image of God, then the theological implication is we must treat all human beings—regardless of nationality, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual preference, or political affiliation—with the dignity and respect that is their due in light of this reality. This is non-negotiable within the Christian worldview. If we believe what God says is true, then we can do no other. If all people are made in the image of God, then we must uphold their dignity, not because of their utilitarian value to society but simply who they are.
At the same time, the theological view of the Bible encourages us to avoid holding ourselves in too high esteem. Though we are all made in the image of God, we are all also united in the same malady: sin. We are condemned before God because of our denying the One in whose image we have been made, and bearing false witness to him throughout creation.
But here’s the good news that comes from this. Here’s why this level playing field matters. If it’s true that we’re all made in God’s image, and we’re all equally in the same mess, it means we all require the same solution to heal us. It doesn’t come by educating our way out of sinfulness, any more than it comes by virtue of being a good person. It’s not something we can earn or purchase. It comes from faith in the One our Creator sent to rescue and redeem us. It comes from Jesus, his perfect life and his death on a cross and his resurrection from the dead.
Rescue doesn’t come from within but from outside—and that means that it is open to all who would believe.