The glory of God is man fully alive, but the life of a man is the vision of God.
The French theologian John Calvin once wrote, “Without knowledge of self, there is no knowledge of God.” It seems that even the great Protestant reformers who were famous for their emphasis on God’s sovereignty in history and salvation never intended for us to lose understanding of what it meant to be human. John Calvin seems to go even a step further as he stressed the importance of understanding ourselves to understand the Grand Creator of the universe. To me, this is a fascinating notion. All the theology and doctrine about God only make sense if we first understand who we are. This means, for the Christian, that we need to be deliberate in 1. knowing what it means to be human and 2. what it means to be “you” specifically. In this post, my goal is to reflect on these ideas and perhaps together, we can come to understand what it means to “John Doe the Human” and, in turn, catch a glimpse of the Creator Himself.
To Be Human
I already feel like I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. The doctrine of man, understanding and defining humanity is an enormous endeavour that philosophers, theologians, anthropologists, psychologists, and biologists have sailed for many years. Unfortunately, these disciplines rarely get along. Notably, within conservative evangelical circles, there is a distrust of the sciences in a bid to uphold and champion sola Scriptura. However, hermeneutics and the doctrine of scripture is not the topic of the blog. We will not get into age-old debates on science vs religion (many of you by now should know where I sit on these issues). We are here to reflect on what it means to be human, and as someone who has studied theology, that’s where my mind goes to when I begin to make sense of who we are (and I think it’s a pretty safe bet).
Over the last century or two, science, particularly in human biology, has made a lot of progress in what makes up a human materially. However, what makes up a human (cells, bones, tissue etc.), and what it means to be human are related but separate issues.
In Genesis 1, we have God creating the cosmos, and on day 6, He creates humanity “in His image and likeness (Gen 1:26).” There’s much to be said about the image of God. However, one doesn’t need to be a high theologian to know that something about humanity is tied up in the person of God. Human’s were “very good.” I can imagine God sitting back as He looks upon the male and female completely wrapped up in His very good creation as He eagerly awaits their flourishing. In turn, I can imagine humans walking with God in the cool of the day and then going out into the world to extend God’s loving, transformative presence into the natural world. One scholar understands the image of God as humans having been “put in the world to mediate God’s presence.” This, I believe, get us to the meaning of what it means to be human. Wherever we go, whatever we do, we are to bring God’s presence into our spaces, transforming the world around us. Therefore, to be human means to be so caught up in the person of God that you bring God’s presence into the world around us. Being human is functional, not just an ontological thing.
Jesus, The Human
If bringing God’s presence into the world is at the heart of what it means to be human, then we need to look no further than Christ Himself to find a man fully alive. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus was the cornerstone of the new living temple (John 1:14, 1:51, 2:18–22 and 4:20–24), a place in the ancient world where heaven and earth come together. Instead of a temple made of stone, this would be made of flesh and spirit. Jesus would be the First Stone, and His Church would be the living stones built upon the First (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:4-7). Jesus acted. Jesus was about bringing the Kingdom of God to earth. Jesus did this by telling people to turn from their idols and sin (Matthew 4:17, 6:19-24), forgiving sin (Matthew 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-12), healing the sick (Mark 1:41-42), ministering to the marginalised (Matthew 19:14; Luke 4:14-30, 10:27-37), and dying so that we can be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-21; Romans 5:8-11). This is a hard act to follow, perhaps. Jesus is a pretty amazing human (I have anxiety just thinking I could match up to this). However, here’s the point. Jesus, through His Spirit, is creating a new kind of humanity free from the burden of sin (Romans 6), but He hasn’t finished (we live in what’s called “the now and not yet”). The brokenness, sinfulness, and failure that still corrupt us is something God anticipates as He, over time, conforms us to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). The fully alive human is Jesus, and we become fully alive in Christ when we’re in step with His Spirit (Galatians 5:16), and while this is something we strive for, it isn’t a perpetual state of being on this side of eternity. Sanctification is a process, and becoming like Jesus takes time, and so does bringing God’s presence into the world. Remember, the Kingdom of God is a mustard seed that slowly grows and blooms. You play a significant part in nurturing that growth and inviting others to rest upon its branches, just don’t expect it to reach maturity today or perhaps even tomorrow.
G. K. Chesterton once wrote that “every man has forgotten who he is. One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self is more distant than any star.” A significant theme in the Scriptures is how humanity has forgotten themselves and who they’re supposed to be. We have forgotten our God, we’re separated from Him, and therefore, we’re subhuman. However, Jesus invites us to be united to Him once more. I can think of no better definition for the Christian journey than to, as the ancient Greek maxim says, “know thy self” as we look at the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).