I believe the first chapters of the Bible give us keys for overcoming some of the most destructive trends in contemporary culture. Thanks for stopping and thinking with me about what it means to human and seek a more flourishing life with others.
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For the last few weeks, I’ve been looking at the Bible’s earliest portraits of humanity. Who are we according to God’s original intent and our existential depths?
Genesis 1 introduces humans as the image-bearers of God. Genesis 2 describes humans as complex creatures with five interacting dimensions: the physical, spiritual, moral, vocational, and relational. And Genesis 3 depicts humans as now divided and disordered in these core dimensions of who we are.
If we embrace this biblical anthropology or way of understanding ourselves, what difference does it make in our relationships with others? More particularly, what difference can the Bible’s vision of humanity make in our increasingly polarized culture in which we’re tempted to see others with indifference and contempt?
I want to suggest three implications from Genesis 1-3 that can transform the way we see and treat others. Each one starts with f – hence the playful title of this essay.
First, humans are fore-given by God according to Genesis 1. We don’t create ourselves or endow ourselves with value. It is God who creates us and God who declares that we’re made with sacred value. God is our Giver, and this is absolute.
The implication is profound. No matter who the other person is, they are made by God and stamped with God’s transcendent dignity. That isn’t their choice. That isn’t my choice. That isn’t any human’s choice. That is God’s choice and a status each person bears by God’s sovereign gift as our Creator.
Imagine if our interactions with others, especially others we’re tempted to dislike or reject, were mediated by this awareness: “That person is fore-given by God. God has created them, chosen them, and sees them as a reflection of himself. Before anything else, that’s who I’m dealing with.”
When we meet another person, we don’t just meet them; we also meet the Creator of us both. If we trained our consciousness to think this way, it would disrupt our tendencies to see ourselves as separate or superior to others. This common cultural habit wouldn’t be optional for us. Our gaze would be retrained with reverence, because each person is fore-given by God.
Second, humans are finite according to Genesis 2. This means that we’re limited and complex creatures. We’re not just one thing, although some of us seem to think we’re only our work or only our bodies or even only our relationship with God. Our physiology, spirituality, morality, vocation, and relationships are in constant interaction, layering and conditioning one another. We’re a multiplicity.
The implication is profound again. None of us can be reduced to a label or captured in a simplistic category. If we want to know one another, we must approach one another with curiosity and an appreciation for complexity that flies in the face of sound bites and stereotypes. Human life is deep.
Imagine if our interactions with others, especially others we’re tempted to dislike or reject, were mediated by this awareness: “This person is far more complex and multifaceted than I’m able to perceive. I refuse to reduce them. I need to slow down and engage them before I think I know who they are or what they need.”
Human finitude calls for patience, sensitivity, and resistance to oversimplification. In a time of 24-hour news and social media that deals in labeling, slurring, and endless outrage, we desperately need eyes that see the finitude of ourselves and others.
Third, humans are fallen according to Genesis 3. This means that we’re fallible and fragile. We make mistakes (intentionally and unintentionally), and we fall apart. All of us break down.
I find it remarkable that Genesis 3 doesn’t tell a story about Eve sinning and Adam remaining sinless. That would have been the ultimate justification for dividing humanity up into camps: the righteous vs. the wicked, us vs. them. But Genesis doesn’t do that. It says that we have all experienced division and disorder in the depths of our humanity – in our bodies, with God, in our moral judgment, in our work, in our relationships with others. This is our shared inheritance and burden as fallen creatures. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called this “the brotherhood of guilt.” Everyone is a member of this tragic family; no one is exempt.
The implication is profound yet again. Our tendency to scapegoat and demonize others, while seeing ourselves as innocent, is wrong. We too are desperately in need of God’s mercy. Seeing ourselves in a separate category from the others is self-righteous blindness. Our lives are also compromised and corrupted in ways we often don’t care to notice. When G.K. Chesterton was asked, “What’s wrong with the world,” he answered, “I am.” Each one of us should be able to say this.
Imagine if our interactions with others, especially others we’re tempted to dislike or reject, were mediated by this awareness: “Yes, that person is fallen. But so am I and so is everyone in my group. However else we relate, we need to start with humility, mercy, and a desire for the other’s healing.”
The Bible’s Subtle Art of Seeing People
The Bible’s earliest portraits of humanity call for a subtle art of seeing people that requires reverence, curiosity, and humility.
Each person is fore-given – created and valued by God. Each person is finite – limited and complex. And each person is fallen – fallible and fragile. When we embrace this anthropology, we’re liberated from exceptionalizing ourselves, oversimplifying others, and tribalistically dividing people into us vs. them.
Rather than outdated mythology, the Bible’s beginning offers us keys to overcome some of the most destructive drives in contemporary culture. We’re fore-given, finite, and fallen. All of us. Recognizing these three f’s gives us the chance to rediscover our humanity and re-create community for our shared flourishing.