Genesis 1:26-31 Ephesians 2:8-10
As A People Created By God
Understanding What A Human Being Is Through Three Relationships
1. The way a person lives is determined by how that person sees and understands himself or herself. People who see themselves as having no worth or value will only be able to live as persons with no values. People who think they are the same as monkeys and pigs can only live like the monkey and the pig. It is one's view of humanity which becomes the basis of one's self understanding. [The basis of understanding one's self] starts with how a person understands "humanity."
2. So, how does the Bible look at "humanity?" In today's brief passage a biblical view of humanity is clearly presented. As we see here in this text, the Bible understands humanity within three relationships.
3. First, humanity is understood in relation to God. "God created man in his own image. [He] was created in the image of God," (verse twenty-seven). The assertion that "Humanity was created by God" also means that "There is a clearly defined will behind the fact that we exist." There is a will that desires us to exist. We exist [because] God wants us to. What's more, [the Bible] teaches us that humanity was created in the image of God. We are images of God. We exist as images displaying forth the kingdom of God's grace and glory.
4. Second, what a person is is understood in relation to other humans. Coming right after the words "created in the image of God," the text says [God] "created [them] male and female." In this way then, humanity is written as persons existing in the plural from the start. In chapter two and verse eighteen, this point also appears by way of the expression that "It is not good for man to be alone," (2:18). This is not about not being good in a moral sense. It means it is not in accordance with God's will. Then in chapter two, the circumstances are purposefully described in which the male and the female were created. Thus it states that "Humanity could first be truly human by a relationship to another person." Furthermore, it is important that this plurality is expressed as "male and female." Males and females are different from each other. It might be that this stands for the two people as different but complementary to each other. Thus, what a human being is is defined as "one person in existence living with another or with other [selves in existence]."
5. Then third, humanity is understood in relation to other creatures. It is stated like this in verse twenty-eight, "God blessed them and said, 'Give birth, increase, fill the land and subjugate the land. Take control over all the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the living things that creep on the earth'," (verse twenty-eight). Of course, the phrase "take control over" must always be understood as "a message given by God," which means to say that this does not mean for humanity to do as it pleases to the created world or that [we] should exploit it at will. It is always a responsibility entrusted to us from God. As beings entrusted with this divinely ordained duty, humanity is required to manage the created world in accordance with the will of God.
6. But, as for the relationship between the created world and humanity, not all's been said with that. There's another side to it. If you would, look at verse twenty-nine. "God said, 'Behold, I will give you every fruit bearing tree and plant with its seeds, that grow through out the earth. It will be food for you. I will let the beasts of the field, the birds of the sky, that which creeps on the earth and any [animal] alive eat every kind of green plant.' So it became that way," (verses twenty-nine and thirty). So, there is the side to it as a gift given from God to the created world, that is. The symbolic representation for this is "food." Humanity is made a being who makes his or her day to day life surrounded by the gifts given by God.
Things As Gifts From God
7. So, let's think here about "food" as gifts from God. We need "food" to live. But, "food" is not merely given to support life. What we understand from experience is that there is at the least the element of "joy" in addition to "life support" in it. We understand that this is God's plan even because in the Old Testament the word "eat" and the word "joy" often appear linked together.
8. When "joy" is present, it means there is also an opportunity to truly experience what has been given to us as a gift from God "as a gift" indeed. To experience food as a gift from God also has with it "thanksgiving" coming forth from it. Therefore, at meal times, we will offer up prayers of thanksgiving. We accept food as a gift from God, we offer up thanks to God -- it is a rich interchange with God that is present. In this way, food has the meaning of what you might call serving as an agent or middleman in the relationship between God and us.
9. Of course, it isn't just "the food" by itself. "Food" is a symbol. We make our day to day living surrounded by all kinds of creatures, all of them as gifts from God. We partake of God's grace, in not only food, but in connection with every kind of thing. It's that way in the day to day specifics of living upon earth. In connection with these very specific things also lies our connection to God. Thus, in order that we might live in a rich relationship with God, we are put into a relationship with all sorts of other created things.
10. This was the relationship that was supposed to be originally between the humans and the created world surrounding them. But, on the other hand, we know, that those relationships were broken in the real world. We have the world we're in where food no longer produces fellowship with God, neither do all the many things in it serve as agents in brokering [our] relationship with God. People steadily chase after things. But, in things lie only a target for human cravings and desires. So, when you drink salt water like you're very thirsty, your desire will increase even more the more you try to satisfy your desire with it. We don't know how it'll stop.
11. So, as seen from a total perspective, the created world evidently becomes an exploitative target for satisfying the insatiable desires of these human beings the way they are. Humans become tyrants behaving like the gods and are no longer being the managers bearing their duty God entrusted to them. Of course, a reckoning will also fall due when the bill for having acted like a tyrant comes around. I'm sure that this accounting for [humanity's behavior against the world] is important. But, when environmental issues are discussed in such terms, the focus will not necessarily be directed upon the fundamental issue. The issue lies in the fact that the right relationship between humans and creation has been broken down.
12. This issue does not exist by itself. If the last button you press is wrong, the first button you pressed doesn't do any good. Before I said that the Bible sees humans in three relationships. When the right relationship is broken between people and creation, in the first place it is because the relationship between God and people and also the relationships between people and people are broken. If we are to pursue the root of the problem, that is, both the problem of individuals being twirled about by material desires, and the problem of the whole species of humanity continuously destroying the planet, then it will be found in the fact that the relationship between God and humanity is broken.
[Persons And] Things Created In Christ Jesus
13. So, we had better start pressing over again from the first button. We need to be restored in our relationship with God, and Christ came for that very purpose. Christ experienced suffering on the cross and paid for our sins. We are pardoned of our sin and accepted by God because of Christ. By the faith that believes in Christ, we are re-set back into a righteous relationship with God. Then, we can begin to live as people created anew and afresh by God. Paul put it like this: "In truth, you were saved by grace, through faith. This does not come from your own power, but is the gift of God. It does not come from deeds. That is so that no one can brag. For, we are persons created by God, and what's more, we are created in Christ Jesus for good works which God has prepared ahead of time. We will walk practicing those good works," (Ephesians 2:8-10).
14. As Paul says, the reason we were "created" in Christ Jesus is for "the good works which God has prepard ahead of time." What are "the good works?" It is nothing other than to live as human beings created by God. We are to live in the right relationship with God as humans created by God, [we are to] live in the right relationship with others, and [we are to] live in the right relationship with other creatures.
15. When we see that we are persons who exist because God wants us to, we will find that other people also exist because God has willed them to be. Also, when we eat "food" with our neighbors and take the gifts from God with them, we will find that we are surrounded all about by every kind of creature which has been given to us as gifts from God. At that time, then, everything that is around us will no longer be mere targets for our desires. This world will not be a target of human exploitation. Everything will truly become something that evokes thanksgiving and praise within us and will beckon us to a rich relationship with God and to rich relationships with each other.