In a previous post, I wondered about the decline of respect for simple humanity and the impact it is having on so many aspects of our culture and of Christian ministry.
So, what is the alternative?
Christians have, in many ways, struggled to express a balanced anthropology, or view of humanity. Now to be sure, a commitment to the concept of depravity is right and true. The image of God in which we are created is distorted in us. All human beings are rebel sinners, by nature and by choice. Our lack of moral innocence shows up shockingly early in our lives. There is “none righteous, no, not one”. We are marked by wickedness and selfishness, restless desires and foolish choices. There is utterly no hope for any of us to be fully human apart from the redeeming rescue of Jesus Christ.
While the image of God is severely distorted, it has not been utterly destroyed. Isn’t this what the pro-life position vigorously affirms? Every human being is “fearfully and wonderfully made”, purposefully shaped by the hand of the Creator, worthy of being treated with awe and dignity.
And that doesn’t stop in the womb. The beauty and wonder of human life extends throughout all of life. There are constant hints and reminders of the image of God in human beings.
For instance, did you happen to catch the closing ceremonies of the London Olympics? The costumes and sets were fanciful and strikingly original, displaying remarkable creativity that blended or blurred the lines between categories. Colors, lighting, odd shapes and more made that event a delightful feast for the senses.
The creativity of human beings is a reflection of their Creator. Read the first chapter of Ezekiel to get an idea of the odd creatures, unexpected shapes, colors and more that come from God.
Or in the same vein, consider the beauty people can produce through landscaping their yards or refinishing kitchen cabinets or detailing a car or getting a new wardrobe. Or note how often folks will point out the beauty of a sunset or a field of daisies or a cute baby or even a remodeled strip mall.
Why? We are drawn to beauty, like an iron filing is drawn to a magnet. We appreciate it, enjoy it and want to be a part of producing it. The beauty we pursue mimics the beauty God has already revealed in the world.
What caused people to drive hundreds of miles to join the candlelight vigil for the victims of the theatre shootings in Aurora, CO—when they didn’t know any of them personally? Or to rush into flood, fire and disaster zones to clean up, provide meals or just be a shoulder to cry on?
That basic impulse towards compassion is an echo of the heart of the ‘God of all compassion”, who has a bias for people who are hurting.
Why do people have an inner urge to elevate something to a place of ultimate meaning, to worship and engage something with abandon – even if it is falsely placed on a sports team, an entertainer, a hobby, a retirement fund, or a style?
God has placed “eternity in the heart” of human beings. We have a deep longing to connect and give ourselves to something beyond ourselves, and that inclination is a reminder of God’s intent for our souls.
We express honest grief when a 7-month-old baby dies of SIDS, or a beloved grandfather ends his journey well beyond his “three-score and ten”, or when we hear another account of the anonymous (to us) hundreds dying in the civil war in Syria.
Grief breaks our hearts because we value life so deeply. On their most honest days, even animal rights activists and puppy-and-or-kitten-lovers admit that these human lives are of more value than any animal.
Beyond that, there is the speechless wonder in Special Olympics athletes, in family caregivers for people with dementia, in parents who are patient with learning disabled children, in marriages that last decades, in steady work, in the elementary kids who cheered a boy named Matt Woodrum (whose left side has been twisted by cerebral palsy) to finish the 400-meter dash at his end-of-year field day (watch here—I dare you not to cry), in a preschooler’s crayon art on refrigerators, in researchers who work tirelessly for a breakthrough in a disease, in laughter over a meal with good friends, in the haunting tones of Yo-Yo Ma’s cello, in nurses in the oncology unit….
We could go on, but you get the point. There is common grace and awe-full loveliness in and through ordinary people. We still get the afterglow of the wonder of the moment when “the Lord God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul” (Gen. 2:7)
C. S. Lewis put it this way:
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.” (from The Weight of Glory)
Now, what difference does this all of this make for Christian life and ministry, through individual Christ-followers and their gathered churches? It can adjust our attitude towards people—especially those who do not have a relationship with God. All of the things of ordinary human life mentioned thus far could be said of pagans as well as the most committed Christians. It seems important to be honest about the full reality of humanity: people are depraved but delightful, flawed and also lovely, sinners who are often sublime, corrupted and fascinating. It is a staggering oxymoron, but holding the two in tension is essential to see people truly.
Too often, we come across as if we are angry at sinners for being sinners (as if we are not). And too often, we act as if we do not really like people much at all.
But consider: if the humanity we see now is a flawed, corrupted, depraved, distorted version of the image of God, what is possible in a life that has been redeemed by the blood of the sacrifice of Jesus (1 Peter 1:18-19), purified for God’s own possession (Titus 2:14), reconciled to their Creator-King (Rom.5:10-11), and reborn as a “new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24)? Human potential is not what we can imagine, but what God alone has purposed for us in Christ by His gospel.
So, wonder at ordinary people. Love them as they are. Enjoy hanging out with them. Clearly share the gospel of Jesus so they can become new, the person who their Creator always meant them to be for now and eternity. And rejoice.