THIS IS US: Becoming Human  Genesis 1:26-2:7

What does it mean to be human?  Have you ever tried to come up with an answer to that?  My wife and I love this new TV show “This is Us.”  The title of that show got me thinking, “What does it mean to be us?  What does it mean to be human?”  I decided I wanted to teach on that subject and I sort of started to pull that thread and I realized shortly in that there’s a lot attached to that thread.  If we were to go around and ask what it means to be human, we could all probably come up with a little bit of a different aspect of what it means to be human. If you were to ask a geneticist—somebody who studies us on a molecular, on a gene, level—they would tell you it means to be human if you have a certain molecular DNA structure.  AGCT repeating over and over in you. It’s your DNA and different chemical compounds attached in certain ways or what it means to be human, but still the chemicals are important they serve to manufacture products,  and you can find providers as the Zinc Carbonate Supplier in Thailand that help with chemicals to create products as rubber or cosmetics which we use to improve our looks, and to make us feel better, and that’s why we ask what is the best whitening cream for face and body? and look for resources to answer these questions for us, while also using other treatments such as fat sculpting to improve the looks of the body.  Do you know you have 3.2 billion letters of DNA in you that define what it means to be you, in many ways?  If you were to write down every single one of those letters, it would take up 800 dictionaries to define who you are!! We’re just sort of scratching the surface now in the genome project and trying to understand what it means to be human.

If you were to ask a biologist, they would tell you a number of things about what it means to be human.  They’d tell you that as a species of mammal, you have, as a human being, a homo sapien, one of the largest brains compared to the ratio of your body weight.  That’s part of what it means to be human.  You have a very developed brain.  You have nerves that travel in your brain at 170 miles per hour…..after coffee!  Did you know that your brain could hold five times the amount of information as an Encyclopedia Britannica set?  Just your brain.  A biologist might also try to describe you based on your body.  Did you know that your heart has a strong enough pumping mechanism that if you were to open up your chest, your heart could shoot blood thirty feet?! Don’t try it!  Did you know that the acid in your stomach is strong enough to dissolve a razor blade?  Wow!  Did you know that you have an estimated sixty-thousand miles worth of blood vessels in your body?  Just for frame of reference, the distance around the earth is twenty-five thousand miles.  In your body, you have over two times that amount of blood vessels, if you were to line them all up.  Your feet have 500 thousand sweat glands in them.  Which could explain some things.  It helps us understand why certain parts of the body smell different than other parts of the body.  Did you know that over the course of your life, you will create enough saliva to fill two full swimming pools?!  Yeah, biologists could answer what it means to be human in a lot of different ways.

An existential philosopher might say something that the fact that you are “thinking” defines what it means to be human.  You think, therefore, you are.  The very “being” is in itself defining what it means to be human.  What do you say?  How do you define what it means to be human…..because we all know that while those definitions are true, they’re hauntingly incomplete.  They are the sum of many of the parts, but the sum of the parts don’t get to the essence of what it means to be human, do they?  We could talk about us on a cellular and molecular level, and that’s interesting.  We could talk about us on a biological level; we could talk about us on an existential level, but we all know that there’s more to being human than just the sum of all of our parts.  In fact, Charles Darwin wrote this towards the end of his life: “I have said that in one respect my mind has changed over the last twenty or thirty years.  Formerly, pictures gave me considerable, and music, a great delight.  But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry.  I have tried lately to read Shakespeare and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. {He sounds like a sophomore guy.}  I have almost lost my taste for pictures of music.  Music generally sets me thinking too energetically on what I have been working on instead of giving me pleasure.  I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite delight which it formerly did.  {Listen to his conclusion….} My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive.  If I had to live my life again, I would have made it a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week; for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus have been kept active through use.”  Here’s what he’s getting to:  It’s impossible to define what it means to be human based on just dissecting the sum of our parts.  There’s something deeper.  There’s something more.  There’s something in every single one of us that cries out, “I know that maybe I have 3.2 billion pieces or repeating DNA in me, but that’s not who I AM.  I’m so much more than that. I have an appreciation for beauty; I have a desire for love; I have a thirst for meaning; I need my life to count and to matter.”  All of us would say that on some level, even if it can’t define it specifically or put our finger on it exactly, what it means to be human is more than just a sum of dividing up the parts.  In fact, I’m going to say throughout this entire series that the way that we define what it means to be human will determine the way that we live.  So, it’s not an inconsequential question: What does it mean to be human?  In fact, it’s the very ground that we stand on as people.  To define our existence, to define why we’re here.

Over the next few weeks, I want to dive deeper into this question and I want to propose to you that in the first few chapters in the “Book of Beginnings,” the book of Genesis in the sacred Scriptures, that God tells humanity why they were created. He tells us what it means to be human.  Over the next eight weeks, we’re going to pull this thread and see that it’s attached to all sorts of different things.  Things that really matter to every single life in this room.  If you have your Bible, turn with me to Genesis 1:26 as we begin this exploration of what it means to be human.  You may be aware that there are a few debates about the book of Genesis.  Specifically, about the first few chapters of Genesis.  There may be no more debated passages of Scripture than these passages of Scripture.  So I want to be really clear this morning. {Will you look up at me for just a moment?}  What I want to talk about as we explore this book of Genesis is the “why” and the “who” of Genesis.  I’m not interested—because I don’t think the Scriptures are—in the “how” and the “when” of Genesis.  So we’re not going to talk about the age of the earth.  We’re not going to be talking about how God created….   There’s space for you in this church if you want to differ with other people.  I hope we have a loving enough community for different views, questions, and honesty.  What I DO want to talk about in the book of Genesis is the “why” and the “who.”  I do think that that’s clear.

Genesis 1:26-27.    This is after God creating, speaking into existence, on the sixth day, the heavens and the earth.  You can read about it in the first 25 verses.  Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.    He created.  He created.  He…..CREATED.  You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that there’s a theme.  Part of what it means to be human.  If we’re going to define what that means then we need to start at the most fundamental level and that’s what we’re going to do today.  We’re going to talk about this sort of philosophically, theologically, and then next week we’re going to get more practical in this same subject, but…..  What does it mean to be human?  To be human means that we are created beings.  From the very beginning, Genesis is telling us that before we know who we are, we must come to terms with whose we are.  We often start further down the road than just saying, “Okay, the fact that we exist is an intentional, creative, act by a creator.” From the very beginning, the Scriptures say, you were not an accident.  That’s beautiful and really, really good news.

Now, if you’re not an accident then here are a few things that are true about you:  1) There’s a design behind who you are.  Have you ever noticed that your bodies work pretty well most of the time?  They work in sync with themselves.  As we get older, as we get injured, we start to realize more and more that that’s a really nice thing when the body works correctly.  The more they study it, the more intricately they see that this is a designed mechanism that has the fingerprints of God all over it.  Humans are not just the most highly evolved mammal at the top of the food chain.  We aren’t simply a complex machine that accidentally arose out of some primordial soup.  That’s not to say that you can’t believe in theistic evolution.  You have to see the hand of God behind it all, if that’s the position you’re going to take; that God is at work in and through his creation to create human beings—you and I—that have a specific design to them.  If they have a design…..they have a purpose. Part of what it means to be a created being is to have a purpose.  The third thing that we see in this Genesis account—if you read through chapters one and two—that this giving birth to humanity that God does is an overflow of His character and His nature.  It’s an act of divine love.  The psalmist reflects on this:  For you (God) formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. {Quick timeout.  When was the last time you allowed your soul to just SIT in the absolutely astounding truth that the Creator wove you together? The psalmist is going to say that that does something to you.}  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written every one of them, the days that were formed were me, when as yet there was none of them. (Psalms 139:13-16)  

So let’s chat for a second.  Will you look up at me?  If you are a created being…..yes, there’s a design behind you, there’s a purpose for you, there’s a love over you, but maybe even more than that, there’s the invitation to step back and recognize that all of life is a gift.  It’s a gift.  One of the most humane things you can do is cultivate a life of gratitude.  You want to step more fully into what it means to be human?  Become grateful. Recognize that God’s fingerprints are all over you, that this isn’t an accident, that this didn’t just happen by happenstance, but that the Creator of it all is behind it, moving in it and we have to, friends, create rhythms and an ethic of gratitude in our lives as we reflect on the fact that God, you created me and the breath in my lungs are a gift from you.  Maybe this year you start to do that.

Let’s look at the second thing that the narrator of Genesis talks about the meaning of being human.  Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.   One of the things it means to be human is to be a created being.  The second thing it means is to be created as a carrier of the image of God.  That phrase is loaded!  We could spend the next 300 weeks on it and we wouldn’t plumb the depths of it.  I want to take a 30,000 foot view of what it means to be created in the image of God today.  Richard Middleton, in his great book Liberating the Image, which I can’t recommend highly enough, suggests that the term “image of god” would have been understood both by the Egyptian and Mesopotamia cultures that were around during the writing of this account in Genesis.  Both of those cultures would have had an understanding of that word when it was written.  They had seen temples created.  They had seen temples built.  The image of the god who was to be worshipped in a temple or given area was represented by a king.  A king was the carrier of the image.  They would set up images of the king in the temple or in an area in the empire where they were ruling where they couldn’t physically be.  When an early reader of this text heard “image of god” they thought royalty.  They thought of the king and his image.  Think about how the narrator/poet of the book of Genesis is pushing back against the predominate mindset of the day.  Instead of one king carrying the image of the divine, you have all of humanity carrying the image!  Here’s what he’s saying—that you, that I, that we are royalty, representing to the rest of creation what God is like.  {Look up at me for just a second.  You’ve gotta get this!}  This is a REVOLUTION in thought in this day and this time……that every person created is a picture of what God is like. Not a picture of his physical appearance, but a picture of his attributes, a picture of his nature.  We, as image bearers, do two things:  1) We reflect God.  Walter Brueggemann, the great Old Testament author/scholar, says this: “There is one way in which God is imaged in the world and only one way: human-ness!”  Humans are dazzlingly unique among God’s creation.

The heavens declare God’s glory, his weight, his beauty, his splendor, his majesty!  The heavens declare the glory of God, but, friends, humanity carries His image.  Have you ever though about that?  That’s an unbelievably, earth-shattering, life-defining truth.  We reflect God.  The second thing it means to carry the image of God is that we represent Him.  Adam and Eve, in this creation account that we’ll get into in just a moment in Genesis 2, are created in the image of God to work alongside of God.  If creation is, as author John Walton suggests, God creating a temple, then Adam and Eve are the original priests that step into the temple to work alongside of God to execute God’s purposes, to partner with Him in what He’s doing in the world.  We reflect Him and we represent Him.  It’s why the nation of Israel is considered a nation of priests.  It’s why the church is considered a royal priesthood, a chosen generation.  When we recognize that we carry the image of God, we stop having to have our lives consumed and defined by the approval of men.  When we don’t understand that we’re created in God’s image, we need everybody else’s approval, but when we understand we carry His image, whose approval do we really need if that’s the place that we sit?

If you’re into theology and you’re going, “Okay, Paulson, I get it.  Adam and Eve….created in the image of God. But we aren’t.”  Sin entered the world.  Are we still created in the image of God?  Or has sin completely fractured that, has sin broken that?  I look around the world and people seem to act in a way that’s anti-creation, anti-humanity.  Do people still carry the image of God?  That’s a great question.  In 1500, Michelangelo completed one of his most famous sculptures Pieta.  From 1500 to 1972, Pieta sat in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome as one of the crowning sculptures and achievements.  People went to visit it for those 400+ years.  It sat untouched and perfect.  In 1972, somebody broke in with a hammer and hit—I believe, it’s Mary—it on the shoulder and fractured part of her shoulder.  Does she still reflect Mary?  Is it still the Pieta?  Sure.  You know what they did?  They invited a group of artists to come in for a year and they slowly, but surely, repaired this sculpture.  It’s the same thing that’s happened with humanity.  Do we still carry the image?  Yes!  I want to be as clear as I can with that, because if we miss that, it leads to a place that we don’t want to get as human beings (and I’ll talk about that in just a second).  Yes, we do carry the image.  Is the image fractured?  Not beyond recognition.  It’s broken, but even in the midst of its brokenness, there’s good news.  God has sent his son, Jesus the Messiah, to step into humanity to be—what Scriptures would say—“the second Adam.”   Jesus is restoring his creation, restoring what it means to be human, and giving us not only a picture, but healing the broken image within us, to restore it to the wholeness of what God has designed it for.  Jesus comes and restores humanity to the fullness of the image of God that were designed to carry.  That’s what salvation is!  Salvation is a healing of the image that we were originally designed to be carriers of….and still ARE carriers of.

We often get Jesus wrong.  We think of Jesus as the least human person to ever live.  We could never be like Jesus.  He’s sort of the ultra, the uber, the hyper-human.  But I want to tell you, Jesus is the MOST human person to ever live.  Not the least human person.  Jesus is the picture not only of what God is like, but the picture of what humanity is designed to be like.  The only way to be truly human is to know the only one who was truly human.  His name is Jesus.  So, when we talk about being “born again” or we talk about being a “new creation,” we’re talking about the healing and the restoration of being created in the image of God.  The image of God and the mission of God begin with Adam, but it finds its culmination in Jesus.  This is what it means to be saved.  Listen to the way the Apostle Paul puts it in his letter to the church at Colossae:  …and have put on the new self, {the new humanity, the new creation.  If you think I’m just sort of reading that into the text, just wait.} which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Col. 3:10)  What does it mean to put on the new self?  It’s to step into the new humanity that Jesus purchased on our behalf.  That’s what it means to be human.  We carry the image of God.

Skip over to Genesis 2:7.  …then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.   You have normal dust + divine breath = humanity.  We are created beings. We are carriers of the image.  We are a composite.  A combination of very normal material and divine breath and life.  There was a heresy in the early church called “gnostic dualism.” The proposition of gnostic dualism was that humanity, while both body and spirit, both dust and breath…..that dust part of us, that body part of us was evil.  It was to be rejected.  The spiritual part good, the body part bad. You can read about it in Paul’s and John’s writings.  The early church adamantly, vehemently pushed back against that.  No, part of the what it means to be human is to have both body and spirit, have both flesh and soul, be both dust and breath.  You can’t be human with only one or the other.  Having a body doesn’t make us human, but we can’t be human without one.  {Chew on that for a while.}  Man doesn’t live by bread alone, but man can’t live without bread.  Right?  Dust in the Scriptures signifies mortality; that one day, we were taken from dust and to dust we shall return.  We have a very physical being.  But Scriptures paint this picture of humanity: God breathed and Adam is this archetype of all of creation….that God breathed into him and breathed into US with the breath of life.  Which means that every single person walking the face of the planet, in some way, shape or form, has the breath of God within them.  If they’re living, walking, breathing, talking, thinking, He has breathed into their lungs and woken them to life.  C.S. Lewis said it like this: “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”

Genesis 2:1-3.  Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.  And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.  So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he done in creation.  The question we have to wrestle with is what’s going on in this passage.  Is God tired?  No! What’s God doing in resting?  Two things primarily: 1) He’s setting up a rhythm for us of what it means to live in His creation.  It means both work and rest.  I think there’s a bigger picture of what’s going on with God resting. John Walton, in his great book The Lost World of Genesis 1&2, says that when everybody reading this account in the first days of its authorship would have known that God resting would mean that God enters into the thing that he has just created.  It’s not him stepping back and going, “Wow, that’s great.”   It’s him entering in to be a part of, to rule and to reign from within.  It’s at this point that Adam and Eve are woken to this creation that God has made, but more than that, the creation that God is IN.  Part of what it means to be human, yes, is to be a created being, to carry the image, to be a composite of both body and soul, breath and dust, but implicit with being created human is that we are in relationship with the creator.  It’s one of the distinct differences in this creation account from any other creation account in this day.  God is inviting humanity to be a part of what He is doing in the world.  I’ll say it like this:  Union with God is the purpose behind all of creation.  Paul will say in his discussion in the Areopagus, quoting from a poet that’s not even a follower of Yahweh (Acts 17:28): In him we live and  move and have our being; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’  He’s all over this thing.  {Will you look up at me for a second.}  You are most human when you walk with God.  You’re most human when you’re in relationship with the divine.  You’re most like Jesus then.  Jesus is the ultimate human.  You are most human when you walk with God.

I want to spend the next five minutes putting some flesh on this.  What do we do with this?  If every human being is created by God and in God’s image, then ALL of humanity and human life is sacred and to be valued. All of it!  You’ve never laid eyes on somebody who is not valuable in the eyes of the Almighty Creator God and if they are, he is, she is, created in His image, created by Him, valued by Him, then please, people, they’ve got to be valued by us.  If we don’t appreciate the image of the Creator in every part of His creation, then it leads to some pretty desperate places.  Let me read you some of the process of Adolf Hitler.  Adolf Hitler, as part of developing his approach to the weaker members of society in his 1927 book Mein Kampf, identified the stronger members of society as those created in the “image of the Lord” and contrasted them to the weaker members who are mere “deformities” of what the image ought to be and therefore, should be “cleansed” from society. This is where this goes naturally.  Dietrich von Hildebrand, who was a German theologian at the same time and one of relatively few Germans who spoke against Hitler, was required to leave the country.  von Hildebrand stated this in 1933:  “All of Western Christian civilization stands and falls with the words of Genesis, ‘God made man in His image.'”

So, as we look out on the world and we see racism, and we see sexism, and we see abuse, and we see the poor, and we see the immigrant, the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow, as followers of God, our hearts have to be stirred by that.  They must!  These are people created in the image of God.  I know we see it on National Geographic, you guys, but it’s so much more than just a picture in a magazine, it’s the heartbeat of the Creator. How do we wrestle with this?  How do we step into this?  You’ve never laid eyes on somebody that isn’t valued by the Creator and therefore, valuable PERIOD.  As followers of Jesus, it’s not enough for us to just affirm that things are wrong.  We have to find ways to step into them.  We have to!  We must!  Our humanity depends on it!

Second, Adam and Eve were created to be caretakers, to be stewards, to be priests in the garden (they’re the archetype), and all of humanity is created for the same purpose.  All human beings are called to be stewards over God’s good creation.  This means we take care of our ‘dust,’ right?  One of the applications might be to go on a walk every once in a while.  Or go on a run.  I should be a steward of my own body, of my own spirit, of my own self….that’s part of what it means to be a steward.  Christians should be the most ardent environmentalists, we’re the original environmentalists!  Adam and Eve were.  We should care about God’s creation.  We should care about others.

Finally, it’s His breath in our lungs, so we cry out to him that all human beings are spiritual.  There’s a yearning inside everybody that walks the face of the earth.  Eternity has been placed in their, in our hearts and they were, you were, we are designed to live with God.  While every square inch of his globe is furnished with and drenched in His glory, you and I know that there’s certain rhythms of life that tune our heart to see His grace. So I want to encourage you as we begin this new year, what does it look like for you to cultivate your spiritual life in a new and deep and fresh way?  Maybe it’s taking one of these classes we’re offering—the Apostles’ Creed one would be great.  Leadership class would be great if you’re looking at what does it look like to be a steward, to be a caretaker, an investor in the places that God has called you to “reign” over or to have influence over. Maybe you decide that this is the year to download the YouVersion App and read through the Bible in a year. All to create an awareness of a rhythm of a realization of “it’s His breath in our lungs, so we cry out to him.”  What does it mean to be human?  You’re a created being.  You’re a carrier of His image.  You are dust and breath. You were designed to be in relationship with the Almighty God.  You are most human when you walk with God.  “Every ant knows the formula of its ant-hill, every bee knows the formula of its beehive.  They know it in their own way, not in ours.  Only humankind does not know its formula.” (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)  Let’s learn our formula together and then let’s practice what it means to be fully human.   Let’s pray.

Jesus, in the quietness of this moment, we want to ask you to drill deeper in to few of the things you want us to walk away with.  Father, for the person in this room who is struggling with self-worth, I pray they would hear clearly, this morning, that regardless of what their resumé looks like, or their bank account looks like, or their past looks like, or they think their future’s going to look like, that they are created in your image, by You, with design, with purpose and out of love.  I pray, Lord, that you would just impress on all of us this morning, but especially on that person that’s wrestling, purpose and meaning and hope.  Jesus, I pray that you would raise up a church that wouldn’t just say that things are wrong or that things are bad, but that would step in to make a difference, affirming that you love, designed, and care for your creation, Lord.  May we re-take up that mantle in a way of love, in a way of caring, in a way of goodness.  Lord, would you teach us what it looks like.  To not just sit on the sidelines, but to play the part in caring for your creation that you designed us to play.  Father, most of all, we pray, that through Jesus, would you teach us what it looks like and what it means to be fully human.  We pray in His name.  Amen.