If you were to visit the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. you could visit an exhibit called The Hall of Human Origins, and you could spend the better part of a day visiting the various displays that make up the exhibit.
Now if DC isn’t on your vacation list for this year, you could simply go to the Smithsonian’s human origins website.
As part of the project, they have been asking visitors since 2018 the question, ‘What does it mean to be human?’
Here are some of the answers:
David, Spain “It means having the power of reason, the freedom of choice, and the pursuit to understand and study the world”
– Jon, VA “To me being human means that you have hobbies or participate in your own culture that you can share with other people.”
– Stephen, California, writes, “Being human is having language, being able to communicate, having culture, intelligence, self-awareness, and empathy. Also, bipedalism is pretty cool!”
– Anna, Greenville, South Carolina said, “A being created by God and in His image, with the ability to think and act, while having a conscience.”
– Emily from South Carolina wrote, “Humanness is being made in God’s image; having emotion, intent, intelligence, feelings, spirit, and soul. Being human means to have eternality and be born sinful, but have an opportunity for redemption. It also means having discernment and choice.”
And I loved the response of Jovany, who attends Roosevelt High School in Portland Oregon. Jovany wrote, “Being a human might sound easy but with being a human come a lot of responsibilities.”
The documentary channel BBC Earth asked a similar rhetorical question and answered it this way, “It’s a simple question, just a few short words, but it unwraps the bundle of complexity, contradictions, and mystery that is a human life.”
It is a question that humanity has been asking about itself for thousands of years. And through those years we have sought answers from a variety of sources.
And the answers have varied depending on whom you asked. Was it a priest or a politician? An artist or a scientist? A philosopher or a poet? But any and all of those answers fall short of truly explaining what it means to be human.
Going back to the BBC we read, “In fact, to date, no one has come close to describing the sheer magnificent wonder of being alive. The electric surge we feel when we kiss a lover, the deep stirring of the soul when we listen to Mozart’s Requiem, and the full flowing joy of laughing uncontrollably with our closest friends as we share a joke.”
This spring we are looking at the question “Who am I?” and how the answer to that question defines our image. That is, whom we perceive ourselves to be.
Last week I looked at the creation account, in particular Genesis 1:26–27 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
And if that sounds familiar it’s because that’s the scripture that was read this morning as well.
Last week, I spoke about what it means to be created in the image of God, and how that image became distorted through humanity’s choice to disobey God.
It was while I was preparing that message that I read Brian Rosner’s book, Known by God, a Biblical Theology of Personal Identity. And it was here that, Rosner suggests five characteristics from the creation account that make us human.
Let’s begin with Genesis 2:7 Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.
So, the first thing we need to realize is that Human Beings are Special
If we read through the creation account, we discover there are similarities in each element of creation. God speaks the various elements into being. The earth, the seas, the plants the animals. And in each case, we are told that God saw that it was good.
This changes on the fifth day when all the living animals were created and at that point something was added.
Let’s pick up the story in Genesis 1:21–22 So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that scurries and swarms in the water, and every sort of bird—each producing offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply. Let the fish fill the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth.”
And it’s here that God adds a blessing and a mandate or mission for the living creatures. This would imply that His act of creating living beings was different than what had happened up to this point.
But then in the next stage of creation, it changes again. And I know that this is a little bit of a repeat from last week, but’s really important.
Because it’s here we read Genesis 1:26–27 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
We’ve gone from the singular, and now we are looking at a collaborative process in creation. Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. And last week we landed on the premise that this was the first evidence of the Trinity, and you can find that online if you need a refresher.
The second thing that is different is that instead of simply being created, human beings were created in God’s image. And then finally we see the hierarchy in creation set in place. Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”
The second chapter of Genesis takes time to spell out the creation process, Genesis 2:7 Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.
Kenneth Matthews, a professor at the Beeson Divinity School writes, “The man receives his life force from the Creator himself, hovering over him. Breathed is warmly personal, with the face-to-face intimacy of a kiss and the significance that this was giving as well as making; and self-giving at that.”
Later in the Bible, Job describes himself with these words, Job 33:4 For the Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.
So, we share the gift of life with all living creatures, but only human life comes from the breath of God.
Humans are different from other animals, and it would appear that they are created superior to other animals. Now you might have problems with that but understand that you can’t establish the hierarchy of nature. If we are the same as the noble eagle, then we are the same as the annoying turkey.
The second thing we discover in the creation of human beings is in Genesis 2:18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”
And it’s here that we realize that Human Beings are Social Beings
We were created as social beings, and as much as we might like or prefer our own company there is an innate need inside of the majority of us to connect with others.
That became a reality for many people in the initial stages of COVID when we were repeatedly told to stay the blazes home. And all of a sudden, only the diehard introverts were enjoying their own company.
In the British scientific journal Nature, we read, “Human beings are a social species that relies on cooperation to survive and thrive. . . Cooperation lies at the heart of human lives and society — from day-to-day interactions to some of our greatest endeavours.”
When you think of some of the things that make us go wow. The pyramids of Egypt, the great cathedrals of Europe, the Taj Mahal, the Suez and Panama Canals and space travel. None of those could have happened without humans being social beings.
Throughout the bible, we are told that we are to show one another mercy and kindness, that we are to motivate one another, serve one another, forgive one another and submit to one another. And more than anything, time and time again we are told that we are to love one another.
At creation, it was not good for man to be alone, and it still isn’t good for us to be alone. We were created to be social beings.
That is why people have been anxious to get back to church. During the first few weeks of COVID, there were all kinds of funny comments about how great it was to go to church in our PJs, but for many people, it wasn’t offering enough.
There was a longing for the social aspect. And I know that there are folks who because of health concerns are still worshipping online, but for the most part, people are realizing why the writer of Hebrews admonishes believers in Hebrews 10:25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.
Because we were created to be social beings, we crave that, even as we worship our creator.
But we are more than simply social beings, let’s go back to the story.
Genesis 1:27 So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
Not only were the first couple created to be together, but they were also created to be together. If you know what I mean. Nod, nod, wink, wink.
It is in the creation account that we discover that Human Beings are Sexual Beings
If the first man just needed a friend for companionship, then God could have created another man.
Instead, we are told that they were created as male and female. And then he gave them the same mission and mandate that he gave to the rest of the animals. To reproduce.
Now, maybe somewhere along through the years, you have heard that the original sin was sex. Nope, that was not it.
Eating the fruit was not a metaphor for intercourse, because from the very beginning that was something God commanded humans to do, not something he forbid them from doing.
The first sin was disobedience to God, not obedience. And they would have been given the knowledge of how to do that.
I came across an article in the online magazine Slate. One section of the magazine is called Explainer, and it answers questions submitted by readers. Staff writer Holly Dunsworth answered the question: How Did Humans Figure Out That Sex Makes Babies?
“We humans have essentially always kind of understood that the deed leads to the delivery room.” Dunsworth goes on to state “Of the entire animal world, ‘reproductive consciousness’ is unique to humans.”
But, while all animals were commanded to reproduce, sexuality was different for human beings.
That is spelled out in the second chapter of Genesis where we read, Genesis 2:24–25 This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. Now the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame.
Here we are introduced to the biblical concept that human sexuality was created for more than simply reproduction. There when the two become one, there is an emotional and spiritual element as well.
Time and time again throughout the scriptures we are reminded that sex is God’s gift to us. And sometimes that’s a shock because most of us are convinced that our generation created sex or at least discovered sex. Especially if you are a child of the sixties or seventies. Got news for you, there was only one virgin birth, and you weren’t it.
And if we don’t think that our generation created sex, then we think we are the first generation to enjoy it. Wrong again. It has been the way it is since creation; sex didn’t evolve, and it hasn’t gotten better.
If anything as we have moved away from creation and that initial intimacy, we have moved away from the fullest enjoyment of sexual intimacy as well.
In the Song of Solomon in the Old Testament, you read a poetic account of two lovers. And it becomes very apparent that it wasn’t reproduction they were interested in, but they were celebrating each other bodies and their sexuality.
In the New Testament we read Paul’s words to the early church in 1 Corinthians 7:3-4 The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs. The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife.
Did you catch that? There is to be a mutuality in meeting each other’s needs and desires. It’s not simply all about “you” singular it is all about “you” plural.
It wasn’t like God created us and then said “Oops, that wasn’t supposed to feel that good, oh well it’s too late to change it.”
So, sex is there not just for procreation and not even just for pleasure but for our mutual pleasure.
If you are a proponent of evolution, then you would believe that we simply evolved so that sex felt good in order to promote reproduction.
But if you believe that we were designed and created by God, then you understand that he created sex for our pleasure, not just to make babies.
But understand within the confines of the bible, sex was meant to be shared within the confines of marriage. And I could preach an entire sermon on that, and I have, but the short version goes back to the two becoming one.
A number of years ago I had a conversation with a young man, and he told me “You have to be careful when you have sex because each time, you’re giving the other person a little bit of yourself.” Not a believer mind you and he had it pegged.
Five times in the scriptures we read about two being united and becoming one.
If we had two separate containers of different coloured sand and poured them into one, we would have something different. Not worse just different.
But what happens if we tried to separate them? If we tried to make the one become two again? They wouldn’t be the same as they were before.
And it’s the same with physical intimacy, you are never the same because of what you’ve taken and what you’ve given. And what happens when that is repeated over and over again?
A recent study showed that the average American has 5 sexual partners in their lifetime. Which happens to be down from five years ago.
But the question is the same, what happens when two becomes one, five times? Just asking.
But there is still more to being a human, let’s go back to the story.
Genesis 2:15–17 The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden— except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.”
Along with the other characteristics, Human Beings are Moral Beings
There has been a long-standing debate in biology called Nature vs nurture. And it is a simple way to discuss the two competing factors which determine fate: genetics and environment.
Are we the way we are because of how we were born or how we were raised? But the problem with either view is that it removes free will and choice from the equation.
When I was a kid there was a comedian on TV by the name of Flip Wilson, and one of his classic lines was “The Devil made me do it.” But in the nature and nurture debate, instead of blaming the devil, we blame our genetics, that was the way I was born. Or we blame our circumstances. It’s because of how I was raised, where I went to school, and we can go on ad nauseam.
In the Wesleyan Church, there is a document that contains our policies and guidelines and governance, and what we believe. And it’s in The Wesleyan Discipline that we read, “We believe that humanity’s creation in the image of God included the ability to choose between right and wrong. Thus individuals were made morally responsible for their choices.”
If we go back the Genesis account we read, Genesis 3:6 The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too.
But the Devil didn’t make them do it, they chose to be disobedient.
Good and bad behaviour isn’t something we have to do, it’s something we choose to do.
20 years ago, in a fit of insanity, we acquired a Great Dane puppy. He was so, little and cute. Eventually, he stood a metre tall at the shoulder and weighed 150 lbs. And he really was a great dog, and part of it was nature. His parents were great dogs. And part of it was nurture. Angela bought a book called, Good Owners Great Dogs and she trained Diesel from the time he was very young.
I joked and said we needed that when we were parenting. But the difference between dogs, or any other animal and human beings is that animals don’t get to make moral choices. We do.
When the first couple choice to disobey God, they did it willingly.
I know they were tempted. But they didn’t have to give in to that temptation. As Christ-followers we are promised in 1 Corinthians 10:13 The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.
You have heard me beat this drum over and over again, but we are the product of the choices we make. Where we are today, is the result of choices we made yesterday.
And the awesome part of that is that where you will be tomorrow will be determined by the choices you make today.
We were created with the ability and the privilege to make our own moral choices.
And finally, humanity wasn’t just created to be in a relationship with other people we were created to be in a relationship with God.
John tells us in 1 John 3:1 See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him.
It is because we were created in the image of God that we are more than physical beings, it was because he breathed life into us that we are different from the other animals.
What truly makes us different than the rest of creation is the fact that Human Beings are Spiritual Beings
We were created to have fellowship with God, but that fellowship was broken when we chose disobedience.
We are told in Isaiah 59:2 It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away and will not listen anymore.
And while that might sound hopeless, we are told in 1 John 1:9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.
And Paul reminds Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:5–6 For, There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time.
Each one of us longs to be in a relationship with God and each one of us has to make the choice to restore that relationship.
The question is, how does that work?
Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:8–10 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.