hands of many skin colors representing different parts of humanity

Theology levels the playing field for humanity

Human beings are a fascinating bunch. Without a doubt, we have some pretty… interesting ideas about ourselves, either seeing ourselves as beings of supreme importance or try to convince ourselves of our own insignificance. Some of us broadcast every thought and life event, no matter how insignificant (and when that doesn’t work, we selectively edit to make ourselves look better). We downplay our abilities in exchange for compliments. Some of us arrogantly act at though we are better than every other human being because of socioeconomic status, nationality, ethnicity, or even denominational traditions. And others still spend inordinate amounts of time trying to convince us all that we are all, essentially, cosmic accidents of no greater value than any other organism on this planet. Indeed we might even be the worst once you factor in overpopulation, pollution, and The Bachelor.

(Okay, that last one might be a stronger one.)

But theology challenges all of these attitudes and beliefs. Theology shapes how we see the world. It shows us that God is intimately involved with his creation. It tells us we are under his authority. But it does more than that. Theology puts humanity in its proper perspective. Although there are many—many—passages worthy of consideration, two will suffice for giving us a starting point.

The theological foundation for understanding humanity

The creation account gives us our starting point for understanding God, but also ourselves. And it’s profound. According to this passage, humanity is unique among all creation not because of our destructive capability. It is something else entirely. We are, according to Genesis 1:26, made in the image of God, in his likeness. In some mysterious way that we cannot fully comprehend—in a way that doesn’t fit neatly into utilitarian categories—we are like God. Moral agents who think, feel, and act. We have a will and desires. We are relational creatures, made to steward and nurture creation (or have “dominion” depending on your translation), acting as God’s representatives within the created world. (I’ve written about this a great deal, including in this article.)

Humanity doesn’t really make sense without a grasp of this truth. It’s what makes compassion and justice and love and marriage make sense. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The Bible doesn’t stop there, and neither can we.

The theological road to Romans

The first two chapters of Genesis offer a breathtaking picture of perfection and the potential for human flourishing. But by Genesis 3, that potential had been squandered as the first humans were deceived and sinned against their Creator. They made a theological choice: they believed something false about God. They believed he was holding out on them, keeping something good from them. So they chose disobedience, thinking it would bring them closer to being like God—forgetting that they already were and condemning all the rest of us along the way.

Scripture paints a bleak picture of humanity following this first act of disobedience, a downward spiral into death. A cycle of rejection and restoration that continues to our own day. Whether it’s the accounts of a global flood as seen in Genesis or what you read on Twitter this morning, the evidence is there before us. Humanity openly thumbs its collective nose at its Creator, taunting him to do something. Is it any wonder Paul summarize the state of humanity as:

There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away; all alike have become worthless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one.

Romans 3:10-11

Humanity doesn’t make sense unless we also grasp this truth—we are made in the image of God, yes. But there is something profoundly broken in us. We don’t seek what is truly good or the One who made us. We know he exists, but we deny him because we love other things more. This is what helps us understand the mess we see all around us. Indeed, the state of the world makes no sense at all unless we begin to grasp that it’s not something we can be educated out of. The issue goes much deeper than that.

A level playing field makes compassion matter

Theology levels the playing field; it puts us in our proper perspective and grounds our mission in this world. Because all human begins are made in the image of God, the theological implication is we must treat all human beings with the dignity and respect that is their due in light of this reality. It doesn’t matter their nationality, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual preference, or political affiliation—a person is a person is a person.

This is a non-negotiable in the Christian worldview. If we believe what God says is true, then we must honor that. This, by the way, is why Christians have historically shown a great concern for the sanctity of human life in the fullest sense. It’s what roots compassion and the pursuit of justice in the world. If all people are made in the image of God, we must uphold their dignity. We must seek the good of all—not because of their utilitarian value to society but simply who they are.

At the same time, the theological view of the Bible encourages us to avoid holding ourselves in too high esteem. All people are made in the image of God. We are all also united in the same malady: sin. All humanity is condemned before God because we all deny the One in whose image we have been made. We all bear false witness to him throughout creation.

A level playing field gives one hope for all people

But here’s the good news that comes from this. Here’s why this level playing field matters. If it’s true that we’re all made in God’s image, and we’re all equally in the same mess, it means we all require the same solution to heal us. It doesn’t come by educating our way out of sinfulness, any more than it comes by virtue of being a good person. It’s not something we can earn or purchase. It comes from faith in the One our Creator sent to rescue and redeem us. It comes from Jesus, his perfect life and his death on a cross and his resurrection from the dead.

Rescue doesn’t come from within but from outside—and that means that it is open to all who would believe.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

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