Welcome to our new sermon series “Human: Divinely Designed, Divinely Defined”. I’ve been thinking about this subject for a while now, at least a year or so. It was our Dig and Delve theme last year. A lot of you know that I joined the steering committee for Dig and Delve, but maybe you don’t know why - it was because of this question: what does it mean to be human? I realized that nearly every news story had to do with this broader cultural conversation of what does it mean to be human, and how do we understand ourselves? Who are we? The New York Times declared last year to be “The Year We Obsessed Over Identity: 2015's headlines and cultural events have confronted us with the malleability of racial, gender, sexual and reputational lines. Who do we think we are?” An article in Time Magazine, came out a few months later:
The biggest news stories of 2015 made us look in the mirror and think about who is “me” and who is “she,” who is “us” and who is “them” — and sometimes, to think twice. That’s why the editors of Dictionary.com chose a word of the year that appears [simple but defines the complex shifts in a world that feels less fixed now than it did a year ago: identity.
“Many of the year’s biggest stories focused on the way in which individuals or members of a group are perceived, understood, accepted or shut out,” the editors wrote in a press release announcing their decision on Tuesday morning. Spikes in lookups for words related to racial identity, gender identity and sexual identity, they note, helped secure their choice, as people like former NCAAP chapter president Rachel Dolezal and recently transitioned Caitlyn Jenner dominated the headlines. People learned and fought about the meanings of words like transracial, gender expression and marriage.
There were lots of questions about identity. Can a person be born to white parents but identify as black? When people identify with a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth, which bathroom should they be allowed to use at school? If a government clerk identifies as a Christian, should she have grounds to refuse issuing licenses for same-sex marriages? When is identifying a courageous, progressive act and when is it a misanthropic, prejudicial one?
I could add to this these questions - when does life begin and when does a human attain a right to life? What constitutes parenthood? Personhood? Is it right to assign greater value to human life than animal (and of course the biggest question of this year: did Harambe die for nothing?) These are all tough and viciously debated questions in our society. And obviously as Christians, we do believe that God has some the particularly authority to speak to these questions and more, for He is the one who designed us, therefore, He is the one to define us. This is one of the most important questions for the church to answer and have a real go grip on.
Who are we? Who defines us? This is a question that as far as we know, only humans raise. As theologian Jurgen Moltmann writes, “A cow is simply a cow. It does not ask,‘What is a cow? Who am I?’ Only man asks such questions, and indeed clearly has to ask them about himself and his being. This is his question.” This is our question:
This idea of humanity and how we are defined as human beings has gone through major changes throughout history, especially during eras of societal transition, such as the one we now face. We understand this on a personal level: Transitions in life are often hard times in regards to understand our identity: Transition into motherhood, Transition from student to adult, Transition to empty nest. Dr. Ted Turnau, Christian professor at University of Prague:
Traditional society: Grounded, Communal Self
- sphere of identity was relatively stable: people knew you and you knew yourself
- you lived, worked, worshipped, and played with those around you
- mom and dad and kids often worked together, kids grew up and took on the occupation of their father or assisted their husbands in their work.
- There were some problems - accept your lot in life, it was static, didn’t change. Often worth was assigned by your lot in life. The disabled, etc.
Modern society: Shift from Grounded Communal Self to Constant, Individualized Self
- First in Philosophy: Descartes: I think, therefore I am. Age of individualism: Yet as soon as the self was set forward, it began fracturing.
- Technological Shifts Corroding Personal Identity
- Urbanization: Disconnected from land, fluidity in relationships
- Privatization: Disconnect between private life and public life
- Mechanization: Disconnect between ethics and production
Today: Shift from Constant, Individual Self, to an Plastic, Expressive Self
- Technological Shifts Corroding Personal Identity
- Information Age and Rise of New Technologies
- They question and problematize traditional authorities (how can any one perspective claim absolute Truth?). These messages shape identity, which is now not seen as fixed, but as fragmentary and fluid.
- Production vs. Consumerism
- The 'plastic self', make identity as flexible as possible to experience as much as possible, SHALLOW
- The 'expressive self' that seeks authenticity and completion of the inner-narrative. SELF-ABSORBED
- Information Age and Rise of New Technologies
- There is no reality to who I am, so I choose my identity, I write my own story. The postmodern:
- Is suspicious of external authority to tell them who they are
- Is suspicious of absolute truth - there are too many such claims marketed
- Has problems with the concept of absolute reality (blurred real and image)
- May not see themselves a a single stabilized identity, but as a fluid identity in process, but always with a core identity in witch choice is supreme
- Longs for authenticity and completion in their story - this is why we both hate labels that are assigned to us, and love labels that we select for ourselves.
Today, “our identities,” writes Mark Sayers, “have been replaced with images.” And these images are “disposable images of the media landscape.” The labels we assign to ourselves are like fig leaves, covering up the fact that we don’t truly know who we are. We are afraid that we are, in terms of our identity, Naked.
So where do we start to find grounding again? Genesis 3:11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked?” “Who told you” Usually we would start at the beginning at Genesis 1, and we will indeed go back there in a few weeks, but so much of our human experience arises from here in Genesis 3, that it really is a passage that introduces what it means to have our identity defined by God and his Word.
We Are Human “Beings”: There is grounded, static, unchangeable part of our nature, but it is not grounded in the relationships that we have or found in our role or place in society. The grounded part of our identity as human beings is that we are designed by God and to be defined by God.
We see this being challenged in Genesis 3 in Satan’s deception of the woman:
Gen. 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
- It was a challenge to God’s word: First he questions: “Did God really say?” Then he denies, “You will not surely die” - so, get this, first there was a challenge, an undermining of God’s word. God’s word which only a few chapters before called them both into existence, :when God said, “Let us make man” is now being undermined and discarded.
- It was a reshaping of human identity: Once God’s word is challenged, the serpent now seeks to subtly reshape humanity’s identity. “You will be like God” What’s amazing about this reshaping of human identity is that the man and woman already were like God, after the manner in which God had created them - when God created them, he said about them, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” - we’ll get into what it means to be made in God’s image and likeness in the weeks to come - but the point here is that instead of receiving and accepting the definition of what it means to be human from God, here now Satan suggests that some action of their own will define them, and make them godlike. And thus,
- It was a challenge to God’s authority: it is not only that she would be like God, it is that she would be a god unto herself. She would be like god “knowing good and evil” - the idea is that they will now possess a moral knowledge unto themselves, independent of God’s moral revelation, and it is in this blasphemous way that they will become like God - they will now determine for themselves right and wrong. And this humanity, designed by God, defined by God, is now denying God. “Kate is my religion”
Yet, even their rebellion did not entirely cut them off as humans from God. They eat, and their eyes are opened and they hide from God and try to cover up their nakedness before Him, and He comes looking for them and asks them in Genesis 3:11 “Who told you that you were naked?”
God’s question reveals that He still expects them to define themselves by His word and respond accordingly. You’re not naked, until I say you’re naked. Why did you go off and seek to understand your state before me on your own - you ate of that fruit didn’t you? God still has the authority to define them, even though they will seek after their own self-designations
- What it means to be a human being is that we “BE” in relationship to God who defines us as we stand before him. He defines us.
- All human beings are still defined by their relationship to God as His made-in-his-image ones.
- Our identity is not found in our sexual orientation but in our theological orientation: who are you before God?
- Our identity is not found in our relationships but in our relationship to God: who are you before God?
- We don’t look inward to find ourselves and define ourselves; we look upward.
We are Human “Brokens”
Having rebelled against God, we don’t cease to be human beings, but we are human “brokens.” Sin has broken something within us and has broken our relationships - first and most importantly our relationship with God, but then also our relationships with others and in fact the rest of Creation itself. We see this in their hiding from God. We see this in their blaming of one another, but we see this most clearly in the Words God speaks to them describing what their human experience will now be like under sin.
Gen. 3:16 To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
Gen. 3:17 And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you,‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
- As human brokens, we will not be able to satisfactorily define ourselves by our relationships, roles, or work. The more we try to define ourselves by those things, the more pain they will cause us.
- This is human experience under sin: although we see some amount of glory in humanity by virtue of our divine design, instead of recognizing God’s authority to define us, we seek to define ourselves by literally anything else, no matter how much pain this causes us.
We Are Human “Becomings” 3:22 Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.
God doesn’t want us to remain in our brokenness. Notice the words: “Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever” He doesn’t want us to remain in our brokenness, which mean that we had to leave the garden. Therefore, he sent them out (vs 23), drove him out (vs 24), place a cherubim and flaming sword. He didn’t send us out alone however, he sent them out with a promise, a promise that one day a perfect man would come. A new Adam, who would defeat Satan and restore humanity the purpose he intended for us.
Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
1John 3:2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
Rom. 8:19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.