Being Human

I gave this message in 2016. Article 6 of the confession of faith in a Mennonite perspective.

Here are two very different pictures of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Humans are created in the image of God, so what does that mean when we get two different pictures?

Psalm 8:4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?

Psalm 8 is a psalm of David. When he sees all the things that God has made, he wonders why God took interest in humans and made them so important. God made angels, yet it was to humans that God gave the task of taking care of the world he made.

An important part of being Christian is understanding what it means to be a human. Being Christian is really all about being the human that God intended us to be. The Mennonite perspective of being human has underscored a lot of our faith practice. For example, a fundamental part of being human is peaceful relationships with others which influences the reason why we don’t go to war.

Article 6 of our confession of faith is titled “The Creation and Calling of Human Beings” and it emphasizes the following points: (1) We are made in the divine image (2) We are made for peaceful relationship with God and other people (3) we are made for work and rest (4) women and men are made equal and finally (5), Jesus is the ideal that we were made to be like.

Article 6 deals primarily with what God’s original intent was with humans as it says in paragraph 1 of article 6: We believe that God has created human beings in the divine image. God formed them from the dust of the earth and gave them a special dignity among all the works of creation. Human beings have been made for relationship with God, to live in peace with each other, and to take care of the rest of creation.

In theory it’s easy to be human, but in practice it has been very difficult and it is not easy to understand why. I don’t think God intended that being human was going to be easy, but I do think that God made us capable to the task he gave.

What we were made for

Adam and Eve’s first job was taking care of a garden. It’s a job plenty of people still enjoy to this day.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

Genesis 1:26 NIV

Paragraph 2 of Article 6 of our confession (part 1): We believe that human beings were created good, in the image of God. As creatures according to the divine likeness, we have been made stewards to subdue and to care for creation out of reverence and honor for the Creator. As creatures made in the divine image, we have been blessed with the abilities to respond faithfully to God, to live in harmony with other human beings, and to engage in meaningful work and rest.

The first few chapters in Genesis give a clear picture of what we were made for and this is reflected in our confession of faith.

From the beginning, people are made for doing work and having rest. There is a balance here and it is a theme in scripture. Our confession uses the phrase “meaningful work and rest”. That is to say, not all work provides what we need and not all rest is satisfactory. The way I understand it, when we work, we should be able to find satisfaction in the work we do and when we rest, not only should we find rest for our bodies, but our souls should be restored as well.

Genesis also describes the job humans are called to. We are given the broad task of taking care of what God made. It is interesting to note, that part of the job includes the task of naming creation. God could’ve named all the animals, but the task was given to Adam.

While “Naming” seems like an easy enough job, it actually says a lot about being human. God gave us the ability to see and recognize the truth of what something is and to give it a name and this skill plays a valuable role in our work as stewards over God’s creation. For example, Adam created the word “Woman” and named his wife “Eve” recognizing who she is and what she would be.

Our confession mentions that we are also meant for relationship. In Genesis chapter 2, we see God saying that it isn’t good for man to be alone and then he creates woman. In Genesis chapter 3, we see God walking in the garden looking for Adam and Eve. It implies that this is something that God did on a regular basis and that he was expecting to spend time with Adam and Eve.

We are created creatures and in that way we are like the rest of creation, but unlike the rest of creation, we were made in the image of God so that we can do the work of taking care of creation and so that we could relate to God, responding to his voice when he calls.

Women and Men

Priscilla and Aquila were a married couple that are mentioned 7 times in the New Testament. What is notable is that the wife, Priscilla, is mentioned first in 5 of the times they show up, which isn’t typical. It is thought that Priscilla was a leader in the church because of this.

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:27 NIV

From Paragraph 2 in Article 6 of our confession of faith, it says(part 2): Because both Adam and Eve were equally and wonderfully made in the divine image, God’s will from the beginning has been for women and men to live in loving and mutually helpful relationships with each other.

Church tradition has often made women less than men. It is still reflected in our culture in the US today, where women are, on average, paid less and honored less for doing work that is on par with men in the same positions. The inequality is even greater in other parts of the world. It’s for this reason that it is important to stress this point: Women and Men were made equal and should be treated equal if we are living redeemed lives.

Creation has men coming first and that women are mentioned as helpers, but it should be noted that the term used for “helper” is similar to the word “help” that is used in other scripture in reference to God, where he “helps” man. To say that women are a helper to men is similar to saying that God is our helper. It doesn’t mean that the helper is less than the one helped.

When it comes to the equality of women and men, Mennonites consider it quite clear that in creation, women and men were equals, both made in the image of God. Secondly, both women and men are redeemed in exactly the same way, by Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit comes on both men and women equally.

Becoming what we were meant to be

The story of Zacchaeus demonstrates how Jesus is able to restore dignity to someone who has everything, but really doesn’t have anything. Zacchaeus had money and a good life, but he was missing right relationship with God and his fellow Jews.

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

Romans 8:29 NIV

From Paragraph 3 of article 6 of our confession: We are grateful that God patiently preserves humanity and faithfully remains with us even through death. God has made provision for the salvation of humanity and the redemption of creation. We believe that the image of God in all its fullness has been revealed and restored in Jesus Christ, in whom we find our true humanity.

This paragraph essentially says that we messed up when it comes to being human, but God didn’t give up. It’s in Jesus Christ that we see what we were supposed to become and in who’s image we will be shaped into as we follow Jesus.

What Paul is saying in the letter to the Romans is that we lost the original pattern of humanity, there was nothing good for us to imitate anymore, so Jesus came to make the new pattern for us to be shaped to, something we could see and follow. It’s when we imitate Jesus that we learn again what it means to be human with our dignity restored.

Becoming human again

The first picture is that of a blackjack, a weapon used in subduing patients at state mental hospitals.

The second picture is an over crowded bedroom at a state run mental hospital. There are many more pictures that are not suitable for our regular church audience.

For Mennonites, our understanding of following Jesus has meant that we do not participate in war. There are many reasons why Mennonites don’t participate in war and part of that reason is found in our understanding of what it means to be human. One such reason is that people are dehumanized in war. The soldiers are often taught to think of their enemy as animals instead of humans. Have you ever heard a Captain or General tell his troops that they are about to go out and kill human beings, who have Moms and Dads and Grandparents and wives and children that depend on them?

When World War II started, many of the Mennonites that were drafted became conscientious objectors and were assigned to alternative service work, where they worked as volunteers during the war with non-military organizations. A significant number of these conscientious objectors served in state mental hospitals.

Before and during World War II, state mental hospitals did very little to care for patients. Facilities, like the Philadelphia State Hospital were over crowded where 3 staff would care for 350 patients. Patients lived in inhuman conditions, having no clothes and living naked in their own filth.

These young conscientious objectors were tasked with subduing the patients and keeping things clean. To do their job, these young, untrained men, were told to use restraints and blackjacks (a small club). They struggled to do their job because they saw the truth of what was happening: they were asked to treat people like animals. Over the years during the war, the conscientious objectors worked at changing the state run mental hospitals. After the war, many of these conscientious objectors continued their work, changing the institutions and starting mental health institutions that treated patients with dignity.

It is stories like this that remind me of how important our understanding of what it means to be human is. When we treat people as less than human, we start to lose our ability to recognize what it means to be human and when that happens, we start to lose our ability to be human. In the beginning, God gave us the gift to be able to see and recognize the truth of creation and to name it. These conscientious objectors saw the truth and called it out.

As followers of Jesus, we are called, like these conscientious objectors, to remind people of what it means to be a human created in the image of God and how we can be restored when we let our lives be formed to the pattern of Jesus.

This entry was posted in confession of faith, sermon summary. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.