In his review of the Oscar-winning movie The Pianist, the true story of Jewish musician Wladyslaw Szpilman, John Benton writes, “The biblical contradiction at the heart of what it is to be human is here on full display. We have the nobility and depravity of man and of that of which we are capable.”
The psalmist of the Bible has also considered the nature of humankind. He considered our original nobility as he reflected on the Creation story, which is found in the first chapter of the Bible, in the book of Genesis: “When I consider your heavens,/ the work of your fingers,/ the moon and the stars,/ which you have set in place,/ what is man that you are mindful of him,/ the son of man that you care for him?”
“You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings/ and crowned him with glory and honour./ You made him ruler over the works of your hands;/ you put everything under his feet:/ all flocks and herds,/ and the beasts of the field,/ the birds of the air,/ and the fish of the sea,/ all that swim the paths of the seas” (Psalm 8:3-8).
The immensity and majesty of the universe brings into focus the wonder of God’s focus on humankind. If size were the only criterion, men and women seem so insignificant compared to the vastness of the cosmos. Why create people, anyway? What is their nature—and God’s purpose for them?
Humankind, the psalm says, was created a little lower than angels. And we know something of the nature of angels from Scripture. Like humans, they are created beings, with those dwelling in the presence of God serving as “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:20).
It was one from this group of angels, Lucifer, who rebelled against God, enticing a third of the angels of heaven to go along with him (see Revelation 12:3, 4, 7-9; Ezekiel 28:11-19). To allow the ultimate fruit of that rebellious spirit to fully manifest itself before the onlooking universe, God, in His wisdom, allowed Lucifer, or Satan, to continue his existence, but within controlled limitations.
The Bible doesn’t tell anything of the specific sequence of events, but we are told that the cosmic rebellion had taken place some time before the creation of the earth, because this newly created planet was to be the place of Satan’s confinement (Revelation 12:9). The Bible makes it clear that the central issue in Lucifer’s rebellion was the character of God and His laws, and the nature of His governance of the universe (see Isaiah 14:12-15; Revelation 11:15-19; 20:7-15).
We can safely conclude that the creation of humanity at this particular time was intentionally designed by God to somehow vindicate His character in the face of Satan’s accusations. As they trusted God, and lived in faithfulness to Him, the lives of human beings would have borne witness to the wisdom and love of God. The focus and significance that He gives humanity at the ultimate creation of a new earth at the end of time certainly bears out the “investment” God has in them.
For example, the apostle John tells us, “The dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:3, 4).
We can therefore understand the statement the psalmist makes that humankind was crowned “with glory and honour.” Moreover, we have sound reason to believe that the ascription of glory was much more than a metaphor. The Bible tells us that God breathed into Adam His ruarch (Hebrew), His very own Holy Spirit present at the creation (Genesis 1:2). The glory of the indwelling Holy Spirit has always manifested itself in a visible glory (2 Corinthians 3:7, 8). On several occasions in the life of Jesus that indwelling Holy Spirit flashed in blinding glory through His humanity (Matthew 17:1, 2; John 18:1-6).
When Adam and Eve were created they would have worn that glory as their covering. But when they chose to distrust Jesus, the Holy Spirit, like a spurned lover, silently withdrew, leaving them with a manifest awareness of their nakedness (Genesis 3:7). The garments of fig leaves they stitched together with their own human devising, were not formed primarily to cover their private parts, but as a feeble effort to replace the lost glory of the Holy Spirit’s covering.
Adam and Eve were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26, 27) and, as such, reflected the mind of God to think, the heart of God to feel every emotion, the will of God to choose with total freedom, the creativity of God to make, and the Spirit of God to worship. Even the maleness and femaleness of our first parents reflected the image of God—His strength and protection (Exodus 15:3) on the one hand and His nurturing compassion (Isaiah 66:13) on the other.
The psalmist points out, however, that the most significant manner in which Adam reflected the image of God was the role of rulership entrusted to him over all the earth with its animals, fish and birds (Genesis 1:26). God asked Adam to be the representative head of the human race on this planet, to rule wisely and use his authority in consultation and dependence on the God of the universe. God even chose to limit Himself, concerning the affairs of earth, to working through human beings. His giving is inseparably associated with our asking.
In the genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3:38 Adam is called the son of God because he had no-one else to call his earthly father. The book of Job describes a day when all the “sons of God” in the universe, the first created beings on other galaxies, assembled before God, and Satan came as Earth’s representative instead of Adam (Job 1:6).
We can only understand this to mean that when Adam and Eve succumbed to Satan’s temptation, they forfeited their rulership of this planet to him. Jesus endorses this view when three times in the Gospel of John he calls Satan “the Prince of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Nor when He was being tempted by Satan in the desert did He reject Satan’s claim that all the kingdoms of the earth were his to give (Luke 4:5, 6).
Sin was the inevitable result of the moral failure of our first parents and it has almost destroyed the image of God in humankind.
It has made us less than truly human. It has unleashed all the contrary manifestations of humanity, such as the depravity depicted in The Pianist.
The Bible describes three aspects of our human nature: body, soul and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Sin has brought death to our bodies (Genesis 3:3). It has wounded our souls (the Greek word psuche [psyche] implies our thinking patterns, our emotional responses and our behavioural choices), and put to death our human spirit (Ephesians 2:1-5).
That would be terribly discouraging if we had never heard the good news that Jesus, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8).
Jesus intentionally took the title “Son of God” (see Luke 3:22; 4:3; 22:70) in order to identify Himself fully with humanity as the “second” Adam, who had come to wrest the rulership and authority over this planet from Satan (see Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:21, 22; Matthew 28:18). But Jesus was not a pretend man. While retaining His full divinity, He was just as much man as if He had never been God. Unlike us in our present sinful state, Jesus is the only person who is fully human. Upon His resurrection He went out of His way to show His disciples that He was not a ghost, but had bound Himself to humanity with a tie that will never be broken for the rest of eternity (Luke 24:36-42; Philippians 3:20, 21).
If we respond to all that he has done for us in His doing and dying, then the Holy Spirit once more comes and brings our human spirit to life again (John 3:6), gradually transforms our wounded souls (Romans 12:2), and promises an eventual resurrection to our dying bodies (1Thessalonians 4:16, 17).
How good is that? Through His infinite love for us, we have the invitation to once again be as fully human as we were originally created to be.