The Re-Humanizing of Humanity

In December of 2013 we saw the cultural memorializing of two significant events—the first was the anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting, and the second, the death of Nelson Mandela. Both events, set in the context of death, stand in opposition to one another. One was a sad reminder of a world broken by mental illness and violence. The other was the recognition of a life lived for human dignity. And it is in that tension, between dignity and frailty, that every human on this planet lives, trying to make sense of it all.

What is Man…?

Psalm 8 stands as an island of hope in the Old Testament and picks up on this very real tension. It is a song of David, in which he was reflecting on the dignity of humanity in the face of the frailty of humanity. Verses 4-8 read,

What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.

You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.”

Note a few things that this Psalm teaches.

  1. Despite man’s frailty and minuscule standing in comparison to sunsets and mountain ranges, nevertheless God has given him dignity. God is imminently mindful of man.
  2. Above all creatures God chose man to bear the imago dei, the very image of God. The Lord has crowned man with glory and honor.           
  3. Man was appointed by God to steward creation. God’s purpose for creation was that all things would be subject to mankind.   

Those are three outstanding promises about the capacity and design for humanity. But when we look at our world and human history do we find any of these three coming to fruition?

A CSI: World

As we consider humanity in the forensics lab of our hearts and minds we find a much different story playing out. Despite promises of dignity, frailty seems to constantly win the day. Temptations abound. Sin runs rampant. The news tells us repeatedly of murder and corruption, while our own daily lives produce mounds of discontent, disappointment, and unbelief.

Please know that I am not aiming for macabre. I am, however, looking for the realism that only Christianity can bring. The author of Hebrews picks up this line of thinking in Hebrews 2:8 when he considers Psalm 8 and says,

“In putting everything in subjection to him [mankind], he left nothing outside his control. At present we do not yet see everything in subjection to him [mankind]...

The author of Hebrews obviously has a penchant for understatement. We do not yet see any man as a totally free steward ruling over creation as God’s imago dei representative. In fact we see quite the opposite. We sin sin that so easily entangles us (Heb 12:1), the thing we want to do beyond our capability, and the things we hate all too often showing up as our habitual experience (Rom 7). We find ourselves longing unrequitedly for a definitive dignity and a freedom from frailty.

But God’s intention was never for fallen man to pull himself out his own corruption. Dignity and frailty would find reconciliation in another--vastly more radical and costly--way.

We See Jesus

The author of Hebrews brings his theological thought process to a conclusion by telling us that, which we don’t see the change we long for in our own lives, we do see Him:

“But we see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (Heb 2:9)

God’s solves the tension of Psalm 8 in a completely unexpected way. The God of creation reconciles human dignity and human frailty in the incarnation of His Son, Jesus Christ. In the DA Carson and GK Beale edited, Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament, we read:

“Christ, then, in his solidarity with human beings, was able to bring about the ultimate fulfillment of the psalm’s intention… In adding humanity to his deity via the incarnation, Christ joined us in our frailty, our smallness in the scope of the vast creation. He moved from his preincarnate sphere of the power and authority that he wielded in creating the world, and he assumed a lower place in the created order. The frailty consequent of this move terminated in the Son’s death for everyone (Heb 2:8–9). Yet, because of suffering and death, he was “crowned with glory and honor,” in the words of the psalm. The dignity of humans, granted to Adam in his place in the world, comes to ultimate fulfillment and expression in the Son as he is made Lord of all things, all things having been placed under his feet.”

Jesus as truly God and truly man is also truly dignified and truly frail. He is both God and the imago God. In tasting death for those who would place their faith in Him, He makes a way for sinners to enter into God’s original intention for humanity expressed in Psalm 8. If the fall of Adam is the great dehumanizing event in human history then the incarnation of the Second Adam, and His subsequent death and resurrection, is the re-humanizing of those who find salvation in him.

What to Do

  1. Admit the frailty of human experience. Discussions around Christmas are a great time to enter into the hurt and broken lives around us. Despite their festive veneer, holidays are some of the most painful times for a large segment of our society. Most of them are desperately looking for someone with whom they can be transparent about their struggles. Christianity allows us to truthfully say, “Things are not (yet) the way they should be.”
  2. Admit what you see when you see yourself. As the author of Hebrews says, if we were working from forensic evidence, when we look at ourselves we don’t see the dignity that we long for. We don’t see the change we pray for. Certainly in measure and over time we experience the sanctification grace of God. But when we look at ourselves we are always left wanting.
  3. Look to Jesus. That is the author of Hebrews big point. Stop looking to yourself to fulfill the resume of Psalm 8. God intended Jesus to do that. He alone in his incarnation bears the requisites necessary to accomplish salvation. He alone in his frailty could taste death and he alone in his dignity could conquer it.
  4. Live out of that truth. If we can, by God’s grace, begin to look less at ourselves and more at Jesus then we find ourselves begin to change. We begin to live a life in step with the gospel (Gal 2:14) as we’re transformed into the image of that man crown with glory and honor, even Jesus (2 Cor 3:18).