Saturday, December 17, 2011

On Human Nature

In the previous post I mentioned the delight of discovery as I combed through old theology papers from Boston University for my upcoming presentation on sin.

Here is one paper I would like to share with you from the fall of 2006. It's part of a longer theological statement on the traditional loci of Christian doctrine (God, Christ, Holy Spirit, etc.). This segment is on human nature, which is the most logical context for a description of sin.

God has made us to be like God. We are not God, but when we aspire to love one another and live in fullest, deepest relationship with other people and the world we inhabit, using the gifts of our mind and heart in freedom, we are like God. Thus we have been made in the image of God. What makes humans human is that we have been singularly made to love, to relate, to create, and to take care of our world. Many Christians believe that these abilities, and the robustness with which we exercise them, make us, of all creatures, most like our Creator. Other creatures may demonstrate a capacity for creativity, and some creatures may even show an ability to make and re-make their world beyond what the powers of instinct allow them. However, it has yet to be shown (or at least to be apprehended in any significant way) that any other creature possesses with comparable totality the same whole capacity to love and relate and create of which we are conscious.

Being limited creatures and not the Creator, our acting and being in love and relationship ultimately cannot be compared with that of God, the divine Other who is love in perfection. We may be called to be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48), but we are not called to be the perfect heavenly Father. However, we do fall short of our God-given capacity to love, relate, and create, and the distance between who we are and who we are meant to be as loving, relational beings is sin. Sin is a vacuum that cuts us off not only from ourselves, but from creation, humanity, and God. We are not meant to be strangers to each other. Our separation from one another as friends, relatives, citizens, and intimate partners is a reliable marker of our fallen condition.

I agree with Reinhold Niebuhr that sin becomes our unhappy reality because we forget we are human, both when we think and act above our limited nature, putting ourselves in the place of God; and below it, fearful of our call to holiness and despairing of our sacred worth. To rescue us from the agony of sin and the damnation of separation, God sent Jesus Christ, the most fully human being who ever lived, to restore in us the image of God. Through Christ, God re-created us, freeing us once more to love, relate, and create like God, according to our nature.

Thesis: God has made us to be like God by giving us the unique capacity to love our neighbor and care for our world creatively in freedom.

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