Have you ever heard or said the phrase, “I’m only human?”
I have, and I bet you have, too.
What’s interesting about this common expression is the context in which we use it. It’s never after we score the touchdown, rock the presentation, graduate at the top of the class, or make the best guacamole the world has ever known, is it?
It’s when we fumble the snap, crash and burn in front of our entire department, find out we are one credit short of a degree, or burn the toast. Right?
We associate humanness with failure, with deficiency, with error. And, these things are part of what it means to be human. We do fail. We make mistakes. And, we experience brokenness and pain. To be human is to be all of those things, but all of those things do not define what it means to be human.
The Bible begins with a poem about creation [Genesis 1]. In this Hebrew poem the Creator speaks creation into existence (actually, it could be that creation was sang into existence, which is a lovely idea]. During this creation process, which lasted six days in Genesis 1, there is a consistent phrase that keeps popping up. It’s like a bass note that drives this poem forward, to crescendo.
The phrase is, “and God saw that it was good.” This phrase is repeated with slight variation seven times in the poem. The it–what is being called “good”–changes, but the goodness of creation stays the same.
God created the light, and called it good.
God created and separated the dry land and the waters, and called them good.
God created all kinds of vegetation, and called them good.
God created the sun and the moon, and called them good.
God created the sea creatures and the birds, and called them good.
God created the land animals, and called them good.
[with the exception of cats. It’s in there somewhere]
Are you picking up on a pattern, yet?
All of the things that God creates in this poem, God calls good.
Yet, God isn’t finished. In Genesis 1, God’s final creative act is to make human beings.
Then God said, “Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth.”
God created humanity in God’s own image,
in the divine image God created them,
male and female God created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.” Then God said, “I now give to you all the plants on the earth that yield seeds and all the trees whose fruit produces its seeds within it. These will be your food. To all wildlife, to all the birds in the sky, and to everything crawling on the ground—to everything that breathes—I give all the green grasses for food.” And that’s what happened. God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good. [Genesis 1.26-31, CEB]
God calls the human beings [and all of creation] “supremely good.”
God created human beings–us–to be God’s representatives, God’s partners and co-creators in the good world God has made. That’s what “image” means. As a statue in a temple represents that particular god to the worshippers in that space, so human beings are made to reflect the goodness and care of God to the whole wide world.
As I heard Rob Bell say recently, “The whole thing is a temple.”
All of creation is God’s temple. In God we live, move, and exist.
And we are God’s images, reflecting the goodness and care of God to God’s world.
This means that to be human is a good thing.
Saying, “I’m only human” isn’t a slam against us, but a declaration of value, significance, and meaning. Perhaps we should drop the “only,” and simply say, “I’m human!”
We continually create new ways to divide and categorize ourselves out from each other. Yet, before we are a particular nationality or ethnicity, religion or political party, gay or straight, we are human. That is the one label we all share. And it is supremely good.
Do we have problems? Sure.
Do we fail and miss the mark? Absolutely.
Do we have brokenness and pain? You can bet on it.
Are we still the human beings God created to represent God in the world?
Yes, Yes, YES!
We sometimes fumble the snap, and we sometimes score the touchdown.
To be human has an intrinsic goodness to it; we can choose to live into that identity, to experience transformation, to become our best selves, or we can choose to give into the worst impulses we have, and reject our calling to be God’s image bearers in the world.
But that doesn’t diminish the goodness of being human.
Recently a friend heard me talking about all this and she said,
“I think you’re becoming a humanist.”
I thought about it for a second, and then it hit me.
What if God is a humanist?
What if God believes in God’s creation?
What if God is inviting us and pulling for us to be everything God dreams we would and could be?
What if being human is a good thing, both a gift and a responsibility?
The question is this:
What will we do with the gift of our humanness?