A friend of mine recently posed a question, “Could someone send me a small list of all the Scriptures extoling (sic) the good virtues and attributes that exist within human nature? Thanks.”
The underlying thought, here, is that there isn’t a very long list. In fact, it’s supposed that there’s an overwhelmingly long “list of all the Scriptures” emphasising the opposite. Now, granted, my friend is Reformed and the “total depravity” of humanity is part of their foundation (like a lot of Western Christianity; see Romans 5.12). So, the view that humanity is blind, broken, dead, sinful, wicked, etc., is pretty much where Western Christianity lives. And, certainly, that’s part of the picture the Bible paints. The question we need to ask is, “Why?” Not why is humanity (and all creation) in the Bible in such a mess (though the Bible does address that question), but why does the Bible paint the picture in that way?
I think a lot of the reason, perhaps even the biggest reason, is because other peoples, cultures, philosophies, religions, etc., were saying the contrary—that everything was fine with the world; that this is the way it’s meant to be. Some beliefs painted the gods as the reason things were in such a mess; that humanity is just the victim at the hands of those gods and their tantrums. It seems to me that the Hebrews were the only group who stated things differently. That is, their stories show that humanity (and by extension, all creation) was intended for something else but was now broken. And, contrary to popular opinion, humanity was to blame. But, there’s another message in the Bible that, in my opinion, answers my friend’s question.
When Yahweh created humanity, they were created in “God’s own image,” in the “divine image.” And they, along with all of creation, were “supremely good”:
Genesis 1.26ff: 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.
1 Timothy 4.4: Everything that has been created by God is good…
This is crucial. It’s the foundation to the entire story and, therefore, the deepest part of everything. Whatever happens next; we mustn’t forget this.
Of course, things didn’t stay this way. As we know, and the Bible testifies, humanity and creation suffered greatly—“sin increased” as St. Paul would write (Romans 5). But, and this is something my Reformed friends don’t grasp, no matter how bad it got, the Light was never extinguished:
John 1.5 (NLT; emphasis added): The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.
But Yahweh devised a plan—a rescue mission—to reconcile all of creation back to Godself. The mission was put into place when God chose Sarah and Abraham:
Genesis 12.1-3: [Yahweh] said to Abram (aka, Abraham), “Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name respected, and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
those who curse you I will curse;
all the families of the earth
will be blessed because of you.”
Genesis 22.18: “All the nations of the earth will be blessed because of your descendants, because you obeyed me.”
Genesis 28.14: “Your descendants will become like the dust of the earth; you will spread out to the west, east, north, and south. Every family of earth will be blessed because of you and your descendants.”
The idea, then, is that because of Sarah and Abraham’s family all humanity would be “blessed,” that is, “made holy,” or “consecrated.”
But we also know that Israel, Sarah and Abraham’s family, the people through whom God was to rescue the world, was part of the problem. Over and over again, they rebelled against Yahweh. Their prophets and poets warned them that they would have to change their hearts and minds (“repent”) and return to the way of being that honored Yahweh or they would be driven from their lands, forced into slavery, and worse. And over and over again they failed to change. The nation was invaded and conquered several times. Their capital city, Jerusalem, along with their Temple (the thin place where “heaven” and earth overlapped), was left in ruins. Masses of people were killed and the rest were taken captive. They were exiled.
But their prophets and poets encouraged them with stories of how Yahweh would rescue them if they would change their hearts and minds. And when they did, they were released from exile and returned to their own lands, rebuilding their city and Temple.
When they returned from being exiled in Babylon, however, things were different. Yes, they were once more living in their own lands, but it wasn’t the same. There weren’t any prophets. The Temple was a shadow of its previous incarnation. The Ark of the Covenant (the consecrated chest that represented the sacred agreement between Yahweh and the Jews) was missing. There was no presence (Shechina) of Yahweh in the Temple. The high priests were corrupt. And if that wasn’t enough, in 63 BCE, Pompey sacked Jerusalem! From then on (with few exceptions), the Jews were ruled by Rome. During that time, many Jews felt that their liberation wasn’t complete; that they were still in exile. Some of the stories their ancient prophets and poets told stated that Yahweh would come and rule among them. That God would return to the people and put things right:
Malachi 3.1-6: Look, I am sending my messenger who will clear the path before me;
suddenly [Yahweh] whom you are seeking will come to his temple.
The messenger of the covenant in whom you take delight is coming,
says [Yahweh] of heavenly forces.
Who can endure the day of his coming?
Who can withstand his appearance?
He is like the refiner’s fire or the cleaner’s soap.
He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver.
He will purify the Levites
and refine them like gold and silver.
They will belong to [Yahweh],
presenting a righteous offering.
The offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to [Yahweh]
as in ancient days and in former years.
I will draw near to you for judgment.
I will be quick to testify against the sorcerers,
the adulterers, those swearing falsely,
against those who cheat the day laborers out of their wages
as well as oppress the widow and the orphan,
and against those who brush aside the foreigner
and don’t revere me,
says [Yahweh] of heavenly forces.
I am [Yahweh], and I do not change;
and you, children of Jacob, have not perished.
Only it wasn’t happening. Instead, Herod the Great was elected “King of the Jews” and ruled from 37 BCE to 6 CE. The Roman army was everywhere, occupying their cities and communities. The Jews, while being allowed to live and practice their faith, were being oppressed by the Romans and Jewish extremists (the Sicarii). Many, however, were searching the Scriptures and praying for rescue.
And then everything changed.
Next time, we’ll continue our look at the goodness of humanity. (Part 2 is here.)
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC