Conversation #3: Who are we?

Is there a more profound and universal question than this: “Who. Am. I?”

We would be naive to think, though no one is offering direct answers the majority of the time, that answers are not being offered. Depending on what abilities you have, what social group you are in, or even what commercial you’ve seen last or song you’ve listened to, the answers can be different and varied.

The point being, humans all tell stories about who we are, where we’ve came from, and where we are going. Over the centuries, various stories have come along to try and make sense of it all, to point us in a meaningful and true direction, and answer the question that haunts us all: who is this person in the mirror?

It’s a deep and complicated question. It usually leads to only more questions. Why is there suffering? Why do humans hurt and kill one another? Why do I have this deep longing to be loved? Why can’t I be happy? Why do I do things that I know I shouldn’t do? And on and on.

This past week at the GCSC we tried our best to wrestle with this question according to the story presented to us in Genesis 2 and 3. The Powerpoint for the discussion is here:

Genesis (2-3)

Out of that discussion, here are some additional thoughts:

1. Our tendency when discussing what’s wrong with the world or even with my world is to project outward. 

In other words, it’s someone else’s fault besides mine. According to Genesis 3, this is not a new habit. When Adam and Eve are confronted with what they have done and the state of their reality, they immediately begin to make excuses and shift blame. Is it coincidence that Jesus’ first words are “Repent, the kingdom of God is at hand!” “Repent” means to rethink your life and change direction. The word in Greek literally means “think on your thinking.” For most of us (including me), maybe we need to follow the example of G.K. Chesterton when asked to write a response to a newspaper editorial asking the question, “What’s Wrong with the World?” Chesterton wrote three words, “Dear editor, Me.”

2. The time has come to ask not whether something makes us live longer, but if it helps us live well.

I love science. I find it fascinating. But I’m not sure anymore it’s the solution to mankind’s problems. Has it kept us alive longer? Yes. (Well, those of us fortunate enough to live in the West) Has it made us better people? I’m not so sure. This question is rooted in the Myth of Progress laid out my the Enlightenment. Mankind will continue up and up through education and science until it reaches utopia. Well, maybe not. Turns out the 20th century was the bloodiest in our history, and many are starting to question if our technology isn’t alienating more than connecting us. Again, I’m not anti-science. And those that would say this argument is a straw man might have a point. Science itself is neutral. It’s people that use or misuse it. But that’s the rub. It would seem humans have the ability to turn even the best things into things that hurt, abuse, and divide. In short, many this story that modern people find “silly” because of the talking snakes and trees is saying something more. That being, a perfect environment (hard to beat the deal Adam and Eve got) or tools doesn’t guarantee peace. There’s something inside us all that, if not dealt with, as C.S. Lewis says, turns into hell. Here’s an interesting stat to think along those lines. 14,000 children will die today because they don’t have enough food. 1 out of 4 Americans are overweight (I’m one of them). Perhaps this is why we try to distract ourselves with celebrity news and the like, so we can keep hiding. Refer back to point #1.

3. Shame and Sin are real.

When Adam and Eve do exactly what God told them not to, they immediately noticed that they were “naked.” Besides the obvious, what’s bad about nakedness? In a word, vulnerability. Adam and Eve, once they notice their own vulnerability, makes something to cover themselves and hide. Don’t breeze right by that last sentence. Again, this is more than a story about them, its about us. The average person, even today, does a great deal of work to ensure that they are not put in a position to be vulnerable. We build walls, physical and emotional, we cover ourselves, and we hope that we can hide long enough to keep what we’ve done or who we are from being pulled out into the light. The good news is that God doesn’t come thundering through the garden yelling, “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?” He asks then, as He does now, “Where are you?” What a profound and simple question. Did God not know where Adam and Eve were? Were they the best (and first) hide and seek players ever? Or, did God know something about what it takes to stop hiding? That facing up to who you are and what you’ve done is the first, and most important step? Maybe this little story has something to say after all?

4. It has become increasingly difficult to believe that men and women can tell good from evil.

On one level, it seems like this would be easy. But then life kicks in. Ethical gray areas are everywhere. Just a simple question like this seems almost impossible to answer: “Is man good or bad?” Perhaps the reason God expelled Adam and Eve from the garden wasn’t because He was mad, but because He realized that they risked an eternity of not being able to tell right from wrong. Notice that He says they KNOW good and evil now, not that they UNDERSTAND it. Big difference. Knowing OF something doesn’t mean I know much ABOUT it. So where does that leave us? Do what you feel? That’s Romanticism. Not exactly a strategy for a healthy life in the end. Live like it doesn’t matter? That there is no meaning, therefore no right or wrong? Well, maybe, at this point, one should start listening to people who have claimed to know what reality is all about. Jesus is one of those people. Jesus wants to be taken seriously because he knows we can’t do it on our own. We call good things bad and bad things good. And Jesus comes along and says things that turn our understandings of reality upside down like “love your enemies” and “blessed are the poor in Spirit.” Maybe the story of Adam and Eve is just the first in a long string of people who claimed to know what was best but didn’t. That’s why many have pointed out that the apostle Paul saw the answers in Jesus, that He was the “New Adam (Romans 5, 1 Cor. 15),” the one who will lead the world back to peace, and not away from it.

5. Ultimately, all people have value because they are made in the image of God.

That’s who we are according to Genesis 2 and 3. Thus, all people have supreme value. And all people have had that image marred by Sin. But, all people are, in a word…loved. God did not create out of need or anything else, He created out of love. The kind of love that will spend the rest of the Bible trying to make a way for humanity back to the garden. For God, people are beautiful, and worth saving.

Everyone Is Beautiful from The Work Of The People on Vimeo.

For further reading check out this book, one of the best and most comprehensive theological books I’ve ever read:

Grace and Peace,

 

Adam Daniels

Campus Minister

Georgia Christian Student Center

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