What Are We?

Most of the culturally contentious issues of our time really boil down to a long-running disagreement over the moral implications of the first few chapters of the Bible's book of Genesis. Genesis lays the biblical foundation regarding what we are, and what we're for.  It is these very questions concerning our identity and purpose that animate many of the contentious issues of our day.

In the 21st century, when someone says "I identify as this" or "I identify as that", they are often doing more than merely making a statement concerning how they conceive of themselves. They are sometimes suggesting that the actual reality of what they are can be made to give way to what they prefer. In essence, they are operating with the view that their own preferences can superintend material and spiritual reality. But from a biblical perspective, any declaration regarding identity which contravenes God's creative design really amounts to a stealthy form of extreme pride – even if it masquerades as authenticity.

The first several chapters of Genesis lay out key, uncompromising attributes of human existence that clash hard with the ideas about identity that presently occupy the commanding heights of western culture.

Chief among the human attributes described in Genesis is that human beings are image bearers of God. (Gen 1:26-27) There is much that could be said about this human attribute, but at a minimum, image bearing means that our existence reflects and resembles something about the creator who brought us into existence in the first place. If humanity is created in God's image, then human existence in the world is not accidental or lamentable but intentional, and reflective of God himself. Genesis suggests that it is this very facet of human existence - being made in God's image - that is decisive in framing a universal moral code. (Gen 9:6)

Among other of the pre-defined attributes of the world that Genesis describes are:

  • Gender is binary (Gen 1:27)
  • Human beings are not to be subservient to the ecological environment, but are to reign over it. (Gen 1:26)
  • Males and females have complementary, gender-specific roles to play (Gen 2:15-24)
  • There is a procreative imperative (Gen 1:28)
  • Sexuality has an ordained expression and a circumscribed form. (Gen 1:28, Gen 2:24)

All of these principles from Genesis are being hotly contested in the public square. But in our current moment, perhaps the most offensive principle from Genesis is simply that we are created at all. If we are creatures, we are not self-existent. The implication of a Genesis worldview is that self-definition is not an option which is actually available to anyone. "Created-ness" means that the affirmation and satisfaction so many crave will only ever be found by living in conformity with the purpose for which we were made.

Augustine of Hippo understood this centuries ago:

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

If Genesis is true, we are not the self-defining beings we imagine ourselves to be.

And there's the rub.

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