“What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.” Psalm 8:4-8, NIV
A popular Universal Studios television show, “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” has made the Las Vegas skyline famous around the world. Actors in the series portray a team of investigators in that city who work to identify murder victims and those who murdered them using logic and technology that Sherlock Holmes would have loved to have at his disposal. The show’s theme song is “Who are you?” written appropriately by “The Who.” This question of identity is the heart of this week’s lesson. As we learned from an earlier lesson, we are in an ongoing war that we sometimes refer to as “The Great Controversy.” Just like the city of Las Vegas, as well as most cities around the world, we find there are victims of this conflict. Do we know who they were? For that matter do we know who we are?
My uncle, who passed away a few years ago, believed that all such introspective questions were simply “navel gazing.” He had little use for metaphysics and asserted there was little difference between a human being and a blade of grass — both came from the same place and both went to the same place, from random molecular bits to random molecular bits. This sounds reminiscent of Solomon’s utterances about the pointlessness of life in Ecclesiastes. However, if this point of view were true, why would any man bother to seek answers to questions of existence and being? Why would we search for a possible meaning to life? Perhaps we search because the alternative can lead to despair. After all, if human existence is pointless, why should it continue? Unlike many lower life forms, man has the ability to purposely end a pointless life. In fact, far too many have felt they had to do just that.
The Pentateuch approaches mankind’s existence from a completely different perspective. The first few chapters of Genesis assure us that all of mankind originated from the hand of God. In spite of all argument to the contrary, we can find ample foundation in that account for the understanding that all of us have an equality of origin. This argues strongly for an equality of personal rights. Even the founding fathers of the United States felt that the equality of creation was adequate to assert personal liberty when they signed The Declaration of Independence which boldly proclaimed that “all men are created equal.” However, throughout the history of man, there have been those who deny those liberties, sometimes in the name of science, sometimes even in the name of God.
Even in the last few hundred years, some have advanced theories of racial superiority or inferiority based on skull shapes, minor skeletal differences, facial features, skin color and many other supposedly scientifically derived observations that were really no more than imposing preconceived prejudicial stereotypes on features that were believed to support those opinions. Examining the relative simplicity of some cultures and comparing those with more technologically advanced societies, some even felt that the races of those who were in the simpler cultures represented an earlier stage of evolutionary development and that these individuals were stuck in an evolutionary backwater. Those with the technology had it simply because they had evolved while their more primitive brothers and sisters had not. Some extreme examples of these ideas can easily be found in the propaganda of the Third Reich of Germany. This propaganda continues to be supported by modern-day Neo-Nazis. The idea that there can be any kind of universal equality is abhorrent to those who hold these views. Likewise, those who truly believe that all mankind sprung equally from the hand of God cannot countenance the oppression of anyone based on these ideas of superiority.
Sadly, there are also those who look at the sordid history of mankind found in the Bible and derive ideas that are alien to this doctrine of the equality of mankind. For instance, they see slavery mentioned in the Bible and not seeing a universal emancipation declaration in its pages, they jump to the conclusion that God is “O.K.” with slavery. They refuse to see that mankind was not created to be enslaved. Instead he was given dominion over the entire earth. That the Bible records the degradation of slavery is no more an endorsement of that institution than it is an endorsement of polygamy when it tells us that several biblical figures had multiple wives. From my pastoral counseling experience, this is often an argument that philandering husbands make to attempt to excuse their abuse of the marriage relationship. In the same way those who condoned slavery would point to texts that mention slavery in the Bible in an attempt to excuse the buying, selling and abusing of others.
Some feel the Pentateuch was written when the Jews were perhaps at their lowest possible self-image as a people. Having lived for several generations in Egypt, they were enslaved to a people who challenged all that their own culture said they were. Under this oppression, their concept of who they were as a people and who they were in relationship to their Creator had eroded significantly. It had diminished to the point that Moses was faced with the constant rebellion of those who identified more with the culture of Egypt than with that of the Jews. Unable to root those cultural understandings out of the current generation of Israelites, he spent 40 years in the wilderness raising up a generation with a new cultural perspective. His writings are revolutionary in their repeated references to one standard for both the Israelites and the foreigners living among them. We still struggle with this, today. In many countries, politicians pander to xenophobic masses in misguided attempts to secure votes from one group while betraying others who may not have the same measure of political influence.
In any event, when we consider the downward slide of mankind from Creation to the Exodus, we can begin to understand the significant departure from that trend that the Pentateuch represented. It was a step in the direction of restoring a “golden age” of mankind where men and women were not only in a proper relationship with their Creator, but also were in a relationship of equality with each other where the respect and submission on the part of both were equal. Some would say that since the fall into sin, it has not been so and cite passages in Genesis 3 to support the idea of one sex dominating another. They see this somehow as the normal Christian relationship between the sexes. But the same texts reveal that it is quite clearly a result of sin that things became that way. Why should Christians seek to emulate the effects of sin as proper Christian behavior? Some act as though God were commanding man to dominate woman and that they must obey. It is a mystery to me how this can be justified.
Disease is also a result of sin, but we have no problem recognizing the value of working to defeat disease in our lives. As a result, there have been great advances against diseases such as polio, tuberculosis, and smallpox, as well as many others. We do not argue in favor of disease because we know it is wrong even if it is definitely a result of sin. Why then do we argue in favor of sexual domination when it, too, is the result of sin? Truly, isn’t every form of domination and control of others without their consent a result of sin? Shouldn’t the Christian’s doctrine of man encompass a struggle against these results of sin wherever they occur? Unfortunately, we far too often find the battle against the results of sin important when those results make our own lives uncomfortable, but fail to concern ourselves when our actions dominate or control the lives of others.
We see the results of sin in the world around us. Biologists refer to the “food chain,” where animals live in a relationship of prey and predator. The prophet Isaiah assures us that heaven will not be like that. (See Isaiah 11 & 65) If this is true then logically, the predatory relationship appears to be because of sin. To some extent, mankind has become part of this predatory “chain.” We prey on lesser species of animals for food and resources. Sadly, we even use the example of fallen nature as an excuse to justify predation of our fellow human beings in this “dog-eat-dog” world.
As if this were not enough, we have even often made God over into this image corrupted by sin. We simply place Him at the top of the “food chain” as the alpha being. Instead of recognizing that we should be reflecting His image as we were created to do, we look to the fallen world around us and declare that to be His image. Then like a filthy mirror that is poorly suited to the purpose for which it was created, we go about pretending that in dominating and controlling others, we are being godlike. Instead of bringing an image of fairness, equality and love into the world, we manipulate, control and conquer. Perhaps it is time we reject these results of sin and become vessels of grace to one another, allowing equality of opportunity and recognizing the validity of claims for equal rights for all mankind without regard to race, gender, nationality or any other excuse we use to dominate and control one another.
Scripture marked (NIV) taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide. Used by permission. NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® and NIV® are registered trademarks of Biblica, Inc. Use of either trademark for the offering of goods or services requires the prior written consent of Biblica US, Inc.