Part 1: Defining Humans
The human creature is classified in scientific taxonomy as Homo sapiens, a species recognizable as distinctly unique standing amid the rest of creation. Our particular capabilities, capacities, and accomplishments have bred much introspective questioning. Centuries of self-recorded human history reveal endless questions about where we came from, why we are here, what our ancestors have done, what our purpose is now, and if there is any hope for our future.
These existential questions are foundational, paramount topics of human thought, as (in my experience) people do not find satisfaction, peace, or fulfillment during their lives unless they first find some answer for those types of questions. I believe the Bible provides the best answers to all those questions, and the following is my understanding of exactly what its answers are.
Where did humans come from?
Humans’ first appearance in the narrative timeline of scripture answers the first foundational question: where did we come from? The Bible’s first character, introduced as a powerful, creative being, brought the world and life into existence. (Genesis 1-2) On the final day of creation, this God created a new type of creature, a human, described first in Genesis 1:26-27. The process by which they were created is detailed further in Genesis 2:7, 21-22. A man was both formed out of the ground and given breath (life) by God, and in turn a woman was formed out of the man. (1 Corinthians 11:8-9)
Why were humans created?
Humans were the only part of creation described as being created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27, 5:1-3, 9:6). The decision to create such a being reveals that God desired a being that would reflect His nature and act as His standard bearer on Earth. They were told to populate and govern the earth. (Genesis 1:28) Throughout the rest of scripture we can see humans’ overall role in creation. The Westminster Shorter Catechism’s first question is “What is the chief end of man?” and I believe its answer is one of the best and most concise summaries of scripture’s response. It simply states: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” (Psalm 73:24-26, 16:5-11, 144:15; Isaiah 60:21, 12:2; 1 Corinthians 6:20, 10:31; Romans 11:36; Philippians 4:4, Revelation 4:11)
Part 2: Human Past, Present & Future
What happened to the original humans?
When God placed humans in their original home, a garden sanctuary, (Genesis 2:8-17) He gave them some guidelines and He was their only source of defining right and wrong, good and bad. (Genesis 2:16-17) Tragically, they chose to instead define those values for themselves, in direct disobedience to God. (Genesis 3:1-10) They took something for themselves that was good in their own eyes, instead of trusting God’s definition of what was good for them. As a result, God kicked them out of the garden, into a cursed world with adverse effects for them and all their descendants. (Genesis 3: 14-24, Romans 5:12, 1 Corinthians 15:21-22)
The subsequent history shows the violent, destructive, and self-centered behavior of humans left to their own devices, distancing themselves from God by their sin. Patterns of human behavior in the Old Testament reveal the innate corruption of man due to the original man’s sin and is further defined in the New Testament, showing that humans have been unable to improve or cure their depravity. (Genesis 6:5, 12, 8:21; Psalm 51:5, Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 1:18-25, 3:9-23, 7:18, 1 John 1:8-10)
Is there any hope for humans?
Fortunately, God did not completely forsake humanity. Even as He exiled them, He hinted at His plan to restore humans and conquer sin and death. (Genesis 3:15) He chose to continue interacting with humans, using some of them to showcase His mercy and serve as a conduit for His glory. In doing so, He also revealed humans’ need for redemption and salvation. (Read the whole Old Testament)
Over time, He established a series of covenants with His chosen people, the Israelites, and gave them teachings (including principles, concepts, customs, rituals, laws, and regulations) through which they could enjoy His blessings, guidance, and even His presence. People could experience God’s forgiveness and holiness through ritual purification processes and animal sacrifices. These rituals symbolized the cleansing of unholiness and absorption of their sin into an innocent replacement, the animal. However, they were never able to sustain their end of the agreement consistently. They entered cycles of holiness, loyalty, and prosperity, followed by depravity, rebellion, and destruction. Even over hundreds of years, this cycle only spiraled downward. (Again, see the whole Old Testament. For all the detailed explanations of their rituals and customs, read Exodus-Deuteronomy)
Because humans are incapable of saving themselves, God provided a new kind of human, born to a virgin woman through the divine intervention of God’s spirit. (Luke 1:34-35; Matthew 1:18, 20) This man, Jesus, walked the earth as a human manifestation of the holy creator God, and as such, lived a perfect, righteous, blameless life. (John 1:14, 10:30, 14:10, Colossians 2:9, Matthew 3:17, 17:15; 1 Peter 1:19, 2:22, Hebrews 4:15, 9:14, 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 John 3:5, Romans 8:3) He explained the true meaning and purpose of God’s teachings and claimed to be the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises to His people. Furthermore, He revealed that through Him, God’s mercy would extend to humans all over the earth, not just Israel. (Luke 2:10, Galatians 3:28, Romans 10:12, 3:29, Colossians 3:11, Acts 28:28) He gave Himself as the ultimate sacrifice, a blameless substitute to absorb the sins of all humanity and redeem them into God’s family. He died brutally at the hands of men, was buried, then resurrected victoriously, all exactly as He said He would. (Matthew 20:17-19, John 19:5-6, 29-30, Luke 23:44-47, 24:6-7, Mark 8:31, 15:46-47, 16:5-7, Acts 3:15, 4:33, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 He left the earth still alive, shortly thereafter. However, He sent His Spirit to continue His work in and through those who believed and accepted Him.
To expound more on Christ’s story would be to overlap too far into Christology. However, the topic cannot be entirely avoided when discussing anthropology, because Christ essentially introduced a new way to define what a human is. Jesus’s life and work provided a perfect example of a “reborn” human, a “new creature” indwelt with the Holy Spirit of the Creator God Himself. (1 Corinthians 15:22, John 1:13, 3:1-10, Romans 6:3, 8:9, 10:9-10, 1 Peter 1:3, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Acts 2:38, Colossians 1:18)
The gospel of Christ is not only the hope for humanity but the great excitement and joy we live in during the present age. All humans can benefit from the gift of Jesus and the power of God to redefine who we are. (Not all do, but that falls under the subject of soteriology). Under this new definition, we are children of God, brothers in Christ, the functional and unified family and body of new humans. (Galatians 3:26, John 1:12, Hebrews 2:11, 1 John 3:12 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, Romans 8:15, 12:4-5, Ephesians 1:5, 2:19, 4:4, 11-13, Galatians 3:26)
Why, then, do some who would define themselves as such not always look like children of God or act like brothers in Christ, but rather as a dysfunctional, broken and deeply flawed band of misfits?
This contradiction exists because even the spiritually reborn have yet to be physically reborn. God’s work is not yet complete. We may be in one of the final chapters, but there are pages written that have yet to come. To go much further would be to trespass upon the subject of eschatology, but I believe it should be mentioned that we are not the “final product.” That is the hope we have in what is yet to come, because humans in the present day are indeed deeply flawed and imperfect. Even the spiritually reborn at times succumb to the temptations and habits of their innate depravity. However, the promise we have is of an eternal life that extends beyond the eventual death and decay of our current bodies, and into a new body that will not be tarnished by sin. (Romans 7:14-25, 8:18-21, Philippians 1:6, Revelation 21:3-4, Isaiah 65:17-25, 66:22-23, Matthew 19:28, 2 Peter 3:7-13)