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Being Human

Date: 18 February 2024, 9.30 am

Speaker: Ps Luwin Wong Sermon Text: Genesis 2:4-25

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TRANSCRIPT

Enter the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City, and lift your gaze to the ceiling and you will see 9 frescos depicting stories from the book of Genesis. In the middle of which is the Creation of Adam.


This was the prevailing concept of the conception of Man in 16th Century Europe. Man was created by God. Today, the most common picture you will find about the origins of man, looks something like this.


Not that these two pictures cannot be reconciled to some degree, but they represent the two competing views of mankind in public consciousness today. Is man the creation of personal God, or is he the product of blind evolutionary processes?


So what is Man exactly? What does it mean to be a human being?


For those who hold to a naturalistic worldview, where there is no Creator, no intelligent designer of the cosmos, and everything in the universe came about due to randomness and chance, you might answer something like this:


“The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.


DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.”


What does it mean to be a human being? In Dawkins worldview, absolutely nothing. Our DNA forms us, and it neither knows nor cares about who we are or what we do. We are merely a collocation of atoms, a body bag of chemicals that evolved advanced intelligence, but there is neither direction nor purpose to human existence. Everything is meaningless and it makes no sense to ask about meaning.


In fact, when if you google, “What does it mean to be human?”


One of first link that shows up is this article by a philosopher Martha Nussbaum, who basically says, “What does it mean to be human? Don’t ask.”


Huh? Can meh? I thought philosophers ply their trade by asking questions? That is their bread and butter. They are professional question askers, and here she goes, “don’t ask.” If you read her article, she suggests that we ask instead, “what does it mean to be whale?” or “an elephant” – her favourite animal, apparently. I mean, her essay sounds suspiciously like someone just trying to smoke her way through an assignment.


Well, some 2,500 years ago, another philosopher, by the name Plato, said, to paraphrase, “Man is a being in search of meaning”.


Which makes intuitive sense. Because all of us are here, in a religious place of worship, in search of meaning. We are here because at some point in our lives, and even at present we are seeking for ultimate meaning, ultimate purpose, and ultimate truth, because we believe that these things exist. In fact, the quest for meaning appears to be a unique and universal trait of human beings.


Which is a very strange thing, to say the least, if we had in fact, emerged from a meaningless universe of blind, pitiless indifference.


But here we are. Beings, seeking meaning, believing in truth, appreciating beauty, upholding morality, celebrating love, and even, against the odds, hoping for a better world. These things reside uniquely, indelibly, even universally in the human heart. And why might that be?


The bible says, it’s because this world was created with purpose, it’s infused with meaning, it’s filled with beauty, by a God who is good, and who made mankind in his image.


GENESIS 1:27-28 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

I want us to notice three things about the Imago Dei, about bearing the image of God. As we mentioned last week, it means that mankind was created to represent God in this world by reflecting his character and deeds in relation to his world.


And there are three main ways that mankind, as God’s image bearers, is to orient himself in relationship.


First, mankind was created to be in right relationship with God.


GOD “And God blessed them. And God said to them”


In the Genesis account, no other living creature was blessed by God upon its creation, save for Man. And to no other creature did God speak directly apart from Man. Human beings, made in the image of God was created for a unique and personal relationship with God.


Second, mankind was created to be in right relationship with one another.

NEIGHBOUR

“male and female he created them”


We are created for relationship with our neighbour, our fellow human being, most poignantly, for course, in the marriage relationship.


Third, mankind was created to be in right relationship with the earth.


We are created to rule, lovingly, carefully, wisely, over creation, so that it might flourish under our care.


To put it differently, being human means that we are:


GOD “CREATED FOR WORSHIP”

NEIGHBOUR “CREATED FOR PARTNERSHIP”

EARTH “CREATED FOR EDEN”


And we will take each of these three points in turn.

Before we do that, let us pray:


Heavenly Father,

Thank you for creating us purposefully and wonderfully, in your glorious image.

Help us to see in your word this morning, how we are to relate to you, our neighbour and the world in the manner you have intended for us to live.


This we pray, in Jesus’ name, Amen.


First, created for Eden.


GENESIS 2:5-6 When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up — for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground

Do you see? There was neither bush nor plant yet on the earth, the reason given was because there was yet to be rain and there no man to work the ground.


This is a garden lying dormant in wait for a gardener, a creation laying in

anticipation for a caretaker. The land was waiting for man to work and cultivate it.


So in the very next verse, as we would expect, we read about the creation of Man.


GENESIS 2:7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

The Lord God formed Adam out of the dust of the ground. Anyone who has studied O-Level biology knows that human body is not composed or compost. We are not made up of soil.


So what does this mean? It’s figurative language to imply a close connection between mankind and the earth. The land and Man exist in a symbiotic relationship.


Man tills the land, and the land yields food for man. Man protects the land, the land provides for man. Man nurtures the land, the land nourishes man.


In short, if man will take care of the earth, and the earth will take care of man.


And this really is the picture of the garden Eden, which means delight. The gardener and the garden combining to paint a picture of delight.


GENESIS 2:8-9 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put [Heb. “rested”] the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Remember how we spoke last week about the 7th day Rest being the character of existence in God’s good creation?


This is what we see here. The Lord God planted a garden and put man, but Hebrew word is literally “rested” man, in the garden. Eden is a place of rest and delight.


And when the man was rested in Eden, what happens? The land that once lay dormant now generously yields its fruit. The Lord God made spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. And not just fruit trees for food. There was also a tree in the middle of the garden called the tree of life.


And so long as mankind remains in the garden of Eden, of delight and rest, they have access to life, always. That is mankind, created in the image of the eternal God, was created to live eternally in a place of rest and delight.


Let’s pull the themes together and come up with our first statement for what it means to be human.


To be Human is to be created for Eden.


CREATED FOR EDEN

We are created in God’s image

as a co-rulers

to relate to the Earth

by caring for, and cultivating, God’s good creation.


When I got my very first paycheck, from my first job out of university, one of the things I did was to subscribe to monthly donations to a few different charities, one of which was the World Wildlife Fund. Not because I particularly like Pandas, but because the protection and conservation of the planet is a responsibility entrusted to man. God cares for his creation and rather than caring for it directly, he created man to care for it. That’s what it means to be his image bearers in the world.


When President Tharman was candidating for the Presidency of Singapore, last year, the Straits Times asked him, Minister Tharman, “If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be?”


And he answers, “My superpower would be for the world to go back in time to the 1950s and know in advance that climate change is coming in the 21st century.”

Firstly, Mr President, that’s not really a superpower, that’s more like a wish. The superpower you’re thinking of would be time-travel, or time-manipulation, ala Dr Strange.


But the point is, in that, and subsequent interviews he identified climate change as Singapore’s biggest challenge today. It didn’t become a major emphasis in his presidential campaign going forward because most Singaporeans didn’t think that climate change was the thing to worry about. They cared more about bread-and-butter issues like housing, cost-of-living, inflation, employment, and population saturation.


Worrying about and prioritising climate change seemed out of touch with the man on the street.


For the Christian, however, it has always to be on our agenda always. Because that is part of what it means to be the Imago Dei.


I went to the Zoo last week, and I sat for one of the shows, and Sea Lion named Pedro gave me a lecture on the importance of recycling and not littering the ocean with fishing lines and nets.


And I wonder, if whether or not we would rather have Sea Lions just perform tricks and stunts to entertain us, rather than educate us about Creation Care.


But from Genesis, what we see is that the Church, rather than the Zoo, ought to be the institution that champions care for the oceans and the animals within. Because that is one aspect of what it means to be made in the image of God.


We are created in God’s image as a co-regents to relate to the Earth by caring for, and cultivating, God’s good creation.


Next, we are created for Worship.


Our text goes on to say


GENESIS 2:15 15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

Now, we read the phrase “to work it and keep it” and we think immediately of Adam doing gardening, kneeling on the ground, bent over, tilling the soil, planting a seed, watering a plant – gardening.


Well, certainly that would have been the case, but there are perfectly good Hebrew words to describe gardening. But the author doesn’t use them. He uses the phrase “to work it and keep it” – which is a phrase that is used in the bible, predominantly to describe priestly work, for temple service, in worship of God.


For example,


EZEKIEL 44:14 15 Yet I will appoint them to keep charge of the temple, to do all its [work] and all that is to be done in it.

1 CHRONICLES 23:32 32 Thus they were to keep charge of the tent of meeting and the sanctuary, and to attend the sons of Aaron, their brothers, for the service [work] of the house of the Lord.

Do you see, the words “to work and to keep” are used to in conjunction to describe the service of the priesthood.


In other words, Man, made in God’s image was created to be priests, engaged in the work of worship to God. Everything we do in life, when we eat or drink, whether at work or at play, whether we’re preaching or gardening, we are doing to the glory of God, in the worship of God.


Man is created for worship.


In our previous sermon, I quoted from David Foster Wallace’s “This is Water” speech, and incidentally, he makes a relevant point again for today’s passage in that same speech. And I quote:


“In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”


Human beings can’t help but worship. Every human culture that has ever existed has a form of worship. It doesn’t even have to be spiritual or religious. We would make idols of all manner of things and people. We might thing we like in a secular society today, but it remains replete with worshippers.


We would worship money and sacrifice our relationships for it, we would worship sex and sacrifice our money for it, we would worship pop stars. I mean, attend a Taylor Swift concert, and witness how venerated and awed and adored she is by the congregation. We would worship sport stars. Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler is known by Liverpool fans as “god”. I mean, he’s a striker, mind you. He’s not a goalkeeper, which means he doesn’t even save. But he’s regarded as God by the Anfield faithful.


One would be naïve to think that simply because he does not believe in organised religion, that he therefore worships nothing. Worship transcends cultures and belief systems, its embedded in every human heart.


So across the Old and New Testaments, the people of God are described just as Adam and Eve in garden were described - as priests who “work and keep” – that is, priestly service to God.


EXODUS 19:6 …and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”

1 PETER 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession…

Mankind, made in God’s image were created for worship – specifically, for the worship of God.


Now what does that look like? How was Adam in the Eden expected to work and keep the garden?


The very next verse gives us the answer.


15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.
16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

The way we “work and keep” the garden as priests of God is to obey God’s commandments.


This idea is echoed in Romans 12


ROMANS 12:1-2 1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

We are urged, as priests do, to offer sacrifices to God in worship. And we do so by obeying the will of God, the good and acceptable and perfect commandments of God.


And the commandment to Adam is this:“

You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

When I was young, I very puzzled by this tree. I thought that God should not have placed the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in Eden if mankind were not supposed to eat from it. That way, sin would never have entered the world, and we would all still have remained in the delightful and restful garden of Eden. Wouldn’t that have been great?


God missed a trick, I thought.


But true love cannot exist without true freedom.


There’s a saying, isn’t there.


“If you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. If they don't, they never were.”

It describes the nature of truly meaningful relationships – it must include freedom.


Whatever the significance of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”, the point of is that the presence of the tree elevates mankind into being a moral creature, capable of real good and real evil; capable of choosing whether obey God’s command or rebel against him.


And freedom of moral choice, makes the relationship between mankind and God one that is based on trust and love – and therefore our obedience to God is meaningful; our worship of God is meaningful. Because we are not simply robots without a choice.


To sum up our second point, mankind is created for worship.


We are created in God’s image

as a royal priesthood

to relate to God

with trust in his character and obedience to his word –

this is our spiritual act of worship.


We come now to our final point:


Human beings, made in God’s image, both male and female were created for partnership in service to God.


GENESIS 2:18-20 18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone;

Now, when we read this, we tend to fill in the blanks instinctively. We go, “why is it not good for Adam to be alone?” Ah, because he’ll be lonely.


This interpretation implies two things:

First, that Eve was created to be Adam’s companion. That is, to keep him company, to keep loneliness at bay.


Second, that God himself was insufficient to satisfy the relational longing of man.

Both of which, the text does not speak to.


What the text does say, is as follows:

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”

Not companion, “helper”. This suggests that Adam is not in need of company, but of help. Help to do what? Well, what he’s supposed to do of course, which we saw last week:


27 So God created man in his own image,in the image of God he created him;male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.

“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth”. That’s not something Adam can do alone.


There are certain animals, such as the Zebra shark and the Komodo dragon and rattlesnakes, which can perform parthenogenesis – that is, the act of producing offspring without mating, without a mate. Human beings are not one of them.


We need help from another human being of the opposite sex, in order to reproduce, in order to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Which is why, the problem is described as Adam lacking a helper “fit for him”.


And what happens next is this. All the animals in the world was brought before Adam.


19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field.

And the conclusion?


But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.


This isn’t an account merely of Adam naming the animals. This is Adam looking for a suitable helper amongst the animals on the face of the earth and realising that none could help him in his task to “multiply”.


And if that is not good, then we should expect to find a solution – the creation of a helper “fit for him” – that is, a human being of the opposite sex.


And that exactly what we read in the very next verse.


GENESIS 2:21-23 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,       “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”

Eve was created out of Adam’s rib. Like the description of Adam being made from “the dust of the ground”, this is almost certainly figurative language. It is meant to convey the idea that this being was of the same kind as Adam, unique from the animal kingdom like Adam. Made in God’s image like Adam.


GENESIS 1:27-28 27 So God created man in his own image,in the image of God he created him;male and female he created them.

One will be hard pressed to do better in explaining the significance of Eve being created “out of Adam’s rib” than Matthew Henry, who writes:


“The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”

And of course, if Eve was created to be the fitting helper for Adam, we should expect to see the consummation of their relationship that would issue forth in offspring. And so we do.


GENESIS 2:24-25 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Now, what does our text this morning tell us about human relationships in this world?


The Chinese language has an idiom for couples in love: Er Ren Shi Jie, that is, “a world with only two people.”


Which we sometimes see happen. Two persons fall in love, and all of a sudden, entire world revolves around each other, they have no time for other social relationships with family or friends, they all the see is each other, all they think about is one another, it’s like there is only one other person in their world – a world with only two people. It’s all about them alone.


Adam and Eve were the only couple in the history of mankind, where Er Ren Shi Jie is not just a figurative, but a literal description of their relationship. There were indeed only the two of them in the world.


But even then, their relationship was about more than them. their marriage union was designed, it was purposed, not to fulfil their desires and needs, but the will of God.


Eve was created for Adam, not for Adam’s sake, but in order that God’s will for mankind to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and care for the earth might be fulfilled. It was about, believe or not, God.


In other words, God is the ever present third-party in every human relationship. If that is the case for the most intimate of human relationships – the marriage union, it necessarily applies to all others.


In the myriad of relationships you have on earth, it’s never just about you, and your needs, and your will. God is present too, and his will demands attending to.


Your marriage – ultimately about serving God. Your parenting of your child – ultimately, about serving God. Your friendships – ultimately about serving God.


Why? Because as we mentioned last week. This universe finds its centre in its Creator, this world revolves around, not man, but God.


Think about how transformative it would be to all of your social interactions if you were conscious that it’s about God and his purposes for the world.


Even the small talk we make with stranger on the bus? Yes. How so?


If Mankind is made in the Imago Dei, it means, as CS Lewis said, I quote


“There Are No Ordinary People; You Have Never Talked to a Mere Mortal.


It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.


Everything interaction with have with our fellow human being in this world has eternal significance. In every social interaction, we are either moving our neighbour closer to the right, or otherwise.


And that is the gravity of what it means to be made in the Imago Dei.


Mankind was created for partnership.


We are created in God’s image

as a male and femaleto relate

to one another in mutual respect and partnership

in God’s plan for the world


To recap:


Human beings, made in god’s image, were:

Created for eden (Earth)

Created for worship (God)

Created for partnership (Neighbour)

And that is what it means to be human.

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