Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Matthew 4:18-25; Acts 4:13-22; Psalm 8; Genesis 18-19
The psalmist begins (and ends) with the glory and majesty of God. Gazing at the stars in the heavens draws him to consider their Maker. God is powerful enough to create the Universe, and yet personal so that we can call him ‘our Lord.’ That leads the psalmist to reflect on humanity. What is it about humans that such a majestic God could be bothered with us? We are specks in the galaxy, yet the God of the Universe cares for us. How can that be?
The answer is found in the first chapter of the Bible. We have been created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26). We reflect some of the glory and honour that rests with God. This declaration provides a foundation for human dignity which the secular world does not have. Without such a foundation, the very notion of human dignity or inherent human rights rests on thin air. Also at risk is the belief that all humans are created equal, entitled to be treated with the same respect. The Psalmist affirms the unique and high status of humans, not as something we have earned or deserve, but as a gift granted by a caring Creator.
As in Genesis, human dignity leads the psalmist to reflect on human responsibility. We have been put in charge of the earth, to rule over it. While God made all species subject to us, experience (and Hebrews 2:8) shows that all species are not subject to us. The world at present is not the way God intended. We were to be the earth’s benevolent care-takers who help it flourish, yet we have taken this as a license to exploit its resources and dominate one another. In spite of our dignity, we have acted with indignity.
Our passage in Genesis gives a number of examples of how far we have fallen. Some strangers walk through Sodom and a mob wants to gang rape them. Lot appears to take the morally high ground by trying to stop them, but then offers his own two daughters to the gang instead. This incident illustrates the depravity to which humans can sink, and points to the origins of the wickedness exhibited by Lot’s descendents, the Moabites and Ammonites (Genesis 19:36-38; Numbers 25).
We should be disgusted at such gross perversion and immorality. The Bible might ascribe glory and honour to humanity, but it is also honest in describing human sinfulness. We might think that we are nothing like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, yet the Bible reveals that even the good characters are not very good. Abraham comes across well in today’s passage, but in the very next chapter he allows a king to take his wife Sarah, claiming she is his sister, because he is afraid the king will kill him (Genesis 20). Sarah herself titters and giggles at God’s promise to give her a son, and then lied about the fact that she had laughed (Genesis 18:10-15). We might not roam in gangs, or betray our spouses, but who among us has never struggled with cynicism, unbelief or lying?
An honest evaluation of how good we are shows that none of us is worthy of God’s blessings. We might be better than the men of Sodom, and never dream of doing what Lot’s daughters did, but we fall far short of God’s standards (Romans 3:23). Little wonder the psalmist asks why God bothers with us at all. Thank God he does not value us based on our performance, but on who we are. All humans are created in the image of God with the same inherent dignity and worth, no matter how good or bad we are. And thank God his forgiveness is not based on our performance, but on Christ’s work and who we are in Him (Romans 3:24).
God bothers with us because he cares for us. His love originates in his character and his desire to show grace and mercy to us. We should then respond by loving others regardless of how good or bad they are. A major implication of human dignity being inherent (i.e. unearned) is that all people have equal value and are entitled to equal respect. How we treat another person should be based on what is best for them as defined and exemplified by God’s love, not our evaluation of how worthy they are. This may be to protect a stranger from the harassment of our friends and neighbours; to feed and shelter a weary traveller; to confront someone who is lying; to discipline those who have done wrong. To love people is to help them develop to better reflect the glory and honour God has bestowed on them. To be an image of God means to be his hands in the world treating others as God wants them treated. Attempting to do so will confront us with our own sinfulness as we see how impossible it is to consistently act as God wants us to, and how little we even want to love others. That should drive us back to God for the motivation and empowerment to live according to the dignity we have been given.