Imago Dei, Imago Dust

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Gen.1:27

Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. Gen.2:7

Genesis wastes no time: right there in the first chapter, it tells us what it means to be human. We are the very image of the Holy One, the Creator’s ultimate creation. Surprisingly, though, in the very next chapter Genesis apparently tells us just the opposite: we are dirt.

Which is it?

“In the beginning” and “Adam and Eve” are both part of the popular imagination, but it’s when you first get serious and start actually reading the Bible for yourself that you find that these are not the same story, but two different stories of Creation.

We can thank 19th-century German theologians for rigorously examining, then proclaiming, what many had suspected for a long time: there are two stories because there are two authors.

One author’s view of human nature soars to the heavens: we are holy, almost divine, the image of God; the Creator’s final and highest accomplishment; so filled with goodness that God entrusts to us the caretaking responsibility of everything that God has just created.

In contrast, the other author has a very earthy view of human nature: we’re made of dust; we eat things that aren’t good for us; we are so evil that we blame our wives for our own misbehavior, and even kill our brothers when we feel unloved.

Whether we believe that being human means being high and holy, or that being human means being low and dirty, we have a Bible story to support our conviction. We can argue endlessly over which is the “true” or “correct” understanding of human nature. And many of us do, because many of us hold to one belief or the other when it comes to essential human nature.

But it doesn’t have to be a dichotomy, a choice, an “either-or”. Perhaps the final editors of Genesis intentionally included both stories, believing that sometimes one is true, and sometimes the other. In this view, to be human is to see our nature as dual, a blend, a “both-and”. Sometimes we’re the image of God; sometimes we’re just dust that has learned to breathe. Part of each of us is good; part of each of us is evil.

While this approach allows us to account for both Biblical stories, it is ultimately unsatisfying as an answer to, “What does it mean to be human?” because it is not an answer; it is two separate answers, connected by a decision to choose neither.

I would propose taking yet another step beyond “both-and”: our nature lies in the tension between “image of God” and “image of dust”. Both Creation stories – both images – are necessary to understanding our essential nature. But, instead of elements of a mixture, the two stand as separate, independent poles, and we exist in the space between them. A physical analogy: if the two are weights, we exist in the balance between them. A balance is not either weight, nor is it both one weight and the other. And it is certainly not neither weight. The balance’s existence derives from the weights, yet it is not itself composed of the weights.

In other words, we need both Creation stories to understand what it means to be human, because we need the space between them. We were made, and we live, in the dynamic equilibrium that exists between sacred and profane, good and evil, God and dust.


(Adapted from a paper written for an assignment in my Old Testament course at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary, in the fall of 2008.) 

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Pope Francis and Teh Gay: So What?

In the name of all rational, clear, critical thinking, WHY are so many of my liberal friends all ga-ga over the Pope’s recent comments about gay people?*

The Catholic Church, including this Pope, still holds that homosexual acts are always serious sins. “Hate the sin, love the sinner” infuriates us when it comes from the evangelical side; why does the Roman church get a pass?

Moreover, Catholic doctrine still holds that a homosexual orientation, while not a sin, is “disordered.” This from the 1986 official statement of doctrine:**

“Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.”

Some say that, even though Pope Francis’ comments are in line with decades of church teaching, at least they represent progress compared to his predecessor. But to say that Francis is not as bad as Benedict is to damn him with faint praise indeed.

Add to all this the fact that the Catholic church has given no indication that they plan to stop fighting against marriage equality in the civil sphere, and you are left with a nice man fronting a well-executed PR campaign on behalf of an institution that continues its centuries long tradition of preaching the good news of love, while practicing the the ancient evil of hate.

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*  For example: http://believe-out-loud.tumblr.com/post/56787003555/as-reported-by-huffington-post-pope-francis

** http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19861001_homosexual-persons_en.html