The Second Building Block of Human Identity: Blessed to Be a Blessing
After the human rebellion recorded in Genesis 3, God’s role for humanity undergoes a transition. Human beings continue to exist with the capacity and calling to be the image of God (see Genesis 9:6), but now some seek Yahweh, the God of creation, while others resist and reject Yahweh’s purpose for humanity. We find the best representation of the former in Enoch, the one who “walked with God.” We see the latter reflected in Cain, Lamech, the generation that provoked the flood, and the builders at Babel who determined above all else to make a name for themselves.
God originally intended to bless humanity, through whom his blessings would extend throughout his creation. As a result of the division within humanity, however, those who have experienced the richest blessings through relationship with God also serve to “image” God on behalf of those who do not know him. This new dimension of covenant becomes formalized in the following words from Yahweh to Abram/Abraham:
The Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
Several important insights emerge from this text. God’s promises to Abraham affirm more explicitly two aspects of human identity already mentioned with regard to creation: mediation and universality. God will bless Abraham and his descendants, and through them he will mediate those blessings to “all peoples on earth.”
This text also demonstrates God’s gracious relationship both to humanity and through humanity. He continues to seek a relationship of blessing with those created to image him in spite of their rebellion. Moreover, he refuses to give up on his intention to work within the creation through humanity. The rest of Scripture records God’s relentless commitment to humanity even though rebellion continues to rear its ugly head.
We encounter a dramatic example of this newly modified role of humanity when God determines the need for judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah. (This incident also demonstrates, as in the flood, that those created with the capacity to bless creation can also destroy creation when this capacity turns too far in the wrong direction. A tension thus exists between God’s intent to bless and the need to restrain evil.)
In a remarkable statement, God says that since all nations on earth will be blessed through Abraham, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” (Genesis 19:17-18). When God announces his intention, Abraham asks, in return, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?” Abraham expresses his concern for the reputation of God, fearing that he will destroy the righteous along with the wicked. He thus attempts to intercede on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Here we see the biblical mediator’s role, standing between God and those estranged from him (this relationship also take a more positive form when, for example, leaders help those who seek God to know him better). The mediator represents God and God’s interests to others, while also interceding for others before God. In order to fulfill this complex role well, the mediator must grow deeper in love and knowledge of God and the divine will, while also loving and understanding the needs of humanity.
Jesus, of course, becomes the ultimate mediator for humanity, yet God continues to honor followers of Jesus with a role in this mediation. Notice how the following passages extend the covenant with Abraham to Christians, who inherit the ancient promises:
And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, “Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.” When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.
He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, . . . .
How would it transform the lives of Christians and churches – and as a result, the world – if we fully embraced our identity as those blessed by God to be a blessing to others? How would it transform the way we view others?