The Relational Core of Human Identity
A danger always exists when we place special emphasis on certain texts in the Bible. Yet a proper understanding of the Bible requires that we recognize some texts and themes to be more foundational than others. As we will see, Jesus models this practice.
I believe a good case can be made that the three texts I have singled out – designed to be the image of God (Genesis 1); blessed to be a blessing (Genesis 12); and called to be a priestly kingdom (Exodus 19) – provide the basic framework for understanding God’s intent for humanity. One possible danger I want to avoid is an over-emphasis on the functional nature of these roles so that they become depersonalized.
Immediately following the third of these texts, God reveals through Moses his law that defines and guides Israel in its covenant with him. Although the law possesses a positive purpose, Israel frequently struggles with it. At times they disregard or manipulate the commands, and at other times they focus so much on the law that they lose sight of its personal dimension (“I desire mercy, not sacrifice”).
On one of the rare occasions when Jesus and the Pharisees appear to find some common ground, Jesus locates the essence of the law within two commands: love God with all of your being (Deuteronomy 6:4-5); and love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18). This valuable insight enhances our understanding of the three key texts above.
We previously considered the common thread of mediation among the three defining passages for human identity. The admittedly audacious role of mediating between God and our fellow human beings requires that we cultivate a deep knowledge of and love for both. The “two great commands” remind us of this fact.
To say that we should love God and our fellow human beings, while nice, fails to capture the magnitude of the law’s essence. The power of these commands resides in their qualifiers. Love for God must be unqualified and undivided. The oneness of Yahweh, in contrast to the polytheistic perspective of all Israel’s neighbors, allowed for no less. A failure to trust in God’s goodness and good intent for his creation initiated the world’s problems, and only a wholehearted return to this loving trust will clear the path to God’s redemption.
To love others as ourselves reminds us that we share a common humanity that originated with God’s creation, as well as a common design to image our Creator. If we love God with all our being, we will share his desire and commitment that every fellow human being come to know this same love. We will not dehumanize others or categorize them in a way that allows us to hate or dismiss them.
In order to fulfill our function in the eyes of God, therefore, we must pursue a deep and distinctive relationship with God and humanity.