(or, Why You Should Never Use “I’m Only Human” as an Explanation for Doing Wrong)
This is the second of a series of posts that could be titled, “Helpful Stuff I’ve Learned.” Most of these bits of learning were connected with reading books or sitting under certain teachers, so I’m usually going to share them as little pieces of autobiography: how I came across them, why they mattered to me at a certain time, or how they continue to matter. These posts will deal mostly with ideas, but these ideas have also supplied me with memorable images or phrases that have helped me over the years in trying to discern what it means to follow Jesus.
The second insight God So Loved the World gave me went along with the first. When Jesus came he wasn’t just showing us what a right-side-up world would look like. He was also showing us what right-side-up humanity looks like. Jesus was the truly human being. If you want to know what being human is all about, Jesus is the place to look.
Why does this matter? Because we easily give in and think that our failings are the sign of our humanity. As Jonathan points out in his book,
When we sin or fail at some task, we often say, “Well, after all, I’m only human.” But in truth, when we sin we are being less than human. Jesus’ revelation of true humanity shows us that to be truly human is to be without sin and perfectly obedient. (God So Loved the World, p. 74)
Christians claim that Jesus is fully human and fully divine. The part of that sentence that affirms Jesus’ humanity means that Jesus was the same kind of being that we are. He was just like us, “yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Take note of this: our sin isn’t what makes us really human as opposed to Jesus, who is super-human. Jesus is not super-human, he’s fully human—human as we were made to be. Our sin makes us fall short of the humanity God created us for. Or, as in the quotation above, “’when we sin we are being less than human.” Jesus shows us what we were made to be, and reminds us not to excuse our sin by pointing to our humanity. Jesus came to restore us to true humanity.
Psalm 8 is a key biblical passage that highlights what humanity was made to be. We were made to be something special: “a little lower than the angels, but crowned…with glory and honor” (v. 5). This verse points to the earthly realm in which we live, the lack of obvious splendour in our surroundings, and the beautiful limitations of human bodily life. We aren’t like Gabriel the angel, appearing to Daniel in Old Testament Babylon and then showing up to talk to Mary in Nazareth several hundred years later. But Psalm 8 reminds us of the possibility for humans to display God’s glory in a different way than any other creatures, including the angels.
Our freedom is a part of our frailty, for we are able to go the wrong way (and we have), but it is also what God desires for us: a free response of obedience and love toward him. The crowning glory is that God made us to look like him, so to speak—to bear his image in the world. In Romans 3, we read that our sin means that we have “fallen short of the glory of God.” We haven’t lived into the image of God.
When Jesus came he was the very “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). He was perfectly obedient, freely giving and receiving love with God his Father. He is the only one who lives up fully to the picture Psalm 8 gives us. It shouldn’t surprise us that the New Testament writer of the letter to Hebrews quotes Psalm 8 as he writes about Jesus. The truly human one is what Psalm 8 pictures for us. And so far, only one “truly human being” has appeared. But one day we will join him in reaching our true humanity, and even now God is making us more like him by the work of the Spirit.
Absorb this insight fully and you will never hear or say the phrase, “I’m only human,” the same way again.