Becoming Fully Human
The three most important questions that we as the people of God need to engage with in our generation are: What is the Gospel? What does it mean to be the people of God? How do we as the people of God engage the world? These are the questions that we must grapple with over the next 20 years. They are question that many of us need to give our lives to. Not in an academic way, although that is important, but in the practical everyday reality of living out our lives as the people of God both individually and communally.
What I want to do here is to get behind the first question: What is the Gospel? I am not going to tackle this question directly but rather seek to struggle with one of the questions behind the question, which is: What is Salvation? The danger is that we seek to communicate the Gospel before we understand the nature of salvation offered in the Gospel.
One of my favourite episodes of the Simpsons is the one in which Lisa Simpson falls in love with her substitute teacher, Mr Bergstrom. In this particular episode Lisa who is one of the most together little 9-year-olds you could ever meet in your life has a substitute or casual teacher called Mr Bergstrom. Now Mr Bergstrom is Jewish. He’s wise, sensitive, caring, compassionate, and intuitive. He is also quite masculine and clearly in control, while at the same time intuitive and feminine. He is the perfect man, the ultimate human being. He knows all, understands all, and is all anyone could ever wish for.
Now in case you had not worked it out, it’s just so obvious, Mr Bergstrom is the Jesus character in this episode. Now lots of the comedy of the episode plays on the comparison of the Jesus figure, the perfect man. Mr Bergstrom and Homer, who it’s fair to say is not the perfect man. He is a weak, fragile and incredibly dysfunctional human being who in this episode tries to be the perfect father and fails spectacularly.
After lots of hoohoos and haahaas and stuff about Homer and what a bad father he is, and how wonderful Mr Bergstrom is, Lisa finally gets Marge and Homer to allow her to invite Mr Bergstrom home for a meal. So she stands outside the classroom door, she rehearses her speech, she is very nervous because she is in the presence of someone holy when she is with Mr Bergstrom. She bursts in through the door only to discover that there is no Mr Bergstrom. Rather her regular teacher has returned. In an incredible state of distress she runs out of the classroom and round to the apartment of Mr Bergstrom where she discovers that Mr Bergstrom is on the next train out of Springfield.
So she races down to the Springfield Railway Station. She finally gets there and Mr Bergstrom is on the train about to leave Springfield. She races up to him and she says, “What are you doing? Where are you going? You come into my life and you fill my life with meaning. When I play the saxophone, you act as if it’s like music from angels. When I answer a question it's like it’s the wisdom of the ancients. You come into my life and you make me feel like I am really somebody, that I’m not just one of the billions of people that inhabit the earth. Why are you leaving me? How can I get on without you? ”
Mr Bergstrom looks down at Lisa and replies. “Lisa, Lisa, please this is the life of a substitute teacher. Nonetheless, I’ll tell you what, if you feel like you are a nobody or that life has no meaning and that you make no difference in this world. I want you to remember this,” and he takes out a notepad and a pen and he writes her a note. He tears it off. Folds it up and hands it to Lisa as the train begins to move away and he out of her life. Lisa runs down the platform in utter despair, in complete distress. Finally as she pulls herself together as the train is disappearing out of sight – Mr Bergstrom’s voice can be heard, “Lisa, read the note.” She unfolds the note and reads it. It says, “You are Lisa Simpson.”
Now that’s the easiest thing in the world to say. However, I met a Jewish man once and he wrote me a note just like that. He said, whenever you think you are a nobody or your life is not worth living. When you think you have blown it and there is no way back. When you think that your life makes no difference in this world — remember this, ”you are Les Henson.” And when you go into this world acting like you are not worth dying for, you call me a liar, says Jesus, because I figured that you were worth dying for.
As we face the issues of life, remember, Jesus loves us so much that he figures that we were worth dying for. He died to deal with our sin and our stuff, our ups and downs. And his love for us is so great, that his grace and mercy towards us never runs out, it doesn’t have a “use by” date on it. He figures that in spite of the messes we create for ourselves we were worth dying for. He has adopted us into his family and he is not about to foster us out. He desires that the family image, the creation image, the 'Imago Dei', the image of God be restored in our lives. So that we can be conformed to the image of Christ, that is part of our ultimate destination as the people of God.
In Genesis 1:27 we read that, “So God created humankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” God desires that we, the people of God, live out our identity in creation and in Christ in the reality of our everyday lives as those made in his image, and as true and faithful followers of Jesus. This is our calling and responsibility. We have been bought with a price, therefore, we are to live out the reality of being IMAGE BEARERS in the context of everyday life.
According to this! What is Salvation? Salvation is simply being restored to the image and likeness of God. Being restored to the image and likeness of God is what it is to be truly human. Often when we sin and do those things that deface the image of God within our lives we say, “Well, I’m only human.” No! That’s not being human. That’s being less than human. To be fully human is to live out our lives in the reality that we were created and made in the image of God. The image of God within us is indeed the true humanity, while; sin is the defacement of true humanity.
I have met many Christians who seem to think that to be a Christian is to escape from our humanity into some ridiculous form of super spirituality. They seem to have visions of God everyday of the week and twice on Sundays. They long to escape into the Netherworld of heaven where they will live disconnected from this earth. But that’s not Christianity! It is a form of Gnosticism. It is a form of escape.
Salvation involves becoming fully human. It also means that we above all people should be truly connected to this world and concerned about the redemption of all creation. When God wanted to demonstrate the fullness of salvation he sent his son to earth as a human being to demonstrate what it really meant to be a human being made in the image and likeness of God. Jesus was a true human being because he lived out his humanity without sin, in obedience to his Father.
While Jesus was not one of those super-spiritual people we all dislike, neither was he a wauzer. He was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard, because he ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners. He knew how to party and at the wedding in Canaan when he turned water into wine. Jesus lived life to the full he was truly human.
As I said before we don’t sin because we are human. We sin because we are not human enough. Salvation, then means becoming fully human as Jesus was fully human. It involves the restoration of the image of God among those who have but a shadow of that image in their lives because of the destructiveness of sin. It means that individually and corporately that when that image is restored, we become a society that is fully human and a truly human society. While this will only be a partial reality in this world, it will be the full and final reality when Jesus comes and his kingdom is fully consummated in the New Heaven and the New Earth. Therefore let’s seek to live our lives as those who are fully human as a sign of the coming kingdom of God in Jesus Christ.