The Garden Series: Human Dignity

If you read the intro to this series, I hope you know that I’m not out to change your entire view of humanity’s history. I’m not using this post to prove intelligent design over evolution. That’s not what this post is about.

This is the second post in the series, and my desire is to communicate why Christianity (and Judaism in this case) offers a great explanation of the soul-level truth we all know: human life should be treated with dignity. I’m shining light on where all that dignity stuff came from—the Garden story.

Being Nice? Or Being Created?

Christians and non-Christians alike would most likely agree on this: humans should be treated with dignity. And a lot of the time, a Christian and a non-Christian can both show respect and honor to other humans in identical ways.

The reason the Garden is so important to Christians is because it explains the undergirding reason why humans have dignity. A Bible-person would say it’s because all humans were created in God’s image, and so they deserve respect because of Who made them. A non-Bible-person would say that regardless of God, we all should be nice to one another. Being nice is the right thing to do and being mean is not.

The reason I find Christianity’s reasoning more persuasive is because its argument never changes and never sways. It’s a solid reasoning that spans over all of humanity’s history and over all cultures and time periods. Humans, in general, were always made by God, in His image, and therefore always deserve dignity and honor.

Time and culture and values change. In some eras, being nice and doing the right thing is highly valued and agreed upon. In other seasons and cultures, it’s not. In some cases throughout history, “being nice,” as great a principle as that is, hasn’t been enough reason to treat humans with equality and dignity and value. 

I’m not saying it’s not a good value and that some non-Christians I know aren’t amazing at doing that. And some Christians I know are actually really bad at treating people with honor. There are friends we have that don’t know or care about God who are incredible activists of great causes, so I’m not saying basic morals or “being nice” is a bad motivation. It’s a good one.

I’m saying that when I mull it over through the microscope of human history, “being nice” has been a good value, but it hasn’t been sturdy enough to stand the test of time. Even as time moves forward, the most evolved and successful of men have been known to cheat on their wives or embezzle from their fellow employees. I look at the principle of being nice, and I see that it has never been a universal value that the whole world holds high, even in today’s time. 

I think it should be. I think the whole world should agree that being nice is the right thing to do.

And the reason I love the Garden is because, like I said, it tells me the undergirding why the whole world should agree.

We Know We’re Different

We have an inner truth inside that we can’t fight off: We’re different. We matter.

Some of us don’t know why, but we know it’s true. We know that homeless guy matters as much as Bill Gates. Somehow inside, we know that they are equally important, even though our culture says different. The world tells us that people matter more or less due to money or status, yet we know that something out there makes us equal to each other in dignity and value. We feel the tension when celebrities get more praise than the mom working three jobs to get her kids through school. We get mad when rich Prada people get luxurious treatment at social soirées while the girl wearing outlet shoes gets ignored. We watch and we cringe and we get rubbed the wrong way, because we know there’s some other law at work, saying that they both matter, that they are equal.

And for some reason, we only feel this way about humans. Not that we don’t just love our animals, because we do. But we know somewhere down deep that a slain puppy getting run over on the street, as heartbreaking as it is, feels different than a toddler being crushed under the same wheels.

We don’t feel that way in efforts to be mean to animals. We feel that way because there’s a benevolent hierarchy we know to be true.

We don’t grow up a toddler to keep them forever. We raise them to send them out as fully functioning contributors to society who have value and worth. We don’t do that with puppies. We raise them and keep them because they have a limit. They cannot be released into the world on their own. They need our care and our provision their whole life because they are different than humans. We somehow universally know that we have a responsibility when we look at the earth and the animals and the environment.

We never adopt a puppy and wonder who’s in charge, or who should get whom breakfast at 6am. We know we are the creation-governors and order-instaters in our little square inch of the world, even if we don’t believe in God. We know we’re the caretakers, not the squirrels or the insects or the trees. We have a radar for when something in creation needs our care or when something chaotic needs to be sorted out, whether it’s de-weeding our backyard or sorting through misunderstandings in a friendship. We do this stuff without thinking about it.

So why is all of this true? Christianity says it’s because we were made differently all the way in the beginning. Christianity says it was God’s creative idea to fashion us with these passions and built-in radars. We were made with inherent value, no matter what era we are in, to harmonize with each other and to govern the creation with compassion and love and diligence. The Garden gives us a glimpse all way back in the beginning when God built humanity’s wiring to do these things, and ever since then, they’ve flooded out of us in the most creative of ways.

sculpt2-1When People Aren’t Nice

And it gets better. Not only does the Garden tell us why we should be nice to each other and the world, it also gives us someone to go to when “being nice” don’t happen. See, just like we know we’re supposed to be nice, we also know penalties should be paid when people aren’t nice. We all know deep down that there should be consequences for bad things. It’s why we’ve created justice systems and courts and representatives of the law. We need to know penalties will be paid.

When a Hitler comes on the scene and murders innocent people. When a personal family member betrays trust. When a lover abandons or a friend lies without effort, Christianity offers a justice system, a person to answer to. Christianity gives us what we all desire down deep: a person at the end of the line who has the ultimate say in righting wrongs. A person not only to freak out with, but who has the power to change things.

And I know that we can get that through government measures. If someone broke the law, by all means, tell a police officer. But I’m talking about those little cuts in life that no one will go to jail for. I’m talking about all the emotional hurt we don’t know what to do with, you know, after that party when you saw your ex sneak off with another woman or that time your superior blessed you out in front of your colleagues (and why in the world do we use the word bless?). Somehow we know there’s a record being kept, that those little violations matter. Somehow, someway, we know Someone sees them. 

We want people to answer for those things—the little ones and the big. The Garden gives us an answer when it comes to those little cuts: God sees them and deals with them.

In the Garden, every person matters equally and when someone is not treated that way, there’s a God who sees it and executes helpful and fair consequences. And there’s even a biblical reason why He wants to deal with them.

To Insult a Masterpiece

See, in the family of God, it’s insulting to demean anything He has made. To insult someone’s personality type or physical appearance is to insult the Designer behind all those things—to tell God he did a sub-par job. In Christianity, you don’t simply insult other people, you insult the God who carefully and creatively fashioned them. In this way, treatment of our fellow humans reaches beyond just being nice. It becomes a much bigger deal to hurt another human being because he or she was made lovingly by a very powerful being that you will have to reckon with.

To insult a piece of incredible art is to design its originator. And the Bible says we are God’s masterpiece, the finest workmanship of his hands. When someone insults the things about you that God purposefully crafted, they insult your originator.

So, in Christianity, when you are insulted by another, you have a God behind you who is on your side, who stands by the way He made you, who says your wiring wasn’t an accident. He’s the God who fights for the masterpiece He made.

And so I agree that we should all be nice to each other. I agree that it’s the right thing to do. I just believe Christianity offers a solid, universal reason why we should be nice to each other, and gives us a universal person that will balance all accounts when people aren’t nice, that’s all. I believe being nice and being created don’t have to be mutually exclusive. We don’t have to choose.

We need to be nice because we were created purposefully.

So yes, I need to be nice to my neighbor or coworker. But not just for niceness sake, but because I believe there’s a living, breathing, work of God in there. I believe God made her skill sets on purpose and is writing a beautiful story. I see her idosyncracies and I see the hand of God in that. I see God’s delight in his masterpieces when I survey the people around me. I don’t want to be nice to you because it’s good to be nice, although it is. 

I want to be nice to you because according to God, you are a intricate masterpiece with divine purposes, and far be it from me to insult His work or gawk at the plan He may have for you. I don’t just want to treat you with dignity because I’m supposed to, I want to be blown away by the creativity of God when I look at you.

And that’s the choice the Garden gives us when it comes to human dignity–to be nice, or to be blown away.

Okay, but what does Scripture really say about this?

I’ve written a lot of nice ideas and thoughts. But more than my thoughts, I simply want to show you where these things are revealed in the biblical Garden story. I want you to see the Scripture, in black and white, behind all these claims, and I want you to understand it in everyday language–in prose. (And I know the Bible-lovers out there are wondering where all the Bible is in a post like this).

So that will be our next post in the Garden series—not what I say, but what God says in His Word. And trust me, it’s much more interesting than my ramblings. 

*Feature image 1: myself. Feature image 2: Dominique Charlebois (FlyteWizard) of deviantart.com

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