Sometimes Christianity has been perceived as anti-human. Read through the letter to the Romans and you will find many commands to die and put to death all fleshly desires. Even Jesus commands us to die daily. Being human has so much to do with the physical, which is frequently perceived as the antithesis of the spiritual. Besides who likes the way their body looks. Bodies are dirty, shaped weird, and smell. All this might be proof against the merits of being human if not for two important facts.
When God created human beings he said it was good. We didn’t suddenly receive human bodies with the fall, neither are we spirits trapped in physical bodies as the Gnostics believed. Rather God created us in his own image as human beings. In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve’s bodies were perfect, meaning all their desires and impulses were good because their ultimate desire was God. Through the fall our desires turned from God to self. Human beings became less than human, because God had designed our lives focus to be him, like the hub of a wheel around which everything else turns. Humans became bent and broken with all desires distorted. Despite this the image of God remained.
Thankfully God did not abandon us in that state. In Jesus God came and lived in human flesh demonstrating that having a human body is not sinful. He demonstrated how to live a human life free of sin by his humble obedience to the Father. Such a life was what God had originally intended in the Garden.
In light of this the commands to die make better sense. We are to put to death all that is bent, broken, and sinful in ourselves, the flesh. However, God doesn’t want a bunch of vegetables; he wants living sons and daughters. We put to death so that Christ can live through us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Only through the only one who ever lived a perfect human life, human as it was meant to be, can we live as we were meant to be. In Christ we become fully human.
It was Hans Rookmaaker who said that “Jesus didn’t come to make us Christian; Jesus came to make us fully human.” Often people go about being Christians by acting upon their own myopic idea of what it means to be a Christian. When you consider what it means to have our entire humanness redeemed it widens the vision to the entire scope of human life. It is then that we are able take joy in being human. Laughing, eating, and romantic love become something more than what they were. As our human desires become conformed through obedience to God, they become “sacred.” Hiking, painting, and snowboarding become ways to enjoy God. As Eric Liddell says in Chariots of Fire, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” The freedom comes from no longer trying to become what we are not. Rather we are gradually becoming what we were always meant to be.
The charge that can be leveled against this view is that it promotes a libertine attitude. If it feels good do it. This misses the mark because it is obvious that certain desires cause us to be less than human, less than God’s intention. In addition, the process of becoming fully human is not instantaneous. Instead it is a gradual process of submitting to Christ and his life in us. We allow Him to put to death desires which are twisted and sinful in us and redeem them. An example might make this clearer.
The desire for food is a good desire. If a person did not want any food we would think they were sick. There is such a sin as gluttony in which food becomes inordinately important, sometimes the most important. God created food and taste buds, but he also created us to put him first and food in its proper place. In one sense we can only enjoy food properly when our desire for food has been put into its proper place, when God has taken the desire distorted by the fall and restored it to its fully humanity.