As I turned to Wyatt’s chapter about biblical perspectives on what it is to be human I had expected to see a handful of verses trotted out as proof texts. So I was very pleasantly surprised when I read that Wyatt believes there is –
"[…] no hope of finding simplistic proof-texts which will genuinely apply to the dilemmas of embryo research, technological enhancement or the persistent vegetative state. God […] has given a comprehensive revelation which covers the sweep of world history. It is our task to try to saturate ourselves in the fullness of scriptural revelation in order to discern its relevance to the modern world”.
Having said this, Wyatt then proceeds to walk his reader though a rich biblical theology of what God says it is to be human through the lenses of four epochs of human history.
Wyatt shows us that scripture pictures the origin of the human species in terms of a beautiful, loving and personal design conceived by the creator. On particular view is what it means for us to have been made in the image of God, which he explains means that we are not self-explanatory but derive our meaning from the image of our creator. He goes on to show that because the dignity of humanity is entirely derivative in this sense, then our world’s obsession with personal autonomy is a futile lie. We are most truly human not when we seek to control our own existence, but when we recognise it is entirely grounded in and sustained by our creator.
As people made in God’s image we are also to understand that our personhood is derived from the Godhead. To be a person is to be someone who is unique, but at the same time who is always in intimate relationship with others. This is, of course, another nail in the coffin of our ongoing obsession with personal independence and autonomy.
Finally, Wyatt points out that because being made in God’s image is something that applies to all human beings, then all of us are to be treated with the same equality, respect, dignity and protection – regardless of race, gender, age or capability.
Wyatt again points out the foolishness of our quest for moral autonomy by showing us from Scripture that it was that very endeavour which lay at the heart of the Fall in the first place! Our desire to be our own people, rule our own lives, live independently of God and his rules … well, that is the very definition of sin!
Wyatt reminds us that the Fall defaces God’s image in humankind, such that humanity is now characterised by the "alien interruptions" of death, decay and suffering. This, of course, means that it is inevitable that we would have a fear of death! However, as he points out, whilst the world looks to medicine and technology to conquer this fear, the answer to our fear is actually Christ.
One particularly interesting aspect of his discussion in this section was the place of the suffering we experience as a result of sin. Wyatt points out that in the secular mind, suffering is entirely futile, purposeless, negative and ultimately a threat to our personal autonomy. However, he reminds the reader that in biblical thought suffering is not entirely negative. He warns Christians not to succumb to the world’s thinking on the meaninglessness of suffering and instead writes that "one of the greatest needs of the church today is to rediscover a biblical theology of suffering".
One of the most compelling quotes of the entire book comes as Wyatt explains how Christ – the Word made flesh – provides us with a unique insight into what it is to be human. He argues that as Christians we are to treat the human body with special respect:
"Why? Because this strange and idiosyncratic collection of 35000 genes, 10 billion nerve cells, several miles of wiring, eight metres of intestinal plumbing, five litres of blood and assorted biochemical engineering – this is the form in which God became flesh!"
The fact that Jesus was born and raised as a human being is actually God’s vote of confidence in the created order! The Bible’s revelation of Jesus shows us what it means to be perfectly human as God intended.
Wyatt also notes that Christ is God’s ultimate expression of empathy with humanity. In Jesus, God entered into the human experience of pain, suffering, loneliness and death. This means that if we are to truly follow Christ then we need to be ready to give of ourselves, enter into the pain of others and show them true empathy. When it comes to difficult ethical issues this genuine desire to love as Jesus loved should be absolutely foundational to our thinking and behaviour.
Finally, Wyatt reminds us that Jesus’ physical resurrection and ascension means that his body is even now a part of a new reality. The great promise which awaits is that in Christ, our humanity is both vindicated and transformed so that when he returns, we will become what we were always intended to be! As such, Wyatt challenges us to only dare act now in light of the future consummation that awaits us. Matters of Life and Death must be considered and understood in light of the incredible reality that in Christ death has already been defeated and life is now ours for eternity.
This chapter in Matters of Life and Death truly is a thought-provoking, eye-opening, lightbulb moment, wonderful read! Even if you were to buy the book and read this single chapter alone, your investment of both money and time would be well worth it! Wyatt’s explanation of what it is to be human is remarkable, insightful and, most importantly, biblically faithful.