Almighty God has given to each of us the gift of free will, the freedom of choice, but our choices have consequences. Too many people think they can sin with impunity, believing they can live immoral lives without paying the price. How else can we explain the fact that multitudes of people choose to laugh at old fashioned morality, decency, honesty, and faithfulness – that so many married couples no longer honor their marriage vows, including celebrities who smile when they say, “When we married we did not say ‘forsaking all others,’” – that we are faced with a growing integrity crisis in our nation, where deceit and corruption, selfishness and greed, are so commonplace among those who represent us in government – that so many victims of abuse by others in positions of authority and power in our common life are now confronting their abusers who had obviously believed they could get away with it for so many years? The answer to these questions is obvious: little or no sense of accountability, a widespread disregard for honor and responsibility.
That word “responsibility” means the ability to respond to life’s challenges, circumstances, and crises in ways that are honorable and respectable. The Bible teaches us that God has not only given us the gift of freedom, but also given us a special place in His creation. From the very beginning of the biblical story we are told that God has made us caretakers, partners in His continuing creation, to “have dominion” over the earth (Genesis 1:26). That means humankind was commissioned from the beginning to manifest God’s rule on earth, to share the task of being God’s stewards on planet Earth. It is unfortunate that the biblical word for “stewardship” is usually associated with the proper use of our possessions, for in the Bible it refers to how we use all the gifts God has given us, how we invest our time and talents, how we represent our Creator in all the relationships and responsibilities of life, how we relate to one another (i.e. how we treat one another). Human dominion is to be exercised in accordance with God’s design for our shared life on planet Earth. The Bible teaches us that human dominion is limited, but so much of this world’s pain is caused by people in positions of leadership and authority who abuse their power, because of their thirst for absolute power, their desire to dominate and subjugate. Dictators and despots crave the power of life and death over those they rule. Many of us have seen in our lifetimes the horrors of too many wars caused by such crazed rulers.
The first ones to always come to mind are Hitler and Stalin. We think of World War II, the conquests that preceded it as the Nazi military forces swept across Europe, the unbelievable destruction, devastation, and death during that “worst of all wars,” and then the oppression that followed the end of WWII when Russia’s desire to dominate and subjugate was manifested in Stalin’s plan to expand its border all over Eastern Europe. In recent weeks millions of movie goers have been reminded of those dark days in two fine films, Dunkirk and The Darkest Hour. Britain had to make the most difficult choices the British Empire had ever been forced to make. Winston Churchill became Prime Minister in 1940 at the very time Hitler was extending his increasing domination of Europe with his armies marching across Belgium and France. No one, including Churchill, believed that a great nation like France would fall in such a short time, only a matter of weeks, but that is exactly what happened. The first lesson of Britains entrance into the war concerned Churchill would call the “profound significance of human choice, and the sublime responsibility of men.” Another man who had to make a choice that would ultimately turn the tide of the war was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
It is not only on the national and international stage that we see the “significance of choice” and the “sublime responsibility of men” (i.e. humankind), but personally in our own individual lives and in our shared life, not only in our own lives but in our shared life in the communities where we live. Consider one other aspect of our shared life that is also inextricably connected to the responsibility God has given us, caring for for “the land under our feet.” Returning to the two accounts of creation found in the first and second chapters of the Book of Genesis, especially the creation of humankind, the Hebrew word-play on “adam” (translated man), and “adamah” (translated ground, referring to “soil”) introduces the early biblical tradition of expressing the God-ordained relationship of humankind to the soil from which man was formed, in the beginning (Genesis 2:7), just as a potter molds clay in his hands (Jeremiah 18:6). One of my childhood friends and playmates, Wendell Berry, one of the most respected authors and poets of our time, has warned us time and time again about the neglect and abuse of the land, and the tragic abdication of our God-given responsibility to be faithful stewards of the soil we were created and commanded to care for wisely and tenderly as well as our responsibility to appreciate and value the life and worth of all God’s creatures, and to recognize and honor every human’s unique dignity and worth. The title of one of his books, a little book with a big title, speaks for itself: Life Is A Miracle. No one can read the Bible without being made keenly aware of this truth.
If you have ever wondered why you were created, I encourage you to read the Book of Psalms. Time and time again the psalmist not only proclaims the glory of God, but also announces the exalted place God has given to all human beings by making us “a little lower than the angels” and crowning us with “glory and honor” (Psalm 8:3-5). I remember how shocked I was when I first realized that the Hebrew word that is usually translated in this particular psalm as “angels” is actually one of the Old Testament names given to God What an incomprehensible declaration, but a biblical truth that has sadly been ignored, and not only ignored but rejected by so many who refuse to believe in racial equality. Most of us are undoubtedly familiar with the term “selective deafness.” We often hear only what we choose to hear, especially when it comes to biblical interpretation. How else can we explain the fact that so many people who accept the Bible as holy scripture, the inspired and authoritative Word of God, can also believe that some human beings are superior to others, that some races are inferior? There have always been white supremacists among us, but in recent days they have emerged from their dark hiding places into the bright light of day once again, “neo Nazis” who still believe in a so-called “master race.” They are on the march once again! When will we ever learn that in the eyes of God all human beings are equal, not equal in power, not equal in privilege, not equal in possessions, not equal in knowledge, not equal in opportunities, not equal in the way they are regarded and treated, but equal in terms of the special status God has given all human beings as special creatures made in our Creator’s own image (Genesis 1:26)?
Furthermore, to be “fully human,” in the biblical sense, is to live our lives in obedience to God and in harmony and peace with one another, in both mutual respect and responsibility, demonstrating concern and care for one another, without any feelings of superiority, “doing justly, showing mercy, and walking with God” (Micah 6:8), rather than exalting ourselves and lording it over others (Luke 14:11, John 13:13-17). In the giving of the Ten Commandments God gave us the blueprint for the manner in which we are to live, in obedience to God and with respect for one another, regardless of one’s race, culture, or status from a human point of view. The scriptures teach us plainly what our status is before God – all human beings – both the Old and New Testaments. In the Hebrew Bible, that Christians accept as the Old Testament, we find two accounts of the delivery of the Ten Commandments to Moses, followed by their deliverance to the Hebrews, the covenant people of God (Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5). These commandments, known as The Law, and their application have formed the ethical bedrock of morality. We have the freedom to choose whether we will live our lives in obedience to the moral law of God, or choose to go our own way, doing our own thing, in defiance of those commandments. It has been said that multitudes of people have chosen to treat them as “ten suggestions”, for they want to be the master of their own lives, choosing their own values, while chasing those things that human instincts crave, which is the essence of sin (i.e. self-centeredness, just plain selfishness), thrusting one’s fist in the face of God, violating His commandments, showing little or no concern for the consequences of our choices.
May that never be said of you or of me, for we know God has honored us by giving us the freedom of moral choice, by creating us “a little lower than the angels,” by making us “in His own likeness” (i.e. the “imago dei”), by breathing His Spirit, a part of Himself, into each of us, by giving us dominion over the Earth, and by giving us a corresponding responsibility to be the kind of human beings God had in mind when He first thought of us. Let us show our gratitude to God for giving us this exalted position and privilege, the incredible capability of sharing the divine nature, God’s own glory and honor, with almost unlimited possibilities and potentialities for good, if we only choose to live as God has intended from the beginning.