Man as an Object of Theological Knowledge – Dummies Style

(In which is found a summary of CD III/2, 19-55)

We know what true humanity is because the relationship between God and human beings is made known in the Word of God. This relationship is the theme and content of the Bible. To describe what human beings are and what their relationship is to their creator is the job of theological anthropology, and to do that job well theologians must give their full attention to the Word of God and its biblical witness.

For example, the exegesis of Psalm 8:1 in Hebrews chapter 2 is correct. “What is man?” asks Psalm 8. Hebrews 2 identifies this man with Jesus Christ. The job of theological anthropology is to look at humanity in the light of the Word of God which is Jesus Christ.

There are, of course, other anthropologies with their different methods. These non-theological anthropologies are persistent rivals to what we are trying to describe. We could, for example, derive our understanding of humanity from philosophy. Human beings believe that they can understand themselves apart from the Word of God, as if they could be both the teacher and the student on this subject.  But this kind of anthropology is an enemy which we must oppose with the Word of God. It is typical of the self-confidence by which human beings believe they can live without God and build a world-view that does not include him. True knowledge of true humanity can never start with this kind of self-confidence.

We could derive our understanding of humanity from science. But science cannot penetrate past the appearance of humanity into its true being. Science knows what human beings look like and sound like and smell like, but cannot fully understand who they are and what they are meant to be. And today’s scientific theory will be replaced by tomorrow’s. In fact, the main problem with the scientific approach is the assumption that what human beings appear to be is what they truly are.

Science is not the enemy of theology. It only becomes the enemy when its theories stop being humble conclusions based on observations and become instead the basis of a world-view, that is, when science becomes a philosophy. Science is not necessarily an unspiritual work. It can only become an unspiritual work when it is applied unscientifically.

The difference between these methods and theological anthropology is that theological anthropology does not concern itself with what human beings can be or appear to be but with what and who they really are. And it is only by the light of the Word of God that we can see this truth and this reality. Theological anthropology studies the real human being and it tells us his name.

However, before it gives us answers, the Word of God confronts us with a problem. It does not show us human beings as we want to see them, but as they really are. They have become perverted and corrupted. They have betrayed themselves and become sinners. This does not mean that God stops being their God. But it does mean that they contradict their purpose. They sin and strive against God. They come into conflict with God and rebel against him. And because they are at war with God, they are at war with themselves. “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21).

Human beings are sinners. If we try to deny this, then we have not fully understood the reconciliation of humanity with God in the resurrection of the crucified Jesus Christ.

But even as sinners, human beings are creatures of God. Their sin cannot erase this fact. The corruption of their nature is not the annihilation of their nature. This is confirmed in the fact that even as sinners the Word of God still speaks to them. But there is no going around the fact of human sin. We cannot pretend that they are not rebels.

This, however, is no reason to give up. For the Word of God confronts us with this problem, and it solves it as well. It shows us that we are sinners. But it shows us that we are more than just sinners. For the Word of God tells us that God has made us partners in his covenant with us and that we are the object of his eternal grace. Our rebellion and sin is not the last word, but God has spoken in our favor in a way that we do not deserve. In spite of ourselves, we have a destiny with God and not without him. The real human being is the sinner who experiences the grace of God. In fact, our real sin is our opposition to grace. We reject God’s grace and try to live by our own strength. And so we only sin because God’s grace was their first. Grace is primary; sin is only secondary. If it were not for the covenant God has made with us, we would not be sinners.

In the Word of God we hear God’s judgment on our sin, but his judgment is not opposed to his mercy. However severe it might be, God’s judgment is God keeping faith with his creatures that he has made. It is the purifying fire of his love that consumes our sin and rebellion, that destroys it. In his judgment God vindicates himself against us, but in doing so he vindicates us as well against all the powers that are hostile towards us. Judgment overthrows the tyranny of sin and sets us free for God and for our true selves. We are lost in our sin, but not lost from God so that he cannot rescue us. If we are blind to God, he is not blind to us. In this way, sin is not real. It cannot undo what God has done. It cannot determine who or what we are. We can run away from God, but we can never escape him. Sin can never change the fact that we are God’s and that he is ours. We cannot deny human sin. But we also cannot give it a power to determine our future that it does not possess.

We cannot deny our sin or forgive our own sin or undo our sin. We cannot justify ourselves. We cannot put ourselves right. A “free will” that has the power to set ourselves free is an illusion. But God can do what we cannot do. The sad truth of our “enslaved will” is far surpassed by the joyful truth that God is free to set us free.

We also cannot know our true selves on our own. But God can and he can reveal it to us. God looks through and past and over our sin to see the true humanity. This is the object of our theological anthropology. It is our task to ask what God knows about us.

God created us to be his partner in his covenant. In all his judgments and promises, God confirms this relationship, whether we are Jew or Gentile, obedient or disobedient. To all without distinction he speaks his Word. And this Word is the man Jesus. He is the source of our knowledge of the nature of humanity as created by God. God chose this man. God became one with this man. God revealed himself in him and through him. The Word of God is the good news of Jesus Christ. The gospel.

And having chosen this man, God has chosen us men and women in him. God has chosen the Church as the body of which Jesus Christ is the head. In this man we see the light of God that penetrates our blindness, that makes us see. God loves this man, and in him and through him he loves us. In Jesus Christ we see that we are held in the hand of God, despite our sin, and God will not let us fall. By faith in this Word, we can say that God is gracious.

Jesus Christ is the true human being. He alone is primarily and properly human. No philosophy, no science can tell us who we truly are apart from him. He is the true object of theological anthropology. This focus does not prevent other anthropological discussions. But it will also not be distracted by them. For Jesus Christ is the revealed grace of God. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in him.

So, in conclusion we can say:

  1. We are not like Jesus. His life is not our life. Human nature as it is in ourselves exists in contradiction. We are creatures of God, yet we have turned from our creator. We live by grace, but our minds and actions are opposed to grace. Our life is in turmoil because of our own self-contradiction. On the other hand, his life stands in opposition to our life. His humanity is God’s judgment on our humanity.
  2. In Jesus’ life we see our true life, humanity as we were created to be. In him is a humanity that is free of sin. In him we see a will that is truly free. He is human like us, but he is not a sinner like us, so that in him we see that sin is not essential to our nature. Sin is not an inevitable condition without which we are not human. And God finds in him what he cannot find in us. In Jesus God finds human nature blameless. Jesus has kept the covenant that God made with us. Jesus is the perfect partner in this relationship. And so this becomes the basis of our forgiveness. It is the reason that the covenant that we have broken can be repaired and maintained. This does not mean that our sin is ignored or denied. But in sharing our human nature, Jesus has taken our sin and destroyed it. Jesus was condemned and rejected with us, and so in him our sin died and was buried. Sin is dead. It does not live to control us or define us or condemn us. It is stripped of all power. We stand before God forgiven.
  3. Our fellowship with God rests upon the fact that Jesus Christ alone is one with God. He is the living God. He is God’s chosen one, the head of the body of all God’s chosen ones. Jesus Christ alone gives grace, we can only receive it. He has the Spirit of God and he gives the Spirit to us. He is our Lord. He is our Prophet, Priest and King. In all this, he must lead and we can only follow and serve him. He is the Word of God and we must listen. He is the original and we are the copies.
  4. Our true humanity is seen in the sinless life of Jesus Christ. He shared our flesh. He was tempted as we are. But while we resist God’s grace, Jesus Christ remains faithful to God’s covenant of grace. What keeps him from sin is not a capacity of his creatureliness, but the eternal mercy of God that refuses to be limited and chooses to maintain itself in our fragile human nature. With the same power that he brought order to chaos and shone his light in the darkness, he refused to be defined by sin. To the loud No of sin, God spoke his even louder Yes and remained true to himself. In this refusal to submit to sin, God redeemed the human nature of Jesus Christ, and in redeeming it, he redeemed humanity. We cannot find this sinless capacity in ourselves. It is a divine power which can only work in us and despite us.
  5. In Jesus Christ true humanity is revealed in its original form. It is no longer secret. By ourselves, resting on our own resources, we do not know what we really are. But in the light of Jesus Christ, we see it. The incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, is the true Word about us as well as God. And it becomes true for us through him. He reveals his nature as our true nature. He sets us free from ourselves for our true selves.
  6. We must look away from humanity in general and focus our anthropological search on the one man Jesus, and only then look back from him to humanity in general. Jesus is not an angel. He is not a demigod, halfway between us and God. He is true God and true human being.  He is the Son of God, God the Son, who became our Brother so that we might become the children of God and brothers and sisters of each other.
  7. And so finally, in Jesus Christ and only in him do we know ourselves.







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