I've been largely absent from the blog lately because I am now a Postulant in the Anglican Province of America, and to that end I started work this semester on an M.A. in Religion. That's on top of my full-time teaching job. Below is a brief oral presentation I gave answering the question, "How are human beings different from other members of the 'animal kingdom'?" It seems to fit with the blog, so I am posting it here.
Human persons are the crown and culmination of God's good creation. We are God-breathed bearers of God's image, created by God to steward and cultivate the world in community with other persons. So we have a place of incredible honor and dignity—but also of great responsibility.
As a starting place and grounding for an understanding of human beings, you can't do better than the creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2. Try not to get caught up in the differences between the passages—there are some tensions in the two accounts if you come at it from the standpoint of contemporary historical or scientific practice. But those questions probably would have been meaningless or pointless to the Bible's ancient audience. Instead, try to see these as complementary accounts from different perspectives.
Genesis 1 provides a cosmic picture, a survey of the universe from the eye of God. The six days of creation are sprinkled with complementary opposites—evening and morning, day and night, heavens and earth, sea and land, sun and moon. Finally, God says, “Let us make a human in our image, by our likeness” (in the translation of one Hebrew scholar). “And God created the human in his image / in the image of God He created him / male and female He created them.” Thus the man and woman form the final, culminating complementary opposite.
In contrast with this cosmic picture, the second chapter of Genesis has a more earthy tone, what with its focus on naming critters and tilling the earth. The earthy tone is matched by its earthly, human perspective. Here we find the male human formed first: “The Lord God fashioned the human, humus from the soil, and blew into his nostrils the breath of life...” Afterwards God fashions vegetation to sustain and occupy him, and then God creates all the animals and so forth. Finally God creates “a woman.”
So what do these two accounts tell us about human beings?