Searching Sabbath 07: The Nature of (Hu)Man(ity)

Well, to be honest I expected a lot more response (and was braced for a lot more negative response, but also hoping for some enlightenment from the wise and learned) to the blog on Creation last week, but in addition to the two people were kind enough to leave comments I did get, as promised, one excellent video response. You can view Ed Dickerson’s video response to me here, and tomorrow I’ll be posting a “Sunday Supplement” in which I reply to him.

Because we’ve got that tangential dialogue going now about Creation vs evolution (and I’m eager for other people to jump in with comments and insights — don’t feel you need to make a video, just comment!) I’m going to leave aside the Creationist element of today’s topic, Seventh-day Adventist fundamental belief #7: The Nature of Man, and concentrate on some other aspects. The text of the belief states:

Man and woman were made in the image of God with individuality, the power and freedom to think and to do. Though created free beings, each is an indivisible unity of body, mind, and spirit, dependent upon God for life and breath and all else. When our first parents disobeyed God, they denied their dependence upon Him and fell from their high position under God. The image of God in them was marred and they became subject to death. Their descendants share this fallen nature and its consequences. They are born with weaknesses and tendencies to evil. But God in Christ reconciled the world to Himself and by His Spirit restores in penitent mortals the image of their Maker. Created for the glory of God, they are called to love Him and one another, and to care for their environment.

As my title for today’s video and blog post suggests, I’m more comfortable with the term “nature of humanity” than “nature of man,” but otherwise, this statement of belief is one of the things I really like about the Seventh-day Adventist church. I like that it affirms the indivisible unity of body, mind and spirit — no disembodied soul living on after us. This has huge implications, as we’ll see later, for our beliefs about what happens after death — but it also has huge implications for how we live here and now, since it implies that our bodies and what we do with them matter.

I also like the fact that (as is further explored in the chapter accompanying this statement in Seventh-day Adventists Believe), while Adventists do believe in the Fall and in the fact that we have a sinful nature with “weaknesses and tendencies to evil,” we don’t share either the Original Sin doctrine of our Catholic friends or the “total depravity” doctrine of our Calvinist friends. Human nature, in the Adventist view, is a mixed bag — weakened by sin and fatally prone to selfishness, but also still reflecting the image of God. In other words, a mixed bag — just as we all recognize it to be when we look at each other and at ourselves.

Finally, I like that humanity’s role in being given “dominion” over the earth is clearly interpreted here as stewardship and care for the environment — the perfect theological framework for a commitment to  Christian environmentalism that most areas of Adventism have not developed nearly as fully as we could or should.

8 Replies to “Searching Sabbath 07: The Nature of (Hu)Man(ity)”

  1. You talked about humanity not being fully depraved, but there being a flicker of good inside of all of us. And while I agree with you–everyone has good in there somewhere–I think that Adventism has taken that too far to the point of believing (in the more conservative circles) that we’re capable of being perfect. And if we’re capable of perfection by working hard enough, that God expects it of us. A lot of EGW stuff talks about perfecting ourselves before Jesus comes back, and that nullifies what Jesus did. If we could perfect ourselves, why was Jesus’ sacrifice necessary? I know you didn’t go into that, and I’d guess you probably don’t believe that line of thought, but it’s where my brain immediately jumped! While I’m not in the “total and utter depravity” camp, I do believe we’re a mess, and we can’t fix it. It’s like being krill in the ocean. We can’t stop being what we are, even by noble thoughts. For me, that is actually a comfort. My hope is in God’s grace, that is all. No amount of work will make me more than krill. It’s all Grace.

    1. PJ, I guess a lot depends on where you are coming from. For me, the whole idea of perfectionism or perfectability is so removed from any reality that it’s not even part of my framework in thinking about things. My attitude towards human nature comes more from the perspective that people who believe in “total depravity” (which I think many SDAs do in practice even though it’s not part of our doctrine) are more likely to look at atheists and people of non-Christian religions and say, “There can’t be anything good in them because they don’t have Christ in their lives.” And when you see these people doing obviously good, lovely and altruistic things, some of these same Christians may say, “Well, their motives must be selfish,” or something, because the idea of a human being doing anything good doesn’t fit their theological framework, and thus what’s actually happening in front of their eyes can’t be happening.

  2. Although I’ve been watching Searching Sabbath with interest, I’ve been hesitant to join in the discussion. My experience with Adventism has been mostly negative and I’m a bit gunshy. I must agree with with PJ that many Adventists do believe in righteousness by faith coupled with perfection by works. I really believe that my often debilitating struggles with perfectionism are rooted in the unofficial but often spoken church mandate to be perfect. (probably didn’t help that I was a church school teacher’s kid)

    While SDAs don’t subscribe to the notion of original sin, many of my more conservative brethen do tend to view females as solely responsibe for sin, both in Eden and in the 21st century. To this day, females are lectured about their short skirts causing men to think unholy thoughts. And yet I don’t see men being encourages to take control of their thoughts. I guess it’s just easier to blame it all on the (she)devil.

    In re the creation discussion, I am becoming more and more disalusioned with the official church docterine by the week. It’s obvious this quarter’s study guide on origins was intended to quash the “herasey” of theistic eveloution, but demonizing Charles Darwin and repeatedly telling me to believe in a literal six day creation isn’t the most persuasive of arguements. I’m sure many would disagree with me, but I find the scriptures distressingly vague on the exact timeframe of creation (and many other subjects). What is clear is the picture of a creative and innovative God who is still actively involved with his creations. To me, the miracle of creation is the same whether it took 6 seconds, 6 days, or 6 million years.

    1. I agree with you, Sharon, about the miracle of creation being a miracle regardless of the timeline, and also about the intended purpose of this quarter’s Sabbath School lessons. Mostly I’m discouraged by the level of discussion, the lack of any solid knowledge about evolution, that I see attached to those lessons (dismissing something without even understanding it is not much of a basis for faith), and also by how unacceptable it is to question. I’m raising questions here on the blog and in my videos with Ed that I don’t dare raise in my Sabbath School class, because they would be so distressing to some people. But I’ ve never been comfortable with the idea of a faith that can’t bear vigorous, informed questioning.

      As for the attitudes towards women being responsible for sin, I have seen some of that (though honestly I have seen it much more outside Adventism, in other conservative Christian circles).

      1. I also want a faith that is well examined. I’m comfortable in saying “I don’t know” because we really do only know in part, but I also see great value in asking hard questions. Granted, I’m not sure Sabbath School class is the right venue for this, but I don’t see much of this honest questioning going on anywhere else around me … And that’s a problem! I really appreciate your honesty and bravery in asking questions in public forum and encouraging debate.

  3. I just listened to Ed Dickerson’s reply to your questions on Creation. Unfortunately it was breaking up quite a bit. However I just wish when something is being explained in regards to bible that the person would at the end clue it up in laymans terms. Many of us need that for our minds are all different and what you might understand without any effort , it takes some of us a little harder to get it….Just sayin….thanks Trudy ….I still am not quite sure what Ed’s views were on each question….

    1. Janet: Ed’s main points as I got them were–

      1. Bible writers were not interested in telling us anything about the age of the earth.
      2. There’s a “gap” between Genesis 1:1 and the rest of the Creation story, and we don’t know how long this gap is, so the actual physical planet could be MUCH older than 6000 words.
      3. The Genesis story is not a Creation “myth” similar to other ancient creation myths — it’s literary style is different, much more short and to the point.
      4. The author repeats over and over “the evening and morning were the ___ day,” indicating that these ARE meant to be taken as literal days.
      5. Science is not as trustworthy as I seem to think it is: scientists often disagree and change their minds about things.
      6. A loving Creator God is hard to reconcile with the idea of evolution, because evolution can only happen over thousands/millions of years of suffering and death, and a loving God would not choose to create the world using a method that involves so much pain and suffering.

      I agreed with him on some points and disagreed on others … which led to my next video, raising even more questions!

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