Defending and Redeeming Human Nature

Man has always shown a distaste for human nature. Pastors condemn it from the pulpit while Buddhist monks sit in temples and do their best to rid themselves of it. Frustrated with this constant degradation of the very thing which defines humanity, the great atheist Friedrich Nietzsche makes an unexpectedly righteous and legitimate request. He asks, with what appears to be an unintended case of rationality, for the mere “glimpse of a man who justifies mankind, a complementary and redeeming instance, for whose sake we can hold fast our faith in man.”

It is a legitimate entreaty. So much time is spent accusing and degrading human nature that we almost ought to be ashamed to even be considered a part of the human species. Many things contribute to this sentiment: murder, genocide, rape, misogyny, racism, ignorance, Boston Marathon bombings—the list alone could easily fill an encyclopedia or three. “That’s just human nature” is a catch-all for any number of misdeeds, whether it be petty selfishness or full-fledged violence.

Yet, it would seem that a justification and validation of mankind is in order. Human nature been belittled and condemned for so long, we no longer appreciate our flesh—the very thing which defines us as human. Our flesh—our human nature—was originally crafted and shaped by a perfect God. There is the vague notion running amok amongst the Christian church that when we get to Heaven, we will finally be freed of our evil bodies and all our impure desires and urges, and we will be made into perfect, spiritual beings; in effect, we will float around like angels and be liberated from the fleshy tombs that have shackled us to Earth—dirty, fallen, impure Earth.

Here is where Catholicism differs immensely from Protestantism. The whole concept of Purgatory (right or wrong) is that human nature isn’t inherently bad, but needs to be aligned with the will of God. Dante describes this in very real and physical ways; such as carrying large boulders up a mountain, or darting back and forth amongst purifying flames. This reveals an underlying understanding that when we achieve Heaven—that glorious and blessed day—our physical selves will finally be brought into resonance with the Holy Spirit. It implies that human nature is broken, but it can still be salvaged. Christ came preaching a Gospel of redemption, not re-creation.

This is where I make my stand on human nature—that it was once good. Indeed, this is the only hill upon which to make a defense. Man was made in the image of God; to neglect the flesh is to call God a poor Creator. There was a perfect plan established in the Beginning. Humanity was to be a reflection of God. This mirror may have been shattered through the bite of some illicit fruit, but it was nonetheless perfect once. A broken mirror will still reflect, although it is more difficult to bring all the pieces into proper alignment so that it is reflecting that which ought to be seen.

Man—even unredeemed man—is capable of tremendous good. The love and grace of the Father can shine through even in a man whose mirror has been shattered and the pieces cast to the four corners of the Earth. Try as we might, humanity cannot escape the fact that they were once a direct and holy manifestation of God’s creativity and love. The crimes of mankind are not human nature—they are sin nature. They are a result of mankind ceasing to bring their hearts into alignment with God—a difficult task that will either be irrevocably completed or forever abandoned upon entering into eternity. Hell is not a place where ghosts go; it is a place for those who refuse their human nature in exchange for something incomparably less.

Jesus came as the Son of Man; a perfect union of flesh and Spirit. We are called to conform ourselves to that initial imprint of God upon his Creation, “for those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”[1] The Son is not the Spirit. He was (and still is) a man. Christ suffered physical pain and temptation. He walked, talked, and ate fish lunches with his friends. He might have even had a puppy growing up. Fundamentally, Jesus Christ is God, incarnate as a man who died out of love of humanity. To become more like Christ is—in many ways—to become more like Adam, not Michael or Gabriel.

So stands human nature—below God, yet higher than the angels. There is something great about this bone and skin and tissue that surrounds the soul, for it bears the impression of divine fingerprints. I have faith in humanity, not because human individuals are good, but because God is good. At the dawn of time, the Devil hated human nature. The unholy revulsion of a free mind tuned to the heart of God opened the door for the temptation that led to the Fall. Once fallen, man was turned out of Eden and human nature was rent and distorted.

But it was still human nature. Cast out into the darkness, confused and broken, man was still wonderfully and mercifully man. In God’s punishment, he allowed us to keep the one thing that would eventually be redeemed on the Cross—our human nature; God’s unique signature on the canvas of our lives.

[1] Romans 8:29

  • Heer91

    Agreed brother!! This is what I feel the Nazarene church is leaning towards. We were created in God’s image, we are not evil creatures, we are loved creatures who have gone astray, and need the Great Shepherd to help guide us back to His will.