Tag Archives: Oh the Humanity

Oh the Humanity -5- Only Human

Scripture:  1 Corinthians 1:26-31

Alucard:  “Anderson…  I would have been satisfied even if you did defeat me.  Because of that day… because of that twilight wasteland… because of that day…  that day 523 years ago…  IF MY ENTRAILS BECAME YOURS, IT WOULD BE SPLENDID!  But now… it’s far too late for that.  YOU CANNOT DEFEAT ME.  The ones to destroy monsters… have always been humans.    TO DIE ANY OTHER WAY… WOULD BE UNTHINKABLE!!”

What are some things that only humans can do?

After Anderson turns himself into a monster, he and Alucard fight an epic battle.  As the conflict closes in on a final conclusion, Alucard explains to Anderson why, now, there can be only one possible outcome.

Over the past four weeks we’ve been talking about our humanity and specifically how it relates to being a Christian.  We’ve discussed how being human is in fact part of what makes a Christian a Christian, not a hindrance to being a Christian.  It is the weaknesses and limitations that come with being a human that allow us to be our strongest by relying on God.  As humans, we have a greater hope in God that encourages us to persevere in the face of struggles.  Finally, last week, our faith is a distinctly human quality that exists as a combination of works and belief.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses the place of humanity in the grand scheme of things and offers us some final words of encouragement.  It is worth noting that in the preceding section, Paul states that “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.”  With that context, we see that when Paul says “foolish” he is talking about those things that are considered to be foolish by the world’s standards.  The same concept applies when Paul speaks of the things that are weak, despised, etc.

Paul says that God uses the things that are looked down on by the world to bring glory to Himself.  This raises the question of why?  If God wanted to bring glory to Himself wouldn’t He use the things that the world honors?  If He did that, people would be lining up to follow Him.  We can find traces of the answer in 2 Corinthians  12:9, where God tells Paul that, “My grace is sufficient for you,  My strength is made perfect in weakness.”  We get another glimpse in Ephesians 2:8-9, which tells us that we are saved by grace and not by our own effort.  Paul answers the question in verse 29 by saying “that no flesh should glory in His presence.”  God chooses the weak and despised things of the world in order to make it abundantly clear who is doing the moving and shaking.  As a matter of fact, the more we set aside our pride, the more we learn to lean on God.  The book of Proverbs tells us to “trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.”  It’s worth noting that trusting in God doesn’t mean that we should all go out and live as desert hermits.  It is a question of priorities.  Do you receive the things you have as blessings from God, or do you worship them or yourself?

Our focus in life should be on God.  In verse 31, Paul quotes the prophet Jeremiah and writes, “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.”  In this series we have discussed how it is God who supports us in our trials and gives us a hope that enables us to face adversity.  In addition to this, God is the One who completes us:  He fills in the gaps in our hearts that we are unable to, He accounts us as righteous, He grants us forgiveness, He gives us His Holy Spirit as a guide and a counselor.  The list goes on.  Given these are the things that God does to make us complete human beings, it follows that no other person will ever be able complete you.  (This is why it is so important that God is the center of any relationship.)

The last thing to bear in mind is that God didn’t do these things for us because we happened to be at the right place at the right time.  He didn’t spin some divine wheel and it happened to land on humans as opposed to elephants or jaguars.  Hebrews 2:14-18, says of Christ, “For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham.”  Christ didn’t die to save angels, He died to save humans, to save us.  That was His intention from the start.

Only God can complete a human and only a human can receive God’s grace and act upon it in faith.

Returning to Anderson and Alucard, Alucard states that “The ones who destroy monsters have always been humans,” and in order to defeat a monster, “you have to be human!”  Taking monsters in a metaphorical/symbolic sense, we can see that Alucard raises an interesting point.  Throughout the course of our lives, we face many “monsters”.  However, it is only by being human that we are able to respond to them with faith.  Only a human, by faith, is able to rely on God to guide him/her through any situation.

Later, as Anderson is dying, he says to Alucard:  “Monsters don’t cry.  You became a monster so you wouldn’t have to, right?  When a human’s tears finally dry up forever, they transform into a monster.  They dry up themselves.”  Here, Anderson seems to suggest that when a human no longer feels, when they block out the ups and downs inherent in life, they separate themselves from their humanity and become unfeeling monsters.  Likewise, if we look at Christianity as a way to escape the struggles of being human, we risk devaluing our humanity.  Rather, we should treasure our humanity and the human faith that allows us to live out a life with God.  We cannot finish the Christian race by becoming anything other than human.

Practical Questions:

  1. Sometimes we say that God saved us even though we were “worthless sinners.”  is there anything wrong with the concept of “worthless sinners?
  2. How might Christians face pressure to be something other than a human, even a monster?

Concluding Challenge:

Take a look in the mirror and see the person looking back at you as a human, with all of the shortcomings that go along with it, but who is nonetheless valued by God for who they are.   As someone who is able to lean and rely on God to get through any trial that may come their way.

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Oh the Humanity -4- A Human Faith

Scripture:  James 2:14-26

Alucard:  “Are you seriously planning to transform your soul into that of a monster?!!  Into a monster of God!!  Dare you make an attempt at becoming an immortal and almighty toy of providence?  Spare me the same, typical bullsh*t!  The monster that denies God; the monster that acknowledges God; they’re one and the same—monsters! … To be a monster like me… to give up your humanity, shows your weakness in spades.  You couldn’t make it as a man, so you stoop to being a monster.  A creature that’s destined to be toppled by humanity!!  Stop it, human!!  Do not become the monster that I am.  You’ve fought this far on your own.  Therefore, deep down, you should know my words are true.”

Anderson:  “I wish to be born a benevolent tempest, a revered threat, an explosive torrent of piety.  I wish to become a delightfully dreadful storm, one that’s both heartless and tearless.  And if stabbing myself with this is the only way to fulfill that wish… Then let it be done.  Amen.”

What do you think of when you think of the ideal Christian?

What about their faith?  What does it look like?  What is it based on?

We enter the scene and find Anderson and Alucard staring each other down, preparing for their final confrontation.  Anderson reveals an ancient holy relic, Elena’s Nail, which he intends to stab himself with in order to become a monster.  Upon seeing his intent, Alucard berates him and begs him not to go through with it.

Humans hold a unique position in the universe in that we are the only things in all known creation capable of having faith.  Lower animals do not have the cognitive capacities necessary for faith.  Purely spiritual beings (such as angels and demons) possess empirical knowledge.  They know that there is a God because they have seen Him, as it were.  They know what happened at the cross for the same reason.  Only humans are in a position to have faith in God.  However, faith is more than just “belief” and in the second chapter of the book bearing his name, James aims to show us just what faith is.

James begins his discourse in verses 14-17 by upsetting our understanding of faith by flatly stating that belief alone cannot save us.  If all we ever do is say “I believe”, then perhaps we are not so persuaded as we claim to be.  James fleshes out his assertion by drawing a comparison between our faith and our response to someone in need of food and clothing.  If we simply say to our destitute friend “be warm and filled” what good does that do?  NONE WHATSOEVER!  Likewise if you go through life simply saying “I believe” what good does that do?  According to James, NONE WHATSOEVER!  It would seem, then, that our confession of faith, our placing faith in Christ, is more than uttering words.  Instead, it is a matter of the heart.  If it were just words, it would be a magic ritual rather than an interaction with God.

Still, we must ask of James, “what’s the deal?  Aren’t we supposed to be saved by faith alone?  Wasn’t Abraham justified by faith?  James’ answer comes in verses 18-26 when he says that “I will show you my faith by my works.”  Faith is a matter of the heart and coming to faith is an internal change which then produces external actions (Matthew 7:15-20, Luke 6:43-45).  If we merely believe in and acknowledge God, we are only carrying out a mental action no different than what the demons do.  Returning to the example of Abraham, James points out that Abraham’s faith led him to works. He picked up everything and followed God even though he didn’t know where he was going.  He offered his son, who was a blessing and miracle to Abraham, just because God told him to.  The bottom line is that Abraham didn’t just believe it, he lived it.  James offers us another example in Rahab the former Prostitute and ancestor of Jesus Christ.  Rahab didn’t just believe in God, she acted by protecting the Israelite spies.  While works alone cannot save us, works are the evidence of a living faith, like a person’s heartbeat.

As humans, we can only know and understand so much about God.  We cannot empirically know enough about Him to be 100% certain.  However, we do have the amazing and unique ability to respond to this gap in understanding with faith, the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.”  Faith is not so simple as just saying “I believe”, nor does it consist solely in doing good works.  It is a combination of the two.

Sometimes, though, we stray from our human faith and lose faith in God and in ourselves.  This temptation tends to rear its head when we are faced with struggles in life and we are tempted to try and make it on our own.  Oftentimes, to make it on our own in these situations requires becoming something other than human.  The two errors into which we may fall in this case are to think that our works will save us or that our faith with justify our works (the ends justify the means).

The dialogue between Alucard and Anderson touches on this issue on a couple of ways.  First Alucard makes the observation that a monster is a monster regardless of whether or not it believes in God.  Think back to James’ assertion in verse 19, a demon is a demon regardless of whether is acknowledges God because it has ultimately rejected Him.  Likewise, even if a monster believes in God, it still has rejected God in rejecting its own humanity because it decided that God is insufficient to satisfy it.  We find Anderson making this mistake as he prepares to stab himself with the relic and give up his humanity.  He did not believe that he would be able to defeat Alucard as a human and so he seeks the infernal strength of a monster.  What’s more, he actually considers it holier to become a “thing” rather than a human being.

Practical Questions:

  1. In what ways does living out our faith do more than be evidence that our faith is alive?
  2. What are some examples of ways we make the error of focusing too much on faith or on works?
  3. Why is it so tempting to stray from our faith and humanity in times of trial?

Oh the Humanity -3- Human Perseverance

Scripture:  Romans 5:1-5, Romans 8:31-39

Integra Hellsing:  (to the hoard of vampires surrounding her) “You want me to roll over like a dog?  Give up and accept defeat?  Ha!  That seems to be the sort of language that your kind is used to using.  Language for cowards who forfeited their humanity, because they were too weak to survive as such.  Don’t look down on humans, you monsters!  Come on, I’ll send you all to hell!”

What are some of the challenges and trials that Christians face these days?

Integra finds herself in a desperate situation.  She is surrounded by vampires whose sole objective is to kill her.  Having her cornered, they suggest that she just give up since a human is weak and stands no chance against a vampire, much less a group of them.  Integra responds with the charge that it is the vampires who are the weak ones.  Sometimes we feel as if we are cornered as well and are ready to throw up our hands in dismay.  We have trouble mustering the resolve to keep going and adopt a mindset that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 15:32

“If, in the manner of men, I have fought with the beasts in Ephesus, what advantage is it to me?  If the dead do not rise, ‘let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!”

What good does it do to “fight the good fight”?  By turning on any given media outlet, we are almost guaranteed to find a story about injustice or human suffering in the world.  Why don’t we just curl up into a ball and hope that the world doesn’t notice us?  Why not just place our faith in Christ on a shelf in the back of our minds solely as an investment in our eternity?  It seems so much better to conform to the World because we don’t stand to change anything by struggling with it, right?

In Romans 5:1-5, Paul gives some words of wisdom and encouragement to remind us that such a cynical mentality is not fitting for Christians.  He begins by laying out exactly what the hope is that fires and inspires us.  It is through faith that we are justified, not anything that we do.  It is Jesus’ work on the cross that allows us to be justified by faith and accounted as righteous.  God has done all the shaking and moving when it comes to our redemption and we can rejoice in the grace He has shown us.  This is our ultimate hope.

Having laid out the basis of Christian hope, Paul continues by giving us some practical applications of this hope.  These applications take the form of a progression starting with our trials and struggles in life.  He says that we “glory” in our struggles, the word he uses also carries the meanings “boast”, “exult”, and “take pride in”.  As stated in the previous installment, this does not mean that we should ask or yearn for tribulations.  Instead, Paul is making a point about how we respond to them when they do come.  He says that the reason we glory in tribulations is because such struggles produce patience.

The word that is often translated as “patience” can also mean “steadfastness”, “constancy”, or “endurance”.  Initially, we learn to exhibit patient endurance in our trials.  To endure is a natural characteristic of all living things.  Take for example the weed that has been cut and sprayed but just won’t die.  The weed doesn’t possess any cognitive or spiritual prowess, but it endures all the same.  There are many processes that our bodies carry out at an unconscious level that are aimed at survival.  Our body doesn’t just give up when it is cut, it fights off any potential infections and repairs the damage.

Patience, Paul writes, produces experience.  The meaning conveyed by “experience”, in this case, is similar to “approved”, “tried”, or “trustiness”.  We can feasibly boil this down to something along the lines of tested and proven character.  When we learn to be patient in our trials, it becomes a part of our character.  As such, being patient becomes a part of how we spontaneously respond to struggles as opposed to something that we have to force ourselves to do.

Finally, experience produces hope.  When we are not completely focused on being patient, we become able to look beyond our current struggles to see the hope we profess.  That is when “finding God” in a bad situation becomes more than a platitude.  We are able to acknowledge our current suffering, but we are able to keep it in the perspective of eternity.  Paul goes on to say that hope does not disappoint.  He is not talking about the idea that “maybe tomorrow will be better”.  He is talking about actual knowledge.  We know that there is something better (Hebrews 11:1, 8-10).  We have evidence as well, via the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:21-22).  This hope, this knowledge, this faith is what supports us in times of trouble.

What’s more, this hope of ours is unshakeable because it is grounded in God’s love.  When we are standing on God’s love, it is God’s love which comes under attack.  In Romans 8:31-34, Paul speaks about the love of God to assuage our doubts and questions.  First of all, Paul states that God is the only one who can judge and justify.  If God declares us to be justified and forgiven, who can say that we aren’t?  It was Christ who suffered and died for our sins.  Who else, then, has any claim to condemn us?  These facts are particularly important when we are tempted to judge or pity ourselves.  Paul finishes the passage (verses 35-39) by emphatically stating that nothing can come between us and God’s love.  He runs down a laundry list of things that may threaten to separate us from God’s love and pronounces their power insufficient to do so.  God can and does reach us wherever we are, we need only take his hand.

Although we may be assailed on all sides by all manner of struggles and monsters, we have an unshakable hope for greater things and it is that hope which guides us ever forward through all circumstances.

Practical Questions:

  1. In what ways are we tempted to “give up” in our walk with God?
  2. In what ways are we tempted away from God’s love?
  3. What steps can we take to keep ourselves in the love of God?

Oh the Humanity -2- The Human Condition

Scripture:  2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Ephesians 2:1-10

Major:  “I must devote my body and soul to fighting.  What do I have?  What does he have?  The ability to transform; the usage of familiars; the power to meddle with the hearts of men; the skill of resurrection; the consumption of blood; he is a vampire and views the lives of others as bread.  I, on the other hand, have nothing; simply because I am a human being.”

What are some of the expectations we have about our lives as Christians?

How do we explain hardship and suffering in the lives of Christians (including ourselves)?

The Major offers a grim view of our human condition, especially as compared to the many superhuman abilities of a monster like a vampire.  But is it really accurate to say that, as humans, we have nothing?  After all, despite all of our advances in the realms of science and theology, we are still subject to and frustrated by suffering and death.  In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul offers some insight on our suffering and on the idea that humans have nothing in the grand scheme of things.

2 Corinthians 12:7-8 tells us about Paul’s own struggles with hardship, with his “thorn in the flesh”.  This begs the question, “why?”  Paul is generally considered a very, very holy and godly dude.  As a matter of fact, in the preceding passages (2 Corinthians 11:16 – 12:6), Paul had been laying out his extremely spiritual pedigree which included being a minister of Christ, receiving visions, harrowing experiences as a missionary, and even being stoned once.  Paul’s answer in verse 7 is fairly simple:

“And lest I be exalted above measure by the abundance of revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.”

Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” is a reminder that he is still human and still must depend on God above all else.  The fact that Paul, arguably one of the most spiritual men ever, still experienced suffering in his life does not bode well for the common notion that if we are good enough we won’t have to suffer.  As long as we live in a world tainted with evil and sin, we will be subject to physical, mental, and spiritual infirmities.

It can be depressing to realize how helpless we are.  However, Paul does not leave it at that.  In verses 8-10, he provides us with direction in how to respond to our weakness.  Paul initially responds to his thorn by praying to God that it would be taken away from him.  As a matter of fact, he “pleaded” with God three times to have it removed.  God’s answer to Paul’s requests is:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

Some answer, right?  But Paul says that he would rather boast in his infirmities that the “power of Christ” may rest upon him.  That is to say, the weaker Paul is, the more he leans on God’s strength, and the more God works through him.  Putting things more generally, we can rely on God to guide us through our times of trial.  Trusting and relying on God will get us through anything.  However, that does not mean the same thing as “everything will turn out nice”.  What it does mean is that God will lend us the strength to handle suffering.  Think about it this way:  our lives are a journey from point A to point B.  From time to time, or even a lot of the time, we will encounter ditches in the path that we walk.  We often ask God to fill in the ditch or make it disappear.  However, the promise we have from God is that He will help us to cross any and all ditches in order to reach our destination.

Paul takes pleasure and boasts in his infirmities insofar as they allow him to trust more fully in God.  When we rest in God’s power (think Proverbs 3:5), it is an act of worship which glorifies God because we are placing our trust in Him and accepting His help in whatever form it may come.  It is extremely important to note that Paul does not ask for infirmities or other burdens (we don’t have to ask for them, they will come).  What he does do is respond to them with faith when they do come.

Let’s take a look at this human weakness and reliance on God from a different angle:  consider the salvation offered to us through Christ.  Ephesians 2:1-3 tells us that, as humans, we are unable to do anything to save our souls and were slaves to sin.  We cannot work or will our way from sinfulness to holiness.  However, even though we weren’t able to save ourselves, God stepped in and gave us a way out of our predicament (verses 4-7).  God doesn’t just make the things we’ve done and their consequences disappear.  What He does is count us as righteous and saves us from condemnation.  He helps us to put our lives back together and to follow Him.  The bottom line is that, even though we have nothing, through God’s mercy and power alone we are able to triumph over sin (verses 8-10).

When we fully trust in God is when we are at our strongest.  When we are faced with adversity in our lives, we have two choices:  to rely on God or rely on ourselves.  The difference between the two is that God’s strength never fails while ours will inevitably run out.  As Paul observes back in 2 Corinthians 12:10, when we are weak, we are strong, because it is at those times that we lean most on God.  The major may have a point when he says that humans have nothing, especially compared to a vampire.  However, even if we have nothing in this world other than our frail human existence, we have everything when we have God.

Practical Questions:

  1. Why do you think we are told to be self-reliant or to “suck it up”?
  2. How is our relationship with God affected by this “suck it up” mentality?
  3. How does knowing you can rely on God at all times for support change your perception of your weaknesses?

Oh the Humanity -1- What’s a Human?

Scripture:  Romans 7:15-23, Ephesians 4:20-24

SWAT Officer:  “M-!  M…  MONSTER!!”

Alucard:  “I get that a lot.  So, what does that make you?  A man? A dog?  A monster?”

What words come to mind when you think of humanity?

If we were to put ourselves in the SWAT officer’s place, what would be our answer to Alucard’s question?  Would we say that we’re a man or woman but really believe we’re a dog or a monster?  On what grounds do we claim to be human?  In Christianity, it seems that we often separate our being human from our being a Christian.  We view the two as being in direct opposition to each other.  However, this is not necessarily the case.  To begin this series, we will be looking into the question of what is a human?

Why do we think that being human is a detriment to our Christian pursuits?  I propose that it is because we often confuse our human nature with our sinful nature.  It is true that, as sure as we are human, we have a sinful nature.  But it is also true that there is a part of us that struggles against the sinful nature.  In Romans 7:15-23, Paul talks about his struggles with his own sinful nature.

In this passage, Paul talks about two distinct forces at work within him.  There is the sinful nature which leads him to do the evil that he does not want to do, and there is the other force that wills to do what is right and good.  We know that the sinful nature goes along with being human (Romans 3:23), but where does this part of Paul which wills to do what is right come from?  If we look at verses 24-25, we get a glimpse of the answer.  Paul says that it is God, through Christ, Who frees him from his bondage to sin.  To get a better understanding of exactly what it going on, we can turn to Ephesians 4:20-24.  Here, Paul talks about putting off the “old man” and putting on the “new man”.  This new man, it says, is created by God in true righteousness and holiness.  Let’s hold on to that thought as we continue to examine what Paul is telling us.

Returning to our main passage from Romans, we may notice that Paul uses the words “I” and “me” and “my mind”.  What is he talking about when he uses these terms?  In the passage he says that he wills to do good, that “I (Paul) delight in the law of God”.   Paul is talking about himself, his inmost self, his new nature that he received from God.  In contrast to this, Paul also talks about his flesh, in which “nothing good dwells”.  Here Paul is talking about his sinful nature, that is to say the sin which dwells within him.  Paul has labeled his sinful nature as being distinct from himself.  In verse 20, he goes so far as to say that “Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but the sin that dwells in me.”  It is important to be clear that Paul is not just saying “the devil made me do it” or absolving himself of responsibility for his sins.  Rather he is recognizing that he is not defined by his sin.  Put more broadly, being human involves having a sinful nature with which we either cooperate or struggle.  It is also worth noting that when Paul says that nothing good dwells in his flesh, he isn’t advocating a view that our bodies and physical desires (such as those for food and sex) are intrinsically bad.  As we grow as Christians and put on the “new man” mentioned earlier, our desires are changed and cleansed so that they become part of honoring God and not focused solely on pleasing ourselves.

We’ve discussed the “new man” and the sinful nature, but what does this have to do with our humanity?  Let’s ask this question:  how do we best embrace our humanity?  For our answer, let’s turn back to Genesis, chapter 1, verses 26 and 27 to be precise.  Here we are told that God created humanity in His own image.  It is sometime after this that the Fall occurs and sin enters the world (Genesis 3).  Therefore, would it not be the person who is ruled by God who is more in touch with their “human-ness”, with God’s original design?  As humans, we are reflections of God and to the degree that we show forth God in our lives, to that same degree we embrace our humanity.

If you are not convinced that our humanity is something precious, consider this:  when we were still lost in sin, God saw something of great worth to Him.  He saw the human, the person, He created us to be and He took action to save that which He created and loves.

The fact of the matter is that not all humans are Christians but all Christians are humans.  Our being human is not defined by having a sinful nature.  Rather, our sinful nature is like a parasite living in us which God wants to remove so that we can better pursue Him.  As Christians, we struggle against the sinful nature which seeks to maintain its hold over us.  It is only by God’s grace that we are able to gain ground against our sinful nature.  The more we rest in God’s grace and allow Him to be reflected in us, the more we embrace our humanity.  To answer our question of what is a human, we can say that it is something that reflects God’s image.

When we know what a human is, we can confidently answer Alucard’s question.  We can claim our humanity, not as an unfortunate circumstance, but as a gift from God.  When we claim our humanity, we reject the lie that we are our sin.  When we claim our humanity, we claim the blessing given to us by God which enables us to share in His work by reflecting His nature and image in the world.

Practical Questions:

  1. In what ways are we led to view humanity as evil or bad?
  2. How does our view of our humanity affect how we view others?
  3. How does our view of our humanity affect how we view ourselves?