Christians and Humanities Part 4 | Humanities and the Bible
Of all the species, we as humans seem to be the only one capable of studying ourselves, a pursuit that occupies a great deal of our attention. In fact, we have created an entire field of study to understand human nature and activity more deeply: the humanities, which encompasses subjects such as literature, communication, politics, philosophy, art, and anthropology. These disciplines allow us to explore the human experience in its many facets with the hope that, in doing so, we will be able to live more fully.
Yet for many Christians, the humanities seem narcissistic—or, at the very least, impractical. What point is there in devoting our lives to studying the humanities if we know that our ultimate hope lies not in human achievements but in God? True though that is, a thorough understanding of the grand narrative of Scripture shows that all creation, including us as human beings, reveals some aspect of God’s character. If we study the humanities in light of the creation, fall, and redemption narrative of Scripture, we will understand not only the human experience but also the God to Whom that experience was designed to lead.
The creation of man established the unique nature and purpose of humanity. In His final act of creation, God shaped a handful of dust into the form of a human, exhaling into this body the breath of life that transformed a clay vessel into a living soul (Genesis 2:7).
Of all the creatures that populate the earth, humans are the highest (Psalm 8:5), for only we are said to be made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). As God’s image-bearers, we reflect many of God’s own abilities and characteristics: our creative capacity, our appreciation for beauty, our emotions, our search for truth and meaning, our ability to use language, our free will, and our relational aptitude among them. Though we are limited in our expressions of these qualities, they nevertheless enable us as human beings to fulfill our calling, also given in Genesis 1.
Here God entrusts the first man with the mission that would occupy him and all generations to follow: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over . . . every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28). These instructions, known as the creation mandate, established Adam’s responsibility to care for and maintain both the natural creation and the culture which humanity itself would create. Our cultural endeavors—the societal structures, artistic expressions, interpersonal relationships, and intellectual advancements encapsulated in the humanities—all provide avenues for accomplishing this mission in relationship with God. In doing so, we as image-bearers showcase the glory of our Creator.
Yet anyone who has studied the humanities can see that not every human endeavor points to the transcendent truth, beauty, and goodness of our Creator. Art reflects the struggles of the human experience; philosophy seeks to explain the reality of suffering and death; history depicts violence, prejudice, greed, and injustice. Something in us as human beings has gone wrong.
Genesis offers an explanation for this too. In the third chapter, we read of the fall of man. Here Adam, joined by his wife Eve, makes the fateful error of abandoning the role of image-bearer and attempting to usurp God’s position (Genesis 3:5). With this choice, mankind unleashed sin into the once-perfect creation. Though humans still bear God’s image, it is now marred by sin, which directs human nature and activity away from God’s purposes for us and employs them for our own ends. As a result, our attempts to nurture our own creations while maintaining God’s ultimately fall short.
Though we have failed to accomplish on our own the purpose for which we were created, our story does not end with the fall. The good news (i.e. gospel) for humanity is that through Christ, we can find redemption from our empty lives and vain efforts. In the person of Jesus Christ, God took on human form and came to earth to perfectly live out the human calling, die for the atonement of our sins, and rise from the dead (Philippians 2:5-8). Taken together, these events have profound implications for humankind. Because of Jesus’ work for us, we are not destined to struggle forever in sin, unable to accomplish God’s intentions for us. Once we accept by faith His sacrifice on our behalf, we begin the steady, lifelong transformation into what we were designed to be all along: image-bearers of God who represent Him on this earth as we fulfill the creation mandate.
The gospel transforms all human endeavors, and the study of the humanities is no exception. When we study the humanities in light of the gospel, we come to understand both more fully. We understand why so much of the human experience is filled with tragedy and pain. We recognize that not all human systems promote human flourishing. We see the shortcomings of even our best-intentioned ventures. But because of the good news of our redemption in Christ, we also know that God can use our attempts at creation and care, however imperfect. We understand that God is at work to make all things new so they will no longer suffer the effects of sin (Revelation 21:5). And as long as we are alive on this earth, we have the opportunity to join His redemptive work and fulfill our calling as human beings. When our participation in the humanities is informed by the gospel narrative of Scripture, we study the human experience not out of egotism, but out of a desire to know our Creator and make Him known on this earth.
Author Rachel Mayes Allen graduated from MBU in 2018 with a BS in English Education. She teaches 9th grade English through Wisconsin Virtual Academy. She is working on her MA in Composition through Liberty University and expects to graduate this summer.