As fresh storms move in, Hurricane Harvey has largely fizzled out — having previously killed dozens, upended the lives of hundreds of thousands, traumatized multitudes of others, and delivered a vicious body blow to the USA’s economy. The epochal, Cat-5 monster also supplied a handy tutorial on the fundamental nature of human beings; good news and bad.
For days now, we’ve heard the heart-stopping, eye-welling accounts of bravery and compassion, even heroism. Strangers have rushed to help their “neighbor” — oftentimes flocking hundreds of miles from around the country, ferrying humanitarian goods provided by others, towing at their own expense personal watercraft for rescue missions; opening hearts, lives, wallets, putting themselves very directly on the line.
This phenomenon seconds something the Hebrew Scriptures, out of the chute, lay down as foundational truth: mankind, fashioned in God’s image. The Creator, from the get-go, stamped aspects of His likeness upon His masterpiece: human beings programmed with the capacity to reflect Him. The fancy theological term is: Imago Dei; Latin for “the image of God”.
It’s a gobsmacking concept; on ready display through much of human experience, ancient and recent. And it’s been confirmed in the wind-ravaged, rain-soaked aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, where legions of self-sacrificing folks gave above-and-beyond to assist devastated lives. There were so many examples, within a week they became proverbial, nearly bordering on commonplace.
Humanity’s potential for impressive accomplishment has long been nothing short of titanic. Howcum? That made-in-God’s-image factor. He, of course, is the eternal, wonder-working Creator, birthing the universe ex-nihilo. (More Latin: “out of nothing”). Every person has a Divine spark within, a glimmer of Heaven. We, accordingly, can and do invent, produce, resourcefully troubleshoot.
The Triune God Himself acknowledged this at a bygone place called Babel (Genesis 11) where corrupt men allied to direct their rebellious ambitions on constructing a self-aggrandizing, yet magnificent, monument to themselves.
God the Son recognized the same, addressing conspicuously imperfect men: You’re evil, but even you do good things — how much more your Heavenly Father. (Mt 7:11).
Grievously, as with all things homo sapiens sapiens, there’s another side, isn’t there. A dark streak; ugly, unmissable. Radio host Mark Levin puts it tartly: “[T]here are sleazeballs everywhere.” Including, in the Gulf Coast’s current calamity.
Sure, bracing rescue narratives and outbursts of classic American generosity and ingenuity have abounded since, practically, the tempest’s first day. There have been, however, reports — evergreen, it seems, in any incident of widespread natural disaster — of less flattering reactions: widespread looting, even snipers’ firing on first-responders. Evidence has emerged of some bottom-dwellers aggressively maneuvering and setting up shop to make an illicit buck off the disaster even before Harvey made landfall. This crisis, like so many before it, has showcased people at their best and worst, a decidedly mixed-bag; designed for greatness but desperately in need of a Savior.
It’s a controlling life-principle, established in writing several thousand years before “Harry’s” advent. (Also available for anyone’s perusal today, by the way — around page three of most current copies of the Bible): fallen mankind, patterned after God’s image but born with a lethally noxious penchant for selfishness and wickedness.
G.K. Chesterton reputedly claimed it’s the only religious verity confirmed, every day, by empirical observation. News headlines, individuals’ daily interactions, too often our own reactions to earthly vicissitudes disclose humankind’s inborn bent toward darkness. Writer William Murchison hails it the “rock-bottom Christian doctrine that explains everything worth explaining”. Pascal concurs: “[N]othing offends us more rudely … and yet without this mystery … we are incomprehensible to ourselves.”
Following his release from years of a God-hating, Communist prison’s ghoulish torture, Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand wrote of his former tormenters: “We tried desperately to see the image of God in these men. It was very difficult to discover it.”
So, call it what you like — the depravity of man; original sin; man’s sin nature — it’s a bummer; the downside of being Adam’s posterity.
That doesn’t mean, on a flesh-and-blood level, people are incapable of notable accomplishments. (See above: Tower of Babel and Jesus/Matthew 7). But the sin-factor remains a corrupting influence in everything done apart from the cleansing influence of Christ. Mere mortal efforts – sizable ones not excluded — might understandably wow us. But, in some sense, they stand an offense to the inevitably impeccable, pristine standard of an impossibly Holy God.
Flawed men and women produce prodigies of music and art, triumphs of industry and technology, practical remedies for the day’s challenges. Still, apart from the Savior? We “can do nothing” (John 15) — at least nothing of unsullied, eternal value. “Vanity” is how Ecclesiastes’ “Preacher” summarizes any work discharged minus the fear of God.
The charged post-Hurricane Harvey scenario recalls another real-life drama involving lots of water and flotillas of boats — coincidentally, and skillfully, portrayed in one of this summer’s more praiseworthy film releases: Dunkirk. The players portrayed in that movie represented a distinctly muddled lot. There are flashes of nobility and bursts of perfidy, sometimes sloshed together. Desperate soldiers work together — then, suddenly, turn on one another. Self-interest sometimes trumps self-sacrifice, even while, in other sequences, costly personal abnegation shines.
It’s the eons-long human condition writ small eighty-years ago on a war-ravaged French beach; and, again, in the Gulf Coast, early September, 2017. Hints of potential greatness; squalid eruptions of degradation; sometimes one hard alongside the other.
Reason to despair? It would be, if not for a pronounced note of hope in the whole, conflicted brew: a loving God sent His Son, mounting His own humanitarian mission for a perishing, sin-poisoned planetful of people. Those grabbing hold of the celestial lifeline? Allowing themselves to be rescued? They’re presented an opportunity to consciously appreciate what being made in the image of their Glorious Rescuer is all about.