In light of recent events that divide humankind into alien camps, we should remind ourselves what the first few chapters of Genesis say about human beings.

After God’s initial creative act, most of Genesis 1 is taken up with his separating and differentiating among different kinds of things. By merely speaking a word, he separated the light from the darkness, the atmospheric waters from the earth’s waters, and the dry land from the seas. He commanded plant life to grow on the dry land, with each plant and tree differentiated “according to its kind.” He spoke into being aquatic creatures and birds, each to multiply “according to its kind.” He “made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind” (Gen. 1:25). With all of these sorts of life, their differentiation according to kind is a fundamental feature of their being.

So when God created human life, it is significant that he didn’t say anything about different kinds of human beings. He simply said, “Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (v. 26). He then created us “in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (v. 27). And he blessed the first human beings, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (v. 28).

God said nothing about human beings multiplying according to their kinds for we are all one kind, humankind. We are all made as God’s image and likeness. God only differentiated between males and females.

We multiply separations and differentiations. Some are racial: she’s black, he’s white; he’s Asian, she’s Hispanic; they’re Jews. Some are aesthetic: he’s fat, she’s thin; she’s good-looking and he’s not. Some are economic: someone is rich or poor, from old money or new. Some are geographic: you are from the right or wrong side of the tracks. Some are audible: she has a Southern accent; he talks like he’s from the ’hood. Some are functional: she’s an athlete; he’s handicapped; she’s brilliant but he’s a bit slow. Some address temperament: he’s tightly wound, she’s laid back. And so on. Some of these distinctions are almost inevitable, and some are useful, even crucial, in some contexts.

But these separations and differentiations become sinful when they are used to identify “Our kind of people” and “Not our kind”. They are sinful when the rich or powerful use them to look down on others, when the weak and powerless look up covetously or resentfully or rebelliously, or when those in the middle use them both ways, depending on whether they are looking up or down.

In Scripture, after our first parents’ disobedience, the only absolutely crucial distinction among human beings is between those who call upon the name of the Lord and those who do not (see Gen. 4:26): those who recognize their sinfulness and turn to God for forgiveness and reconciliation and those who do not. As the apostle Paul put it, “he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth,having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him” (Acts 17:26-27).

Yet whether they are seeking God or not, we must treat all human beings as God’s image-bearers (see James 3:9). The New Testament condemns partiality, taking it to be sinful and incompatible with Christian faith (see James 2:1-9; 1 Cor. 1:10-13).

 

—MRT