After all, I'm only human

Posted: Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Why is it that we always use the fact of our being human as an excuse for our weaknesses, our mistakes, our undesirable actions? Our frailty, or our downright meanness and crookedness? "What can you expect? You know me - I can't help it - After all, I'm only human." "Yes, I admit I am prejudiced ... but I can't help it. After all, I'm only human." We excuse ourselves for ignorance, selfishness, weakness, skepticism, self-doubt, and on and on and on.

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If human is undesirable, what are the alternatives? There's the inanimate, perhaps. Some years ago we all had our pet rocks - remember? Maybe not too bad an existence, being someone's pet rock.

Another alternative - animal. Maybe it wouldn't be too bad to be some person's pet dog, or goose, or peacock ----But I don't think I'd care to be somebody's goldfish. (I can't swim, for one thing.) Does an animal suffer? Does he reason? Does he like canned dog food?

What are some of the characteristics of a human? How would you describe one? Tall? or short? Does this tell you anything about what the person is like? There's some argument, and probably justifiable - as to whether Habakkuk was really the smallest man in the Bible. Those who say he is base their conclusion on his statement about himself in Habakkuk 1:2 (KJV): "I will take my stand upon my watch." But his size doesn't really tell us anything about him as a prophet of God!

Then there's age. We don't know much about Methuselah except that he lived to 969 years, and had a lot of children along the way. But being old doesn't limit a person - (I keep saying). After all, Methuselah was 187 years old when he had his first child! So you can't really describe what a person is by his age.

Well, what does the Bible say about being human? It definitely says that being human is not something we should apologize for. In Psalm 8 we read: "You, God, have made us little less than God; you have crowned us with glory and honor; you have put all things on earth under our dominion." Is this something to be ashamed of, to make excuses for - being human, made in the image of God, and given part of God's work to do?

And then, in the Gospel of John we read that God himself became human in the person of Jesus - and dwelt among us. Jesus came among us as one of us. When he called his followers, they followed him as men and women following a man. It was much later that they began to realize that this man they called Teacher was also divine and holy, as well as human.

We find it stated clearly in the New Testament - Jesus is both God and man. In Colossians Paul says, "God lives fully in Christ." And in Hebrews - "In every respect he was tempted as we are." Robert McAfee Brown says the claim is astounding. but that even more astonishing is that we believe it - sort of like swallowing a vitamin pill after breakfast, without even realizing how astounding a claim it is.

Jesus Christ was both human and divine, who loved his people and came to live with them on earth to show them what being human might really mean.

It begins to look like being human is no excuse. Being human is actually a blessing, an honor, a gift of God. And since this is so, we can no longer use the fact of our humanness to excuse our weakness, our laziness, our inadequacies. What can we, then, with our so-called human limitations, become? Instead of saying, "You know me, that's just the way I am; after all, I'm only human," we find ourselves saying: "Being human, with God's help, I can really do something with it." It might be easier to go back to the old way of saying, "I'm only human." But being human is too great a gift to use that way.

• Bea Shepard is a lay speaker at the Douglas Community United Methodist Church.

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