More Human, Less Animal: How Self-Sacrificial Love Changes Your Life
I am not into horror movies. Unfortunately, Hulu hasn’t realized this is the case, so I’m regularly subjected to horror movie trailers designed to give me nightmares even if I shut my eyes.
From my limited experience as a horror-movie-advertising-test-subject, I’ve noticed that when the monster appears human, it always moves like an animal. It crawls on the ceiling like a spider. It raises its shoulders like a spring-loaded lion, ready to pounce on its prey. Its nails are long and claw-like.
The point is clear: evil makes humans less than human. Evil makes humans animalistic. The lizard brain takes over, defacing the divine image that sets us apart from the animal kingdom.
Interestingly, this isn’t a new idea. It’s an old trope dating back to the first chapters of Genesis. Let me set the context: God creates humans on the same day he creates the animals, making it clear that humans really are embedded in their physical world amongst the animals.
But humans are given a unique vocation—with all the requisite internal tools—to reign on earth. They aren’t to rule like anti-conversation totalitarians, pillaging creation for personal gain. Instead, they’re called to reign as God does: self-sacrificially.
For example, in Genesis 1, God names everything. But then, in Genesis 2, he sacrifices absolute control over every detail by allowing Adam to enter the family business and name the animals. Adam is called to sacrifice his self-interest as well, sharing the garden with Eve.
How Selfishness Makes You Animalistic
But humanity doesn’t spend long reigning like God. They decide to reign their own way: the way of selfishness. Why do they do it? Because an animal (a serpent) tells them to. By listening to the animal rather than God, Adam and Eve became more animalistic in their behavior. Their descendants murder, enslave, and steal. The powerful seek their own self-interest and crush the weak. Then, when the weak rise up and overthrow their oppressors, they repeat the cycle.
Selfish self-rule makes us less human and more animalistic because what makes us most deeply human is being self-sacrificial like God.
Fast forward to the book of Daniel, where we see this theme continue. The King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, is warned not to walk the path of pride and selfishness. But he chooses it anyway. What’s the result?
“He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.”
Nebuchadnezzar sounds like a horror movie monster. He chose selfishness and became an animal.
This leads us to Daniel 7, where Daniel has a phantasmagoric dream of four animals rising from the sea to rule the world in succession. They are all monstrosities-- vain, selfish, and violent. Each animal represents a different human empire that became animalistic by rebelling against God.
But suddenly, a final figure appears. Daniel describes him as “one like a son of man,” but we could also translate it as “the human one.” This human figure is given authority by God to end the violence of the rampaging animals and rule on earth. This truly human one is like a new Adam, subduing creation and establishing God’s kingdom in a way the first Adam failed to do.
Here’s where things get interesting:
As the passage goes on, it becomes clear that “the son of man” establishes his kingdom through self-sacrifice. In other words, he rules like God, and in ruling like God, he becomes more human.
Jesus Is the Son of Man
Do you know Jesus’s favorite self-designation? He stole it from Daniel, calling himself “the son of man.” Jesus presents himself as the truly human one: a person who chose to obey God by reigning self-sacrificially.
This is why he told his disciples, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Jesus came to rescue humanity from the animals—the animals outside of us (societies given over to selfishness and pride) and the animal inside of us (the part of your heart that chooses selfishness and pride). He did this by laying down his life in our place and rising to give us new life from the inside out. Jesus trains us in a new way of being human. Or, more aptly, he trains us to be the sort of humans God designed us to be in the Garden of Eden.
By his example, Jesus shows us that true humanity is found in being last, not first. In serving, not being served. True humanity is found in loving your neighbor. Trusting God. Hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Showing mercy. Keeping your heart pure. Making peace. Showing gentleness. Giving mercy.
This is what Jesus wants to apprentice you in.
He wants to apprentice you in true, deep, wholistic humanity. He wants to teach you to walk in God’s ways. He wants to free you from the lies of the serpent and wash you from the animalistic selfishness that corrupts your heart.
When he does this, through the power of his spirit, we experience the joy of self-giving. Over time, we see the beauty in sacrificing our schedule to love someone in need. We see the glory of giving our wealth to help someone who has less. We find the deep joy of self-forgetfulness.
The beauty of the gospel is that Jesus doesn’t call you to this life before he accepts you. Instead, he accepts you so that you have the power to enjoy this sort of life.
So the question is: are you enjoying the life Jesus offers? Have you asked God to work on the selfish, animalistic parts of your heart? Have you found ways to be truly human by serving and giving yourself for others?
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