I make a bold claim, but I think it’s true. Jesus Christ not only came in human flesh to pay humanity’s debt of sin, but in so doing, he elevated human nature. This can and should change how we approach discussions on human rights.
An important truth Christianity confesses is that we have been reconciled to God the Father not only by his suffering and death, but by his life. “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:10, RSV)
The priestly intercession of Jesus is somewhat mysterious, especially as recorded in the book of Hebrews, where it says this:
“For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” (Hebrews 9:24, RSV)
Note the “on our behalf.” Jesus didn’t simply die on our behalf, but he lives now on our behalf. This is why John says in his first letter, “My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;” (1 John 2:1, RSV)
We recall the creation story from Genesis 1, where our dignity is established in being made in the image of God: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27, RSV)
Yet we need to realize that when Jesus becomes incarnate of the Virgin Mary, is crucified, dies, and rises again on the third day, the image of God is forever now Him. Paul has this in mind when he writes, “he is the image of the invisible God…” (Colossians 1:15)
There is much debate about human rights, and particular rights that we are said to possess. But in the minds of the ancient philosophers, no rights existed without duties. If a particular right we claim to have has no basis in duty, then we do not have the right. Rights were never meant to be a freedom from all constraints, but a liberty to do what is good. Therefore, if Jesus didn’t or wouldn’t do something, we do not have the right to do it.
In Jesus, we find the perfect human life. We do not only find a human life, of course, but a divine life. Even so, the life of Jesus is the pattern for our lives.
When Paul was persecuting Christians by taking them to jail, and sometimes killing them, Jesus did not say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting them?” He said, “why are you persecuting me?” Jesus identifies himself with every human being. Every true assault against the dignity of the human person is an assault against Jesus himself, which also means that any harms we perpetuate against ourselves are harms against Jesus. Indeed, the glory of the Incarnation is the definitive check on my self-hatred.
I have no right to hate that which Christ has redeemed with his own blood. We need to recognize an inordinate guilt that shies away from the mercy of God as a form of pride. This is almost as dangerous to us as the idolatry that issues forth in sinful sexual self-identity.
When we are not at peace with the fact of either our status or our destiny as beloved children of God, we demand a certain recognition, the attention of somehow mattering to someone else. Yet the form that this is taking cannot give us the peace we seek, since no fame or celebration which comes from other men can compare to the dignity of that royal destiny.
This may be an inconvenient truth for some readers, but who we are is intimately connected with our destiny, and our destiny is in the Beloved. No experience of alienation could possibly compare to the alienation which we experienced when we were separated from God, or the alienation we will experience, if we definitively choose to remain separated from Him.
Let us not seek community or solace in things or identities which are contrary to our destiny in God. All we have ever wanted is the safety and embrace of family, and there is no greater family than that established by the embrace of God Himself.
Jason Kettinger is Associate Editor of Open for Business. He writes on politics, sports, faith and more.