We are not gods.
We are not angels.
We are not beasts.
We are human beings.
But what does this exactly mean?
For centuries, the church has been forced to cut through a lot of weird assumptions about what it means to be human. Some of the church fathers implied humans are creatures caught in the middle of a tightrope — suspended somewhere between angels on one side and wild beasts on the other.
Sometimes we lean precariously towards the beasts; sometimes we walk forward towards the angels — all the while never quite sure who we are. We seem destined to live every day with twitching knees and slippery feet, trying to keep our balance along this tense rope of existential uncertainty.
Thus, for many, we can only exist in tension between two things: what we are not and cannot become (the angels), and creatures we dare not try to imitate (the beasts).
Yes, to be human is to have similarities with the angels (we worship God). Yes, to be human is to be in some type of correlation with the animal kingdom (God cares for us in analogous ways as he cares for sparrows and other animals).
But while there are links, we are not angels, and we are not wild animals. We are human beings.
“We are not angels, and we are not wild animals. We are human beings.”
God “knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14). We are not dust because we are sinners; we are dust because we are human. We are dust because we were originally formed from the dirt of the ground. And that means for all of us, dust is our base composition (Genesis 2:7; 3:19, 23; 18:27).
God’s pity toward us is not that we have become dust through fault of our own, but that he intentionally designed us as dust from the very beginning.
And God remembers that we are dust — he never forgets it. To be made of dust is to be weak and transient and needy and fragile. To be made of dust is to be easily crushed (Job 4:19). And God never un-remembers this fact.
God is our Potter. He never overlooks how he made us, and from what he made us. We get harsh with one another, and we get harsh with our kids, when we forget this fundamental truth about our shared human nature. But God never makes this mistake because he never forgets how he made us. We were mud in the Potter’s hands. So, he never disregards that we are dust. He knows our strengths and abilities. He knows all of our inherent dis-abilities. “He knows us even better than we know ourselves” (Kidner, 399).
Dust is the great leveler of all human achievement (Ecclesiastes 3:20). God is the One who returns us back to dust (Psalm 90:3; 104:29).
To be dust is to be a finite creature.
God breathed his life into Adam’s dusty form. And in that moment, what God made on that day was not a super animal, neither a half-beast nor a half-angel. God made Adam and Eve fully human.
But he also made us from dust so that we would all anticipate a new body in the future, a glorious body more suited to live in the eternal joy of God’s presence.
Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead. (Isaiah 26:19)
To be human, to be dust, is to be situated for the future resurrection. God made us dust, not as an end, but as a means to resurrect us into the glory of a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:47–49).
“Only humans are made according to the image of God. No other creature enjoys this designation.”
Our greatest hope is that “this perishable body must put on the imperishable” and “this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:50–58).
But for now, we are dust, placed a little lower than the angels (Psalm 8:5–8). Even Jesus, for a time, took his place alongside us, a little lower than angels (Hebrews 2:5–9).
This is because, for now, all of us pre-resurrected humans are dust. And while we often forget this fact — to our own burnout and despair — God never forgets.
Held Together by Miracle
It’s true, man is a complexity of paradoxes. “Man is neither angel nor brute,” said Pascal. “The unfortunate thing is that he who would act the angel acts the brute.”
Yes, we often fail to live up to the dignity God has given us. But foundationally, we don’t find our calling somewhere in striving toward the angelic life, or in avoiding the beastly life. No, we find our calling as God’s specially designed image-bearers. Made of dust, made male and female by the Potter’s intentional design (Genesis 1:27; 5:2; Matthew 19:4).
Only humans are made according to the image of God. No other creature enjoys this designation — not angels, not any beast. God looked through the corridor of time by his sovereign vision and planned a being who could be united to the Godhead via incarnation for the purpose of redemption. Jesus is that being — fully God and somehow also fully creature — a special creature, a special body, soul, and mind, that could be united to God for the purpose of living on earth and then to be crucified and raised from the dead. A human.
The perfect image of God (Christ) becomes the glorious pattern which gave shape to a being that no angel nor wild beast could match. God created Adam and Eve (and you and me) to reflect his Son, and to make a path of redemption in the story of his creation. This is the unmatched glory of being a human creature. We are dust made according to the image of Christ.
We are not angels. We are not gods. We are not wild animals. We are human beings, specially designed for a glorious redemptive purpose.
We are human.
Dust Before a Father
And yet, “we are not iron, and not even clay,” said Spurgeon. “We are dust held together by daily miracle.” Amen. And this is fundamentally what it means to be human. Dust, held together every single moment by miracle, needy of God’s sustaining mercy every nanosecond of our lives on earth. We are upheld every moment of the day only by the grace of a loving heavenly Father who never forgets what we so often forget ourselves: We are creatures of dust (Psalm 103:13–14).
“To be fully human is to embrace our place as God’s children, and to embrace God as our father.”
God is our Father, and this is the seminal cause behind what it means to be human. We are not caught somewhere between the angels and the worms. Fundamentally, to be fully human means that we are called to embrace our place as God’s children, and embrace God as our Father.
We are called to fear God, as an obedient son rightly respects his own father. “It is almost as if this God is looking for reasons to be as forbearing as possible,” writes Don Carson. “But it is also true that a human father is likely to be far more compassionate and forbearing with a son or daughter who ‘fears’ him and basically respects him” (FLG, 2:25).
When we stand in our dusty frames with hearts that fear God, the Potter sees us and has compassion on our muddy forms. He remembers that we are dust. And we remember what it means to be human in the first place.