When is a human being most Like a human being? To ask this question against the backdrop of the contemporary scene is to entertain some mixed opinions.

Human beings are capable of extraordinary acts of self-sacrifice, such as in the cases of doctors, nurses, and other volunteers, who choose to treat those sick with the Ebola virus in places like Sierra Leone and Liberia. They are also capable of behavior that is nothing short of barbaric. Recently, we have received word of the beheading of Peter Kassig by members of ISIS. Many of diverse ethnic backgrounds have preceded him. Continually, we hear reports of various forms of human trafficking. Enslavement, whether it be the selling of human bodies or the voluntary submission to the abusing of drugs and alcohol, is alive and well these days. Societies regularly practice the cessation of life for the defenseless unborn.

There are indeed continual manifestations of the good and sacrificial among members of the human community. But on occasions, it seems that the words of Genesis 6:5 give informed commentary on the state of humanity: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” One could easily make the case that human beings are most like human beings when we exploit and kill one another. If there is no exploitation evident at a given time in a given place, it may only be the result of the temporary restraint of some type of law.

The Image of God and Being Human

I do not mean to be overly simplistic in formulating an answer to the initial question, but I am attempting the construction of a framework for understanding when a human being is most like a human being. It is admittedly a response founded on what I have said in previous reflections. We are most human when we image God. As usual, it is not my intent to“The God revealed in Holy Scripture acts with creativity, in commitment to relationships, with care for the individual and for the community.” attempt a full description of who God is. I do want to suggest that imaging God has both an external and an internal component.

The God revealed in Holy Scripture acts with creativity, in commitment to relationships, with care for the individual and for the community. We image God when we act, or work, with these kinds of characteristics. These characteristics give meaning and significance to our actions, our work. A consideration of these characteristics inevitably leads to a further consideration of the internal component. We can have the hope of manifesting such characteristics when we are in submission to God and his will. God has purpose for those who are his image-bearers. The call to submission, or obedience, is interwoven with the allowance of dominion (Gen 1:26) and with our first parents being placed in the Garden of Eden “to work it and keep it” (Gen 2:15).

But like King Leonidas responded in the movie 300, when the Persian ambassador cautioned him to submit to King Xerxes: “Submission! Now that’s a problem!” So it is with human beings. Submission, however, is so pivotal to human flourishing—for the capacity to image God and thus to be truly human.