Monday, April 29, 2013

biblical human dignity

If I have rejected the cause of my manservant or my maidservant, when they brought a complaint against me, what then shall I do when God rises up? When he makes inquiry, what shall I answer him? Did not he who made me in the womb make him? And did not one fashion us in the womb?
Job 31:13-15

Job had a spiritual basis for treating people with dignity and respect. Human beings were viewed as important and treated with equality not because each of us is somehow magnificent, but because one God had created everyone. People were considered worthy of Job's respect because God had fashioned each human, including Job, the same way. And respecting people with dignity and concern was a way of worshiping God.

This was the basis of Job's commitment to humanitarianism. He treated his own servants as unique creations of God because Job knew that both he and his servants were fashioned by God in the womb. Since God was the Maker of them both, there was a deeper bond to the relationship than mere social position. Job would respond to the complaint of any servant with dignity, humility, humanity, and equality out of love for a unique soul that God had made.

This strikes me as the best reason to seek the welfare of other people. It is a humble commitment to more than just mere social justice. It is an acknowledgement of "sameness"... that all of us (to borrow a certain Jeffersonian turn of phrase) "are created equal". This recognition humbly accepts that any societal differences are also the result of providence. Job used his wealth and influence to perpetuate this view of human dignity before God.

I feel like I have found a rare gem here. This is an unexpected surprise in reading this epic poem of the book of Job. Part of the reason that Job was so exceptional in God's eyes was that he "feared God and turned away from evil" (Job 1:8). And that blamelessness was shown in a real altruistic social commitment in Job that never wanted to take advantage of any person's lower or higher social standing. This was unheard of in the ancient Middle East where entire empires were built on the broken backs of slaves who were barely treated as human. Yet to Job, all people are carried in a womb and enter this world having been fashioned by God in the exact same way. Newborns are all equally helpless. And accepting and believing that common fact in humanity kept Job humble, worshipful, and truly a caring person.

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