Identity and Creation

Let me introduce myself. I’m Ros, but on my birth certificate it says ‘Rosalind Sarah Clarke’.  I’m 49 years old, white British, and I live in Stafford, in central England. That’s probably enough information to identify me, though there are other details I could give but prefer not to make so public!

That kind of identi#cation doesn’t tell you very much about me. It doesn’t tell you who I am as a person. So let me try again.

I’m Ros. I am the Associate Director of Church Society and Course Leader for the Priscilla Programme.  At various times in my life, I’ve been a chef, a maths teacher, an administrator and in full-time Christian ministry. I design knitting and cross-stitch patterns as a sideline. I love art and making, and I am very lazy at housework.

If you were to read my full CV, you’d get a whole lot more detail about what I do and what I have done in my life. That tells you a bit about my story and the kind of things I’m good at, as well as what I enjoy. But I am more than the things I do.

Let’s try a different approach. I’m Ros, and I’m Liz and Ivor’s daughter. My grandparents were Betty and Kenneth, Nancy and Ivor. I’m Richard’s sister and Kate’s sister-in-law. I’m Cameron and Sophie’s aunt, and cousin to a lot of people. I’m Thomas and Elliot’s godmother, and I’m friends with lots of people, including Dawn (who will be delighted to get a mention in the book). I’m part of the family at Castle Church.

That’s how a lot of people in the Bible are identified: as part of a family network. We all have that network of friends, family, colleagues and church. Our relationships are a vital part of who we are and where we #t in the world. But that would be an unusual way to identify ourselves in the contemporary world, and again it feels as though it misses out quite a lot of what is important about who we are.

We are going to see what the Bible’s answer is to the question of who we are as human beings. Here’s how I might describe myself using the criteria we’ll find there.

I’m Ros. I’m made by God and made in his image. I’m female and I’m single. I’m created for useful work and to be part of a community. I’m a sinner and I am mortal: I am going to die. But I have been redeemed by Christ and given new life by his Spirit. I have been adopted into God’s family as his beloved child. I am part of the new humanity that Christ is building across every tribe and nation, every language and every ethnicity. I am confidently looking forward to resurrection life in the new creation, with God, for ever.

What does that tell you about me? Everything that is important about being human.

Questions of human identity have become pivotal in society over the past ten or fifteen years. Simple questions that were so obvious most of us never bothered to ask them are now touchstones of political correctness and self-determination: What is a woman? What is a human being? Who decides who or what I am? A feature-length documentary released in 2022 was dedicated to the first of those questions.[1] Politicians who are asked about these issues stumble to fnd answers, and

when they do, they almost always have to be retracted the next day. How has it become so hard to know who we are?

Are human beings simply a highly developed species of ape? Is a woman a person who feels like a woman, no matter what their physical body is like? Can I self-identify my gender or my race, or are those imposed on me by others? Is my body part of me, or just a sophisticated carrier bag for the ‘real’ me?

Reality seems to be rapidly spiralling away from us. It is no

surprise that the further society moves away from its Chris[1]tian heritage and in(uence, the weaker its grasp becomes on all kinds of other questions. If we have no agreed starting point for ethics, anthropology or sociology, we should expect to find ourselves confused about what is right, how to be human and how to live in community.

If we want to know what it means to be human, self-examination may seem like a good idea, but it turns out to be of limited use. First, because we can only know ourselves, not other people, by this route. If I look only at myself, I can’t tell what is unique to me because of my particular personality and circumstances, and what is common to all humanity. Is it fundamental to being human that you love hot pink and cross stitch? Probably not, but those things matter to me!

Second, simply examining ourselves is of limited use because we are all sinners. And, as we’ll see, that affects our ability to understand anything well. Sin affects our thinking as much as our emotions and desires. So our conclusions about humanity based on our own investigation are likely to be flawed.

Third, we can never be impartial observers of ourselves. We have a vested interest in who and what we are. Our observations are always going to be biased. We should expect to have huge blind spots as we examine our own character and self.

Fourth, we can’t see the whole picture. We exist in the present moment, and although we have some memory of the past, we certainly don’t know our whole lives. Even less do we know about where we have come from: our ancestors and our creation. Nor can we see where we are heading, in this life and beyond. Our experience of our own humanity is limited.

If we truly want to understand what it means to be human, we have to look beyond humanity. We need God to explain it to us. God can tell us who we were made to be and why. He can explain what is distinctive about humanity and what our purpose is in creation. God knows how our humanity has been distorted by sin and how it is being restored in Christ. God sees the whole picture. His judgement is not limited, and it is not distorted by sin.

In this article, then, we will go back to the beginning, to see what God tells us about human beings in creation. This article comes from my book goes which then goes further and traces those themes throughout the Bible, to see how Christ himself shows us most fully what it means to be human. It adds how our humanity has been spoiled by sin and the effects of living in a fallen world. Finally, we’ll think about how our humanity is being restored now in Christ, by his Spirit, and what we are looking forward to in the #nal resur[1]rection when we will be truly, fully human as God intended.

I hope you will learn more about yourself as you read this, but I hope for more than that. I hope you will learn more about all humanity, this vast and wonderfully glorious race to which we all belong and which will one day be united together in worship of the living God. I hope that you will learn to celebrate your humanness, in all its purpose and all its limitations, and to have confidence in who you are, as God made you to be.

Being human means being created

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He made the light and the dark, the night and the day. He made the sea and the land, and he filled both with every kind of plant and animal, fish and bird, insect and reptile. And then, in his glorious final flourish of creation, he made human beings. Those first human beings were made in unique ways to indicate that they stand at the head of the whole human race. There is no chicken-or-egg dilemma in the Bible’s account of humanity.

God made the very first human beings and God makes all human beings. Every single person who has ever lived, and every single person who will ever live, is made by God. The rest of us are not made in quite the same way as Adam and Eve. As the psalmist puts it, he knitted us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13).

This is where we must begin in our understanding of what it means to be human: we are created beings, made by God, given value by God, given a purpose by God and utterly dependent on God.

You are made by God.

When God created the universe, he did not begin by collecting together his materials. He was not a sculptor forming a shape out of clay, or a carpenter nailing his wood together. God created the universe out of nothing. There was nothing to start with. He generated the very atoms and molecules that he shaped into planets and stars, seas and land, plants and animals.

But when God creates human beings now he does not begin with nothing. He creates us through the joining of an egg and a sperm, which usually takes place in a woman’s fallopian tube. This fertilised egg makes its way into the womb, where it multiplies cells and grows into a human body. Ultrasound scans from about nine weeks after fertilisation of that single cell already show recognisably human forms.

Human beings cannot control this process. No matter how often a couple has sex, nor how sophisticated fertility treatments become, there is no guarantee of success. There is currently no obvious scientific reason why some couples who have struggled with infertility for years suddenly conceive after they have given up hope. The reverse is also true: no contraception is 100% proof against pregnancy. We cannot say why this egg will fertilise, but not that one. We cannot say which sperm will be the one to fertilise the egg.

What we can say is that every single time a child is conceived it is because God has breathed life into that fertilised cell. It is because God is beginning his work of knitting a new person together.

We can have absolute confidence, therefore, that we are here because God made us. God planned and designed and created you. There are no accidents – happy or otherwise – in God’s fertility clinic. You may have wonderful human parents, or terrible ones. You may have always known the security of being wanted and loved by your family, or you may have never known that. But know this: God wanted you. God wanted precisely you, with your specific DNA, and your specific date and time of birth, and your particular biological parents. God knitted you together so you would be just that tall, and have just that skin tone, and hair which curls in just that way. God made you to have your unique personality and your specific talents.

Let’s look at Psalm 139 again:

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

(Psalm 139:13–14)

You are made by God, and he made you wonderfully. God did not make a mistake when he made you. Praise God!

You are valued by God

Sometimes on Antiques Roadshow two different objects of the same kind will be brought in to be examined and valued. One might appear to be in better condition, but the other might have a more attractive design. The valuer will point out all kinds of details the owner has never noticed, and then finally comes the moment we’ve all been waiting for, the money moment. But the value of each object doesn’t just depend on its design or condition. Its value also depends on its maker. A landscape by John Constable will be worth many thousands of times more than a similar painting by an unknown artist. A cabinet designed by Thomas Chippendale will command a far higher price than one by Mr Anon or Mrs IKEA.

It is the same with you and me. Our value cannot be calculated simply by looking at our external appearance, our beauty or our condition. Our value comes from our Maker. You are that wonderful thing: a human being made by Almighty God, Lord of heaven and earth. Therefore, you are of immense, incalculable value.

This is what Psalm 8 has to say about the worth of human beings:

You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honour.

(Psalm 8:5)

God himself has crowned human beings with glory and honour. I think that is one of the most extraordinary things the Bible says. God honours us. God gives us glory. Not because we have earned it, but because human beings are the pinnacle of God’s creation, made in his image. We are glorified because he is glorious. We are honoured because he is worthy of all honour.

I said at the beginning of this book that if we want to under[1]stand what it truly means to be human, we need to listen to

God rather than look inside ourselves. This is one good example of that. It is very common for people to have a low view of themselves. We all know our own flaws better than anyone else. We can see all the mistakes we’ve made, all the weaknesses we struggle with and all the challenges we’ve failed. When we measure our own worth, we compare ourselves to others. And it’s always easy to find someone more successful, more beautiful, richer, cleverer, happier. Especially if we’re on social media.

We live in a particularly judgemental culture at the moment, where everyone’s life is on public display for scrutiny and comment; where it’s normal to pick apart a person’s parenting skills or choice of hobby; where we all feel the need to put on a mask when we share our lives, in order to protect ourselves from attack. Of course, people struggle with low self-esteem in this sort of culture. Teenagers (both boys and girls) are especially vulnerable to this. Where once they could be protected from this endless judgement in the safety of home, now they are vulnerable any time they have a phone in their hand.

But here’s the thing. Your true value doesn’t depend on what the world thinks you are worth. It doesn’t matter what your salary is or your social status. It doesn’t matter if you have disabilities or chronic illness. It doesn’t matter how well your appearance matches modern standards of beauty. It doesn’t matter whether you are tall or short, fat or thin, rich or poor, clever or ordinary, successful or plodding. None of those things can add to the value you have as one of God’s precious creations. None of those things can take away from that value. He has crowned you with glory and honour. You are infinitely valuable because you are made by God. You are infinitely valuable because you are wonderfully made by God, who does not make mistakes.

That is not to say, of course, that you are morally perfect. We are all sinners and we’ll consider how that aspects our humanity in a later chapter. But even our sin does not destroy our worth as people made by God.

You have been given a purpose by God

One of the ways in which the Bible commonly talks about human beings as God’s creations is by comparing us to clay in the hands of a potter. “e clay begins in one amorphous lump and it can be shaped and formed into any number of different items by a skilled potter. “e same clay can be used to make beautiful works of art, practical plates and bowls, or even serve our most basic functional needs in the form of toilets. The clay does not get to choose what it will become. “e potter is in control.

Isaiah uses this imagery to point out that God knew what he was doing when he made us:

You turn things upside down,
as if the potter were thought to be like the clay!
Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it,
‘You did not make me’?
Can the pot say to the potter,
‘You know nothing’?

(Isaiah 29:16)

It is intentionally ludicrous. Of course the pot can’t say that! The pot knows nothing, while the potter knows precisely what the pot is intended for. Don’t be like the foolishly arrogant pot! God did make you and God does know what he is doing. Paul cites Isaiah in Romans 9, using this same image of the potter and the clay, when he is explaining God’s election of some people to salvation and others to destruction:

But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God?  ‘Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?” ’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?

(Romans 9:20–1)

Pots don’t get to decide what they are for. Clay doesn’t get to tell the potter what it wants to be. “e potter, obviously, is the one in charge. The potter has the right to decide, and so does God. God gets to decide what he has made us for. In Paul’s discussion he is talking about the final purpose of human beings in eternity, but it is also true about our purpose here on earth.

In Ephesians, Paul describes us as ‘God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do’ (Ephesians 2:10). In Jeremiah, God tells his people through the prophet that he knows the plans he has for them (Jeremiah 29:11). Proverbs tells us that, while we may make our own plans, it is God who determines our steps (Proverbs 16:9). “e Bible is clear throughout that God is in control and God has plans for us. God has a purpose for each of us. He has prepared works for us to do – works that he has created us to do.

We are made by God for the purpose he has determined. He knows what he has planned for you to do, and he has created you with that purpose in mind. He has created you with the speci#c talents and skills, the particular networks of family and friends, the precise opportunities and challenges, for you to fulfil his purpose for your life. He has prepared works in advance for you to do, and you can be sure that he has designed and made you perfectly to be able to do them. He is, after all, the Master Potter. We can hold on to the fact that our lives are not meaningless or pointless. There is a purpose for all humanity and each of us is needed to accomplish that. God has made you, specifically you, for a purpose that matters.

You are dependent on God

Think about those pots again. How does a pot decide to come into being? It doesn’t, of course! A pot is wholly dependent on the potter for its existence. Now think about yourself. How did you decide to come into being? You didn’t, of course. Your parents may have hoped and tried, but they needed God to bring you into being. Your parents may have longed for a child, but they could not have known they wanted you specifically. Every child is a surprise to their parents, who will spend years discovering what their offspring is like. But none of us is a surprise to God. He knew precisely what he was knitting together.

We all depended on God to bring us into existence and we all continue to depend on God for our ongoing existence every single day of our lives. This is how Jesus explained it to his disciples:

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

(Matthew 6:26–7)

If God, our heavenly Father, provides the birds of the air with everything they need, how much more will he look after us, his precious children? We need not worry, Jesus says, because we can trust God. And we should not worry, because worrying is pointless. We cannot keep ourselves alive even for an hour by worrying. God is in control and we are dependent on him for our ongoing existence.

This doesn’t mean that we always need God to provide miraculously for us. God normally provides through ordinary ways for us – just as he does for the birds. That means we work to earn money for food and clothing and shelter, and we visit doctors and dentists for medical care. It means we trust in God to give us what we need in whatever ways he chooses. But even when he provides through those ordinary ways, we must remember that it is God who provides.

A good way to do this is to pray like the Puritan author of “The All-Good’, who asked:

Grant me to feel thee in fire, and food and every providence, and to see that thy many gifts and creatures are but thy hands and fingers taking hold of me.[2]

When you look around at all the good things in your life, remember that they come from God, who is taking care of you. When you depend on your central heating to keep you warm in winter, or your car to get you to work, remember that God has provided them for you. When you collect your prescription from the pharmacy, thank God, who has made that possible. When you have food on the table, give thanks to God, who sustains you every hour of every day of your life.

If we are dependent on God, that means we are not independent beings. We cannot simply rely on ourselves. We must admit that we cannot provide for all our needs. We cannot make all our own decisions. We do not know best. Acknowledging that we are created, dependent beings is humbling. We don’t like to think of ourselves as needy. We don’t always like to admit that we need support, advice or instruction. We certainly don’t like to be recipients of charity.

But we are all, whether we admit it or not, utterly dependent on God. We constantly need him for our ongoing existence. We need him to tell us what we are here for and how to live according to the manufacturer’s instructions. We can’t earn any of those things from him – it is all a free gift of his grace.

There is the paradox: as created human beings we find that we have infinitely precious value, but we also recognise that we are utterly dependent on God for everything. I don’t know which of these truths you most need to hear right now. Perhaps you are struggling with low self-esteem and need to treasure those words that remind you how precious you are because you are God’s wonderful creation. Perhaps you have a ten[1]dency to pride and self-reliance, and need to remember how everything you have comes from God and stop trusting in your own strength. Perhaps you need to learn how to hold on to both those truths.

[1] 1 Matt Walsh, ‘What Is a Woman?’, Daily Wire, 2022: <> (accessed 10 February 2023).

[2] Arthur Bennett (ed.), !e Valley of Vision: A collection of prayers and devotions (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1975), p. 7.

This article comes from “HUMAN: Made and Remade In The Image of God” by Ros Clarke which is available here. This extract is reproduced here with the kind permission of IVP.