“All of us bounce between the illusion that we are in control and the world’s demonstration that we are not.”
This sounds like bad news. But Kelly Kapic wants us to understand that our finitude is actually good news in his book, You’re Only Human. He was led to reflect and write about human finitude as he realized just how under-developed our doctrine of creation is. We seem to conflate finitude with sin, rather than seeing it as a creaturely gift. Finitude is not sin. It means that we are not God. Kapic speaks of finitude as “good, created human limits….that are part of God’s original act of making us, which he called ‘good.’” Too often, we want to reject and transcend these limits. We easily fall into the temptation that the serpent deceived Eve with, and that Adam willing participated in—“rejecting love to gain power.” He later builds on Augustine’s work saying, “It is not our creaturely limits that make us sinful, but rather the absence or deformation of love.”
Instead of a full review, I want to recommend this book and reflect a bit on Kapic’s chapter on humility. But first, I want to note something he says about our salvation. I believe that the church today needs this recalibration, which is a grounding in God’s goodness and love which overflows in creation. It’s life-giving water to the parched, transactional focus that is so prevalent in our thinking and teaching. And so he says:
“Forgiveness—as beautiful and crucial as it is—is not enough. Unless it is understood to come from love and to lead back to love, unless we understand the gospel in terms of God’s fierce delight in us and not merely a wiping away of prior offences, unless we understand God’s battle for us as a dramatic personal rescue and not merely a cold forensic process, we have ignored most of the Scriptures as well as the needs of the human condition.”
Do we really believe that our God fiercely delights in us? The triune God is a personal God who is in personal, perfect fellowship with himself. He does not need or benefit from communion with us, and yet he made us alive in Christ “because of his great love that he had for us” (Eph. 2:4). We are persons made for personal communion with a personal God. Does that not blow our minds and our hearts?
Finitude is Humbling
One area where Kapic really had me thinking about this love and delight is in the way that we think about humility. The tendency of Christians to ground our humility in sin is fundamentally wrong. This view asserts that humility is gained by seeing our own worthlessness—we need humility because we are sinners. Kapic challenges this association of humility with self-loathing and asks, “If there had been no sin and no fall, would we have needed humility?” Kapic argues, with Aquinas, that the foundation of humility is the goodness of creation. It’s a completely different lens because it sees everything as gift. Humility is gratitude. Humility is seeing that “there is a good Creator Lord and we are the finite creatures he made to live in fellowship with him…Our being itself comes out of the overflow of divine love and creativity.” In this framework, we then see just how evil sin is as well as our complete dependance on God’s love for us in Christ to restore us to him. Humility is vulnerable.
With this understanding, we see God as he is. And we don’t need to feign humility, as we so often do, downplaying the gifts he gives us. Sometimes we are just trying to appear humble. Even more, we fear that our gifts aren’t good enough when it really counts. Humility leads us to be thankful for our own contributions. We can ask, “How can I bless others with what I’ve been given?” Then we do it. And, we understand that we do not have all the gifts. We are not God. We do not ascend to God. He descended to us—Jesus Christ, the second Adam, left his Father and mother-Zion glory-realm to cleave to his bride and ascend with her to the holy of holies. Halleluiah! He didn’t do it because we have particular gifts, but because we are the gift—the gift of the Father to the Son, where he promised him a bride. We are his fierce delight.
We are not only dependent on God’s love; we get to participate in it. Humility helps us see the greatness of others. We see that we are created to be interdependent on one another’s love. So we see others as gift as well. And that’s a big deal. We don’t see others’ gifts as competition. Or as threats to our inadequacy. We don’t see ourselves as weak in expressing a need. And we don’t see others merely for the gifts they have to offer. That’s exploitation. We see their very personhood as gift. They are gift.
Freedom in Belonging
In this, we see that humility is freedom—freedom in belonging! Freedom to truly be, to love, to serve others in worshipful offering to our God who gives. Humility is freedom to love and be loved by God. It is to know that “I am my love’s and his desire is for me” (Song 7:10). In his giving, God authorizes us to reciprocally give love. He draws us to himself.
Kapic’s work on humility intersects so much with my own work in the Song. This belonging arouses us, like the bride in the Song, as a fortified holy city, to freely give of ourselves to Christ, the One who gives peace. And it evokes us to give and receive in communion with those who come to kiss the Son (Song 1:2).
Richard Bauckham helps us understand that “the fullest freedom is not to be found in being as free from others as possible, but in the freedom we give to each other when we belong to each other in loving relationships.” Humble belonging is freedom to give, to love. The voices in the Song show us the picture of true, uninhibited freedom in belonging exclusively to Christ. This is how we are most fully actualized as human persons.
Are We Humble?
It excites me to reflect on this. I love how Kapic’s book drove me to continue to explore freedom in belonging and how true humility invites us to this because it helps us see and appreciate. But it also simultaneously frustrates me. Because we are not humble. How much progress have I made in God’s love? I am not grateful. I am taking way too long to get this into my heart. I am not vulnerable; I am self-protective. And yet it’s Christ’s love that brings me in, not my own. His love is enough. And its transformational power is much better than my own imagination of sanctification. His faithfulness encourages my vulnerability to walk in this love with his people.
And it frustrates me as I think of my own experience as a woman trying to belong in Christ’s church in full membership. Loud and clear, I’ve heard the message, “You do not belong.” Where is the freedom that we give each other to love? To be known and received as gift? Where is humility in Christ’s church?
One thing I know is that Christ loves his church and he will get us there. And as Kapic says in his section of sanctification, Christ is patient in directing our gaze towards him through all of it, “calling for and encouraging our agency rather than undermining it.” He will get us there. He is “consistently drawing us to the love of the Father, the grace of the Son, and the fellowship of the Spirit. In this process he reconnects us with others, replacing our callousness with compassion, our hatred with love, and our fears with hope.” As we grow in our understanding of Christ’s fierce love for and delight in his people, we will offer one another that love as we share it in common and commune in it together. What a gift.