In 1971, John Lennon released the song “Imagine” and it is recognized—even today— as one of the most popular songs of all time. In this song, Lennon is asking his listeners to imagine a world in which there is peaceful unity among all people on the earth. Without addressing the specific views of John Lennon—as the song was quite clearly written from a perspective that represents his secular-humanistic worldview—why does the song have the generational appeal it has? We are now about 50 years from the song’s release and it remains well known throughout the world and is even sung at the New Year’s Eve gathering in New York as the people view the new year as loaded with the potential to bring the peaceful unity in the world that we’re being asked to imagine. The appeal of the song is rooted in the understanding that a world living in peaceful unity is only a dream rather than reality. As Lennon was writing this song, the U.S. was engaged in the Vietnam War which raged on from 1954-1975. Of course, there were many wars before and since, and the concept of world peace remains the mission of beauty pageant contestants everywhere. The lack of peaceful unity in the human race is not only seen in the existence of military conflict, but it is manifested on every level of human interaction. Despite calls for unity, marches for unity and promises of unity, there remains no peaceful unity among mankind—it is something that we can only imagine. What we’ll be looking at in this post is an answer to why this is the case. If everyone truly desires unity, why is peaceful unity within the human race not a reality?
The Pre-Fall Condition of Mankind
Has there been any point in human history in which genuine unity existed within the human race? Yes, but it didn’t last very long. At the end of the account of God’s creation, we see that God created mankind in His own image—male and female (Genesis 1:27). To be created in the image of God is to be the bearer of His likeness on the earth. We are not image bearers in the sense that we look like God in a physical way, but humanity was created in the image of God to make manifest His nature and to multiply and to fill the earth with it (Genesis 1:28) to glorify Him.
The one true God is a triune God who exists as one being in three distinct persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As such—as a part of the divine nature—there is relational unity within the godhead which results from a voluntary submission of the Son to the will of the Father (John 5:30) and the Holy Spirit to the Father and the Son (John 15:26; John 16:13). If mankind was to be able to make manifest this quality of God, he must have other human beings as humans are not like God and exist as one being and only one person rather than one being in three persons like God. So God created the woman from the man and they were joined together in a one flesh union of husband and wife in Genesis 2:24. This relationship between Adam and Eve was a perfect representation of the relational unity that exists within the godhead. This loving unity that existed between Adam and Eve glorified God on the earth by mirroring this divine aspect of God’s character in creation.
As we move toward explaining the disunity that defines the human race, we must be sure to highlight the created order as what led to the unity that—at one time—existed within it. We’ve spoken of the relational unity and agreement within the godhead and when God declared all that He had made “very good” (Genesis 1:31), all of creation existed in perfect alignment with the will of God. Every aspect of creation (highlighted by humanity as the bearers of God’s divine image) was unified in mission—to glorify God. In this sinless existence, the heart of man was turned outward in love and care for all of what God had made and they agreed with God that it was good, for it was God who created it. Each one served as a willing instrument in God’s hand to love, serve and care for the other in perfect submission to the created order. The unity that existed within mankind was what flowed from humanity being rightly ordered under God’s authority and living in the light of His truth.
The Fall & Spiritual Death
However, through the events of Genesis 3:1-7, the human race would be forever changed. The serpent appealed to the woman on the level of human pride to get her to think on what existed outside of God’s boundary. Up to this point, the selfish pride which existed within her laid dormant and had no impact on her behavior. Ultimately, the accusations and the lies of the serpent succeeded in causing the woman to look at God’s loving boundary between light and darkness and question the provision of God rather than trusting in His goodness. She now experienced a dissatisfaction in God and what He had given, and the delight she had always experienced in the light of God was redirected to the darkness. She desired to be like God and to have wisdom that He had not given her. Being motivated by selfish ambition and pride, she ate of the fruit that she was commanded not to eat, and she gave the fruit to her husband and he also ate. It was at that moment when Adam ate of the fruit, their eyes were opened and they knew they were naked. In that instant, all of mankind (present & future) died spiritually in trespasses and sin (Romans 5:12-21). The creation that once lived freely in the light of God’s goodness and truth now lay spiritually dead in the darkness. The fellowship between God and man that gave life and relational unity was severed by sin and the mission of the creation was no longer in agreement with the Creator.
Previously, Adam and Eve existed in perfect unity with one another being completely aligned with God’s plan and purpose in the world. This was the delight of their existence. As long as humankind was spiritually alive in relational unity with God, the mission of their life was to delight in doing the will of God and living to bear His image in creation to the glory of their Creator. They loved the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and they loved one another as themselves (Matthew 22:35-40). They were unified under God and they were the perfect representation of God’s commutable character on the earth. But when Adam ate of the fruit that he was commanded not to eat (Genesis 2:16-17), he and his wife flatlined spiritually which had a catastrophic effect on how they imaged the character of God.
The Mission of Fallen Man
Spiritual death resulted when the dormant selfish pride that was within humanity at creation was agitated by the lies of the evil one and was stirred out of dormancy. The affect of the fall of man was absolute and catastrophic. The selfish pride within roared to life, killing Adam and the entire human race—spiritually—leaving their carcasses lifeless in the darkness. As humanity declared their independence from God and His authority over them, they were now ruled from within by sinful pride coursing through their veins.
Fallen man is cut off from fellowship with God due to sin and there is no relational unity between God and man. The mission of man, prior to the fall, was to be the image bearer of God’s divine nature on the earth to the glory of God, but fallen man—ruled from within by sinful pride—has set up a throne for himself and lives his life as the judge of truth according to whatever seems right to him. This is the case for every human being who has ever lived—save Christ. Having declared independence from God and His truth, each man believes himself to be the great judge and determiner of truth in the world. Having believed the lie of self-governance, man loves the darkness because of the cover it provides to their evil deeds (John 3:19-21). Since fallen man—by definition—sees himself as the highest judge and determiner of truth, he loves, serves and worships himself rather than God (Romans 1:28-32).
This leaves us to look at the mission of man. Before the fall, the mission of man was to exist in fellowship with God as His image bearers and to glorify Him on the earth. However, when independence from God was declared by Adam in the garden and mankind set themselves up as judges over God’s truth, the mission changed. The mission of a man is to advance truth. If fallen man determines for himself what is true, then each man is going to be on a mission that is informed by whatever he has judged to be true. This will be different for each one as there are billions of people on the earth who sit as the judge and determiner of truth and their mission is to advance their “truth”. Since there can be no agreement on any transcendent truth, there can be no agreement upon what the mission is—what is the truth we are to be advancing? This is the reason why peaceful unity among the human race is something we can only imagine. Apart from fellowship with God and spiritual life in the light of His transcendent truth, each man goes his own way in prideful rebellion against God and uses whatever means and methods possible to advance what he has determined to be true in his own deceitful and wicked heart (Jeremiah 17:9). This is his mission and he is an army of one.
By the time we get to Genesis chapter 4, we have Cain murdering his brother, Abel (Genesis 4:8). The history of humanity doesn’t improve from there. Since the fall, mankind is defined by willfulness against God in the advancement of what he has determined to be true over and above what God has said. The mission of man is to advance what he believes to be true and use whatever means necessary to do it. He will abuse other people. He will abuse God’s creation. He will absolutely abuse the truth of God’s revealed Word to advance the darkness. To quote the serpent in the garden, “did God actually say…” (Genesis 3:1). We are not good people who do bad things sometimes, we are spiritually dead people who are incapable—powerless to do anything good apart from God (Ephesians 2:1; Romans 3:10-18). Because fellowship between God and man has been severed by the sin of our representative, Adam, he is cut off from spiritual life which makes it utterly impossible for him to rightly discern truth because he lives in the darkness and he doesn’t see where he is going (1 John 2:11). Truth can only be understood in the light of spiritual life in Christ. Therefore fallen man is incapable of finding any genuine and lasting unity since his mission is to advance his own errant understanding of truth from the darkness rather than the light.