In John Milton’s Paradise Lost, we find one of the greatest dialogues in British literature. As Satan rallies some angels to rebel against God, one stalwart angel, Abdiel, objects on the grounds that God created them and they belong to him. Satan guilefully mocks this “strange” and “new” claim, insisting that the angels created themselves and were “possessed before by none.” When he’s later exiled to Earth, Satan uses a similar lie to convince Eve that she and Adam don’t need God: They can become their own gods and live a “life more perfect” than their Creator meant for them.
From this inauspicious start until today, “humanity’s fundamental rebellion against God has been a rebellion of autonomy,” writes Alan Noble in his latest book, You Are Not Your Own: Belonging to God in an Inhuman World. As the subtitle suggests, Noble’s premise is that modern society is fundamentally inhuman and that this inhumanity stems from the lie that we belong to ourselves. Like Adam and Eve, we believe that accepting our creaturely limits will likewise limit our happiness, so we reject God’s authority and end up experiencing what they did: distance from God, each other, and even ourselves.
Because this rebellion dates back to Eden, Noble doesn’t make the sky-is-falling claim that our society is doing something new. Instead, he diagnoses some contemporary forms of inhumanity, and he shows how these social cancers have metastasized from that primordial lie of self-ownership. The cure, says Noble, comes from acknowledging what and whose we are: creatures who belong to our good Creator.
In arguing that our society is fundamentally ...1
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