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The Two Adams: Dust and Breath
In a remarkable column published in The New York Times on February 17, David Brooks illuminated a core human dilemma that challenges all of us by focusing on the surprising success of New York Knicks basketball player, Jeremy Lin.
Brooks saw two sets of values competing within the psyche of Lin, who is a fierce competitor for his team and also very religious.
On the one hand, Brooks writes, "The moral universe of modern sport is oriented around victory and supremacy. The sports hero tries to perform great deeds in order to win glory and fame…His job is to beat his opponents and avoid the oblivion that goes with defeat. The modern sports hero is competitive and ambitious…He is theatrical. He puts himself on display."
On the other hand, "For many religious teachers, humility is the primary virtue. You achieve loftiness of spirit by performing the most menial services…You achieve your identity through self-effacement. You achieve strength by acknowledging your weaknesses. You lead most boldly when you consider yourself an instrument of a larger cause."
The psychological war raging within Lin over these different sets of values rages within all of us.
Brooks cites the works of Joseph Soloveitchik, a Jewish theologian, who uses the story of Adam's creation to develop a metaphor about human nature.
First God molds Adam out of the dirt of the earth. This is "'Adam the First,' the part of us that creates, discovers, competes and is involved in building the world." Soloveitchik calls this the morality of majesty.
Then God gives life to the molded man by blowing his breath into Adam. This is "'Adam the Second,' the spiritual individual who is awed and humbled by the universe as a spectator and a worshipper." Soloveitchik calls this the morality of humility.
Brooks explains, "[These two moralities] exist in creative tension with each other and the religious person shuttles between them, feeling lonely and slightly out of place in both experiences."
Soloveitchik's Adam is similar to Paul's discussion of the "two Adams" in the fifth chapter of his letter to the Romans (Rom. 5:12-21). For Paul, the first Adam is the man in Genesis who is the prototype of a fallen humanity; the second Adam is Jesus, the prototype of redeemed humanity.
As The Message Bible translates what Paul wrote, "Just as one person [the first Adam] did it wrong and got us in all this trouble with sin and death, another person [Jesus, the second Adam] did it right and got us out of it. But more than just getting us out of trouble, he got us into life! One man said no to God and put many people in the wrong; one man said yes to God and put many in the right."
Soloveitchik argues that the two moralities are not reconcilable and create a tension within which all of us must live. But Paul argues that the second Adam, Jesus, has canceled the death dealing sin of the first Adam. Without condemnation for sin, Jesus has freed all human beings to live as spiritual and worshipful individuals even as they create, discover, compete, and build the world.
The difference between seeing the two moralities as irreconcilable or as reconciled depends on our overall world view.
If we view the world as a giant athletic competition in which we either win or lose, we must live within the tension of Soloveitchik's First and Second Adam.
But if we choose to live our lives in the kingdom of God, where love makes winning and losing irrelevant and immaterial, we can live in a world in which the morality of majesty and the morality of humility are reconciled.