Are All Men Created Equal?

I recently came across this article describing the story behind Michael Jordan’s hitting his head against the backboard during his days at North Carolina. It truly is a jaw dropping video.

The more you watch it, the more amazing it is – and the legend of Michael Jordan was clearly being born. As I read through the article, I noticed a simple little comment by basketball analyst Jay Bilas; a comment that was meant to be humorous in light of this incredible video, but that I found rather interesting. He said…

“All men are created equal?….That’s a lie.”

Of course, Jay is stating the obvious. You and I can’t jump as high as Michael Jordan, stay in the air as long as Michael Jordan, and hit our heads on backboards like Michael Jordan, ergo folks aren’t created equal. Jay is on to something here.

“You can be anything you want to be, you just have to believe.” To anyone reading this article – if you ever hear me say that to one of my children, just go ahead and lock me away for a few days until I come to my senses. My children, as amazing as they are, will not be able to be anything they want to be. They won’t have the skill, the knowledge, and a host of other required things to be anything they want. God has put in each of them the skill and knowledge to do something remarkable, but not to do everything¬†remarkable. And that is what we really mean when we say, “you can be anything you want to be” – we mean that our children have the potential to excel in any endeavor they choose, therefore, they can do everything at a high level. They just have to pick which endeavor they want to excel in and go for it. Maybe one of my kids will “want to be like Mike” as the commercial goes, but I’ve got some news for them, they aren’t going to be hitting their heads against backboards and winning 6 world titles.

So, when it comes to basketball, my kids are not equal to Michael Jordan.

The bigger problem is how Jay applies this familiar phrase. The quotation “all men are created equal” was made famous by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. It has since been used in a variety of ways by social and political figures and has been referred to as an “immortal declaration.” Jefferson, and the spirit of the phrase itself, has a much different meaning than that given by Bilas.

First, Jefferson links the equality of all people with an intentional Creator. This “endowment” of certain inalienable rights is not dependent on skill or giftedness, but rather on our beginnings. We are declared equal in the greatest and most important sense of the word long before we begin to notice the development of skill or gifts. Our equality is grounded in our being – God breathing us out into his own image says something far greater than any skill we might develop or knowledge we might obtain. We have upon the moment of our birth transcended the worth of 6 world titles and eclipsed the highest highest human achievement possible – every one of us – because we have the image of God stamped all over us. What could possibly be greater? And of this privilege God has given each of us, male and female, equal share.

Second, based on our equal beginnings, we all have equal rights to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. Bilas, of course, would not suggest that Michael Jordan has a greater right to be happy and to pursue life because he can hit his head on a backboard. Nonsense. Jordan has a right to do those things because he is human, imago dei, and it just so happens that he can also play a mean game of basketball. Thus, our equality has nothing to do with skills, roles, knowledge, or gifts, and everything to do with our worth that is tied to creation. From the dust we came, to the dust we return. Equal.

Third, from a biblical perspective, “all men are created equal” reminds us of our own sinfulness. “There is none righteousness, no not one” thrusts all of humanity into the same, hellish condition – in desperate need of a great Savior. This sinfulness, common to all man, is ironically the reason why the great Declaration of Independence reeks of hypocrisy at the time of its writing. For as abolitionist Thomas Day once penned, “If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves.”

So, Jay is right that we are unequal in terms of our gifts. But that’s not what the phrase means. We are all most certainly equal in terms of our worth before God, and our worth through the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Skill vs worth. It is possible that we spend too much time fixated on the former that we fail to rest in the latter.

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