– Genesis 2:7
I am the first to admit my mind wanders all over the place, from the nonsensical to the profound and everywhere in between. Sometimes, the subjects are interesting to others, but frankly, most of the time, I suspect the things about which I think are not of particular interest to anyone else at all. I find myself in that peculiar position again – a topic of enormous interest to me that may be of none to you. And yet, I believe this is perhaps one of the most important questions for Christians today, really, for all people in all times. What does it mean to be human? That’s the subject of my musings. What does it mean to be human? I hope you will follow along with me as my mind wanders through this puzzle, for it is an urgent question. What does it mean to be human?
For centuries, this has been the most pressing question of every generation in every culture for all people. The asking of the question entails other questions: from where did we come, and to where are we headed? What is the best person I can be, and to what should I aspire? What is my purpose, and what does it mean to have life? For people throughout history, the answers to these questions were the guideposts for living one’s life. However understood, the way in which one understands one’s origin and reason for existing determines how one lives life, as well as the aspirations toward which both individuals and the cultures in which they live have striven. But what I find most interesting about this topic is that our own generation almost never discusses it. I have a theory on that, as I do most things, and I will get to my theory in due time, for that is the point of my musings. For now, I simply want to point out that the one question philosophers have pondered for centuries, which has ordered the lives of the average human being in every culture across history, is a question we seldom pose, both individually and culturally.
To know what we are supposed to be, as opposed to what we are, is to know how to order one’s life and living. For what are you aiming? As long as you are living and breathing, what are you becoming? How we answer that question determines virtually every aspect of daily life: every value, every action, every decision, and every relationship. Who or what are you becoming? We have only a certain number of years in life, and the death rate of human beings is 100%. Between now and then, what is the point of your existence? Why are you here? What are you supposed to get from this experience of living? And, what are you supposed to give to this experience? The world in which we live answers all of these questions in several conflicting ways, most of which have quietly, unknowingly seeped into our own views.
Although it may seem odd to bring this up as we enter into the Advent season, there is probably no better time to think about such weighty matters. The frantic pace of this season is a microcosm of the contemporary challenge to our humanity. We are bombarded with expectations of buying and wrapping gifts, decorating homes inside and out, attending parties and special events, and cooking and eating, and yet, for Christians at least, Advent is unrelated to almost all of these activities. Advent and Christmas are both the celebration of the redemption of authentic humanity begun in the Incarnation of God’s Son, as well as the time set aside by Christians historically to reorient our lives around Jesus Christ’s return, the full restoration of all creation – including our humanity. But in our culture, even we Christians tend to focus on long “to do” lists, carefully considered gift-giving lists, and the glitter and perfection of entertaining and being entertained. I am guilty of all of these, but none of these are the point of Advent and Christmas. That we allow these priorities to consume our time and energy, pushing aside the spiritual quest of waiting for God to arrive, reveals much about our understanding, or the lack thereof, of the meaning and purpose of human life.
So, in thinking about our humanity, we start at the beginning, for in our beginnings we will discover our endings. God breathed into the man the breath life, and he became a living being. If that statement is true, then whatever we are, it begins with God, ends with God, and is wholly dependent upon God for remaining alive. Pause and think about that. Do we live each day as the creature fully dependent upon the Creator for continued existence? Do we view creation as the handiwork of God, here only as a result of God’s love and generosity as He provides for us? If we are honest, the answer is no, practically speaking. While we cannot see God, we can see our own provisions for life. Though we almost certainly believe He is the Creator of all, we do not trust He is more dependable than we are. That leads to a very important issue for each of us: if we are not going to trust that all life comes from God, is dependent upon God, and is provided for by God, then in what shall we trust? That is the root question of the meaning of our humanity. In whom or what do we trust the most?
The community in which I live is recovering from natural disaster. Thinking of creation as God’s good gift is no small challenge in the face of creation’s tremendous power to destroy. Other communities are reeling from unspeakable acts of violence. Seeing the breath of God in human beings is hard in the midst of intentional murder and chaos. How are we to understand these events, whether of nature or human choice? Moreover, what are we supposed to think of our God when trauma and tragedy overwhelm us? What is our best response? All of these are tied to the meaning of human life.
What does it mean to be human? From where did we come, and to where are we headed? What is the meaning of life, and what is the purpose of human beings? What is the point of human existence? What are we? Why do we care? If the claim made in Genesis 2:7 is true, then the meaning and value of all life are dependent upon and defined by God alone, certainly not by the world, and it is critical to know the difference. In the words of that prominent contemporary philosopher, Toby Keith, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might end up someplace else.” Therein lies my concern for Christians today, that we don’t know who we are or where we are going, and have ended up someplace far from our God and far from our humanity.
If Advent is anything, it is the time for reordering our lives around God, for He has come to us and promised us He will return. We confess that belief every time we participate in Holy Communion. So, I ask you to travel with me along this journey as we explore the meaning of human life. Let the many questions posed here niggle in the back of your mind during the day and keep you awake a while at night. These are the most important questions you will ever ask, so struggle a bit with them. In the weeks ahead, we will find answers together, answers passed down through the ages revealed by the God Who came down to live among us, the same God Who formed human beings and set forth the meaning and purpose of human existence in the breath of life He gave.
In Christ –
© SFCM 2017