There is an upcoming exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History which seems very interesting to me: Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code. But what first caught my eye was an ad for the exhibit which used this catchphrase:
Our future is DNA.
I’m used to encountering the claim that our DNA is a recorded history of the evolution of humankind. To study the human genome is to peer into our past and to understand the evolutionary developments which have occurred. Theistic scientists might claim that DNA is another Scripture in which what God has been doing through the human race has been genetically recorded and only now are we beginning to interpret that history of God active in creation.
DNA however is not merely about past history, for it also tells us something about where humans are headed and what genetically is changing and becoming part of the human race. And no doubt science’s knowledge of DNA is causing some to consider what changes in DNA humans can or should bring about in their own evolution. Human consciousness as some scientists now are admitting means humans are no longer passive, predetermined ‘victims’ of evolution. Rather now humans can make choices which affect our DNA and thus our evolution. (Much medical science in preserving life does this all the time – populations of diseased people who would have died young, now live into reproductive ages and thus continue their genetic ‘problems’ into future generations). Albert Einstein said science tells us only what we can do not what we ought to do (that he said is for religion to determine).
The thought that DNA actually orients us toward the future made me think about how reading any of God’s scriptures – bible, nature, DNA – really always points us to the future. The Fathers read the Old Testament as pointing forward in time to Christ, and the New Testament as orienting us to the eschaton - that life in the world to come. To read the bible only to learn past history, is to miss the significant purpose and message of the scripture. Just like thinking that DNA is only a record of the past rather than an insight into the future of humankind is also to blind oneself to what is recorded and to what it leads us. Fr. John Behr writing about St. Irenaeus (d. 202AD) helps us understand this future orientation for reading God’s word:
“We have seen how, for Irenaeus, God’s self-manifestation and self-communication refers exclusively to the Incarnation. The Old Testament theophanies were prophetic, proleptic events, always referring to the Incarnation, preparing the human race for the reception of this event and training them to follow God. Likewise, in the Old Testament, the human race was gradually being accustomed to bear the Spirit, who, in the economy of the Incarnation, at the Baptism, was the unction with which the Father anointed Jesus to be the Christ, so that the Spirit himself might also ‘with him [Christ] become accustomed to dwell in the human race and to rest in men and to reside in the handiwork of God’. It is only in the eschatological event, ‘at the end of time’, that God fully reveals himself in Christ and fully communicates his Spirit, and that the full perfection of man is manifested. Thus, the truth of man is eschatological, not protological [emphasis mine, not in the text]: it lies hidden with Christ in God (cf. col.3:3).” (John Behr, ASCETICISM AND ANTHROPLOGOY IN IRENAEUS AND CLEMENT, p 57)
Those Christians who believe the revelation of what it means to be human is found in Genesis 1-3 are looking in the wrong direction: the truth of man is eschatological, not protological. Like the study of DNA which is opening possibilities in the future and showing us where we are headed as a species, so too it is the future, the eschaton, not the past which reveals to us the most about humanity, what it is to be human, and what it means to be human.
It is in the eschaton – that glorious future of humankind and creation – that we come to understand what it means to be human, and what a human being fully is. There we will know Christ fully and so understand ourselves.