This is the 24th blog in this series which began with the blog Being and Becoming Human. The previous blog is Humans as Relational and Communal Beings (II). As previously mentioned these quotes were not gathered as research to answer one question or to take one point of view. These quotes are brought together because when I read them over the past couple decades they informed my understanding of what it is to be human. The meaning of being human is a complex and many layered topic, rich in depth because it extends from the dirt of the earth into the eternal life of the Holy Trinity.
“I am a man – and the grace, the truth and the righteousness of God are continually working within me. . . . But the earth is full of men like me. Therefore, in them also God manifest His mercy, truth and righteousness, as in myself.” (St. John of Kronstadt, MY LIFE IN CHRIST Part 1, p 35)
Orthodoxy continues to affirm that all humans share a common nature, a common history and even a common end when all will find themselves in the presence of our Creator. This truth is supposed to help us love one another, to feel empathy and compassion for our fellow human beings. It is supposed to help us understand all our fellow humans on the planet are loved by God and are offered eternal life by our Savior – even those who openly deny God or refuse His love.
“’Person’ implies divine-human communion and human brotherhood in the Spirit. Man is to be defined also by his relationship with his neighbor. The fall, sin, atomizes, separates, splits, divides: the redemption and the act of the Spirit personify, unify and only thus regenerate. … Man is what he is when he shares in the ecclesial communion, because there he becomes more than the sinful man he was before. Therefore one should never forget his life as a member of the Church, as a charismatic being in the Spirit.” (A.J. Philippou, THE ORTHODOX ETHOS, pp 57-58)
God’s love for all is not diminished by the fact that some reject God’s love and continue to pursue a life even in opposition to God’s love. In the Church, we experience God’s regenerative love and our opportunity to become fully human through love, forgiveness and repentance. Even we who are members of the Body of Christ wrestle with how to live as witnessed to God’s love, specifically because we continue to reside in the world of the Fall.
“God did not create man for hatred and self-love, and the consciousness of the sharp separateness from each other, which exists in each of us, is an abnormal consciousness, born of sin. People free themselves from it according to the measure that they free themselves from self-love, and then the self-loving, self-assertive ‘I’ pales in their consciousness, and is replaced by another, being filled with love and compassion – the consciousness of ‘we’. . . . Nevertheless, for all our human separateness, we cannot but notice in ourselves the manifestations of the collective common human will; a will which is not of me, but in me, which I renounce only partially, and even then only with difficulty and struggle. This will is given to me from without and yet, at the same time, it is mine. This is, above all, what the common human nature is. In this we must place, first of all, our conscience, which was given to us, and which almost no one can resist completely; then, our direct involvement and compassion with our neighbors, our parental and filial affections, and much else. Among these attributes are also found evil ones, desires seemingly imposed upon us from without: self-love, vindictiveness, lusts, and so on. This is a manifestation of our fallen nature, against which it is possible and necessary to struggle. And so the nature of all people is one: it is an impersonal but powerful will which every human person is compelled to take it into account, no matter in what direction the personal free will is turned; toward good or toward evil.” (Antony Khrapovitsky, THE MORAL IDEA OF THE MAIN DOGMAS OF THE FAITH, pp 169-170)
Our struggle is a spiritual struggle which is waged in our hearts and souls and minds. Thus our technological advances cannot resolve all of the issues and problems confronting humanity. We need to engage in the spiritual life.
“Everyone now realizes that human beings need not only bread but friendship and beauty, not only abundance but restraint, not only the power of machines but a renewed respect for God’s creation, not only education of the mind but a greater capacity for celebration. The rampant technological revolution will be mastered only if we can incorporate in it the non-technical values and dimensions of humanity. . . . So Christian witness today must be directed towards the divine-humanism that urban society needs. A religion that set God against humanity and failed to recognize that ‘royal’ character of creativity (since it comes from the Holy Spirit) fell victim to the purifying zeal of the great reductionists and the huge advances in our understanding of human nature.” (Olivier Clement, ON HUMAN BEING, p 106)
However, the challenges facing Christians is not just to learn how to navigate in a technological world which relies on human ingenuity to “save” humankind. We are confronted by philosophies opposed to Christianity. The Gospel is discredited by some human philosophies which not only deny that humans have a spiritual component, but actively oppose spirituality of any kind claiming that nothing exists beyond the material universe.
“Curiously, Richard Dawkins strongly emphasizes that the practice of bringing up children to have religious beliefs is iniquitous and best labeled ‘indoctrination.’ Characteristic is this lament: ‘I think we should all wince when we hear a small child being labeled as belonging to some particular religion or another. Small children are too young to decide their views on the origins of the cosmos, of life and of morals. The very sound of the phrase “Christian child” or “Muslim child” should grate like fingernails on a blackboard.’ Dawkins appears to combine an excessively intellectualized conception of religious faith with a distinctly underdeveloped sense of the social nature of religious knowledge, identity, and practice. In any case, it is hardly unreasonable for adults to seek to form children in patterns of thinking and living that they believe to be good—as Dawkins himself has no doubt done.” (R. W. L. Moberly , Old Testament Theology: Reading the Hebrew Bible as Christian Scripture , Kindle Loc. 845-53)
Humans are social creatures, designed to live in relationship with one another and with God. When we declare that humanity is the highest power in the universe, we also justify our choices, whatever they may be, including our modern tendency for extreme individualism, alienation and separation. If there is no God, everything becomes permissible. Each human sees his/her self as the power he/she must worship and serve. This egotistical thinking leads to human sin because one concludes one has no obligation to care about any others. Contrary to this thinking, Christianity teaches love for one another, the ability to seek out something more and greater than the self, and to create a social network on earth based not on narcissism and self-love, but based in God, who is love, who teaches us to love others. We deny our self-centeredness; we deny sin in order to become fully human loving our fellow human beings and loving our Creator as well. The Lord Jesus taught: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).
“Put simply, the day we die to sin is the day we rejoin the human race. Then, I no longer care if I die for the people; on the contrary, I am vowed to their fate, and so their life and death is my life and death. It might be added that this is the meaning of becoming an adult: thus it is also pointing to the child who must die if that adult is ever to live. The preoccupation with our childhood difficulties causes us to think adult life should be the fixing of these, to permit our individual flowering. This causes us to forget our vow to the people. An adult, especially spiritually, is someone upon whom others can rely.” (Stephen Muse, RAISING LAZARUS, p 183)
Ultimately this perfect love we exhibit toward one another does not result in the disappearance of our self. Denying self-love and embracing love for others makes us more fully human, a value that last in God in eternity.
“But what is it to be human? What is the business of life? Our primary business in life is not business, or construction work, or sales, or teaching, or even motherhood, but becoming a complete human being. . . . individuals are infinitely more important than civilizations because they are immortal. When all civilizations are dead, when even the stars blink our billions of years from now, every one of us will still exist, in eternal joy or eternal misery. And that is the only issue that matters infinitely: Quo vadis?” (Peter Kreeft, BACK TO VIRTUE, pp 15-16)