Being Human Before the Fall (II)

This is the 8th blog in this series which began with the blog Being and Becoming Human. The previous blog is Being Human Before the Fall.

In this blog we will consider five quotes which offer us an understanding of what God intended for the humans He created.  The first from scientist Leon Kass offers thoughts about what the book of Genesis says about what it is to be human.

“The first story [Genesis 1], addressing us as seekers of natural-cosmic knowledge, documents an eternal, intelligible, and hierarchic order of the world, in which we human beings stand at the top of the visible beings; the cosmos itself is not divine, for it has a higher, invisible, and partly mysterious source.  Man, not the sun, is godlike: sufficient proof is contained in our mental ability to grasp the cosmology offered in the text. . . . Cosmic knowledge cannot… teach us righteousness, not least because—as we learn from the first story—the cosmos is neither divine nor a source of such moral-political teaching.  And—as we will soon learn from the second story—our own native powers of mind and awareness, exercised on the world around us, are inadequate for discerning how to live happily or justly.”   (THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM: READING GENESISM, p 57)

Genesis clearly presents that the human is not an omniscient, omnipotent being.  We are a creation of such a God, but we ourselves are not God.  However, we are created in God’s image and likeness and thus of all the material beings created by God humans are somehow more favored by Him and given unique gifts and talents.  There are more powerful forces than us in the physical universe, but they each are also created and are not God.  We do not worship any created thing as God.  We have a free will and have to discern how to live in this world and to serve our creator.  We are gifted with many talents and given great potential to attain God’s plan, but we also can choose not to fulfill our role and can even rebel against our Creator.

 “In the early stories, the point was that the Creator loved the world he had made, and wanted to look after it in the best possible way.  To that end, he placed within his world a looking-after creature, a creature who would demonstrate to the creation who he, the Creator, really was, and who would set to work developing the creation and making it flourish and fulfill its purpose.  This looking-after creature (or rather, this family of creatures: the human race) would model and embody that interrelatedness, that mutual and fruitful knowing, trusting and loving, which was the Creator’s intention.  Relationship was part of the way in which we were meant to be fully human, not for our own sake, but as part of a much larger scheme of things.”   (NT Wright, SIMPLY CHRISTIAN, p 37) 

As already noted, we humans were created with a specific role to fulfill on earth.  Consciousness, free will and conscience are bestowed upon us by our Creator so that we can work with God in synergy to fulfill God’s plan.  Metropolitan Kallistos reminds us of the task bestowed upon us by our Creator.

“Our human vocation, however, is not only to contemplate the creation but also to act within it. We do not merely gaze with double vision; there is work for us to do. Adam in Paradise did not simply wander through the groves and avenues, admiring the view like an eighteenth-century English gentleman; the Creator set him in the garden of Eden “to till it and to look after it” (Gen. 2:15). How, then, shall we define our active human role within this sacred and sacramental universe?”   (Toward an Ecology of Transfiguration: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Environment, Nature, and Creation, Kindle  Loc. 2104-7)

Metropolitan Kallistos continues:

 “Our human task, as St. John Chrysostom (c. 407) expresses it, is to be syndesmos and gephyra, the “bond” and “bridge” of God’s creation.  Uniting earth and heaven, making earth heavenly and heaven earthly, we reveal the spirit-bearing potentialities of all material things, and we disclose and render manifest the divine presence at the heart of all creation. Such was the task assigned to the First Adam in Paradise, and such—after the Fall of the First Adam—is the task eventually fulfilled by the Second Adam Christ, through His incarnation, transfiguration, crucifixion, and resurrection.  How precisely do we human animals exercise this unifying and mediatorial role? The answer: through thankfulness, doxology, Eucharist, offering. This brings us to a fifth characteristic of the human animal: it is a Eucharistic animal, an animal capable of gratitude, endowed with the power to bless God for the creation, an animal that can offer the world back to the Creator in thanksgiving.   (Toward an Ecology of Transfiguration: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Environment, Nature, and Creation, Kindle  Loc. 2162-70)

 

The human’s place in creation is amazing – we are to be the bridge between the visible and invisible creation, between the physical and the spiritual, between the mortal and the immortal, and between all the created world and the eternally divine.

“According to St. Maximus, man’s primary mission was to unite Paradise with the rest of the earth, and thereby to enable all other created beings to participate in the conditions of Paradise.  Thus Adam was to enable all other creatures to participate in the order, harmony and peace of which his own nature benefitted because of its union with God, and this included the incorruptibility and immortality he received.  But once Adam turned away from God, nature was no longer subject to him.  Following Adam’s sin, disorder established itself between the beings of creation as it did within man himself.”   (Jean-Claude Larchet, THE THEOLOGY OF ILLNESS, p 31)

The human was created to do all that Israel was called to do and all that Jesus Christ fulfills.

 “When God gave our forefather Adam dominion over the earth and its fullness, that act was a prophecy of the universal subjection of creation to the reign of Christ.  Such is the true meaning of Psalm 8: ‘You have made Him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under His feet.’

Christ is no afterthought; He is the original meaning of humanity.  Christ is what God had in mind when He reached down and formed that first lump of mud into a man.  Again in the words of St. Nicholas Kavasilas: ‘It was towards Christ that man’s mind and desire were oriented.  We were given a mind that we might know Christ, and desire, that we might run to Him; and memory, that we might remember Him, because even at the time of creation it was He who was the archetype.’”  (Patrick Reardon, CHRIST IN THE PSALMS, p 16)

Jesus Christ is the perfect human, fulfilling what humanity was fully capable of being from the beginning.

Next:  Being Human Before the Fall (III)

Being Human Before the Fall

This is the 7th blog in this series which began with the blog Being and Becoming Human. The previous blog is God and Humanity (IV).

In the next several blogs we will look at comments from various writers about what the human was intended to be in God’s plan.  What did it mean to be human in the world before the Fall – the prelapsarian world of the Paradise which God the Gardener prepared for Adam and Eve and in which God placed them.  They lived in this world for only a short time before rebelling against God and being expelled from the Garden of Delight.  So, before the Fall, what was it to be human?  St. Gregory Nazianzus  (d. 391AD) says:

“Wishing to form a single creature from the two levels of creation – from both invisible and visible nature – the Creator Logos fashioned man.  Taking a body from the matter which he had previously created, and placing in it the breath of life that comes from himself, which scripture terms the intelligent soul and the image of God (cf.  Gen 1:27; 2:7), he formed man as a second universe, great in this littleness.  He set him on earth as a new kind of angel, adoring God with both aspects of his twofold being, overseer of the material creation and initiate into the spiritual creation; king of all upon earth, but subject to the King above; earthly yet heavenly; temporal yet immortal; visible yet spiritual; midway between majesty and lowliness; a single person, yet both spirit and flesh – spirit by grace, flesh because of his pride; spirit, that he may continue in existence and glorify his benefactor; flesh, that he may suffer, and through suffering may be reminded and chastened when he grows conceited because of his greatness; a living creature guided in this world by God’s providence, and then translated to another realm; and, as the culmination of the mystery, deified through his obedience to God.  So God in his splendor has bound together soul and body; and though he separates them at death, he will hereafter bind them together again in a yet more exalted way.”  (THE TIME OF THE SPIRIT,  p26)

The human is that being created by God to bring together the visible and invisible, the spiritual and the physical, the soul and the body, the divine and the created. The human  is thus the meeting point of all of all of these seemingly opposite aspects of existence – the very part of creation in whom God intended existence to meet and unite and to live in unity together. As we know and shall see, in the human,  God will also bring together the opposites of being mortal with immortality.    And while it has proven easy for us to be less than human, to dehumanize and become inhuman, God intended us to be fully human which is nothing less than being divinized, attaining theosis.

“’If humanity is called to life in order to share in the divine nature, it must have been suitably constituted for the purpose . . . It was essential that a certain kinship with the divine should have been mixed in human nature, so that this affinity should predispose it to seek what is related to it . . . That is why humanity was given life, intelligence, wisdom, and all the qualities worthy of the godhead, so that each one of them should cause it to desire what is akin to it.  And since eternity is inherent in the godhead, it was absolutely imperative that our nature should not lack it but should have in itself the principle of immortality.  By virtue of this inborn faculty it could always be drawn towards what is superior to it and retain the desire for eternity.

That is summed up in a sing phrase in the account of the creation of the world: ‘God created man in his own image’ (Genesis 1:27).”    (Olivier Clement, THE ROOTS OF CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM, p 80)

The Fathers often understood the human to be in some way a second cosmos created by God, but somehow a small cosmos with each human being a microcosm of the entirety of the universe.  Each human microcosm somehow contains all that one could find in the entire universe.  The human unites all of these aspects of the cosmos, but even more important can transcend them all in a way not possible for any other creature. This is also how it is possible for the very being and life of the God-man Jesus Christ to be able unite all humanity and all creation in Himself and thus bring about the salvation of the entire world.

“In our personal freedom we transcend the universe, not in order to abandon it but to contain it, to utter its meaning, to mediate grace to it. . . .  It is in this sense that the Fathers understand the second account of the creation (Genesis 2:4-25) which sees in Man the basic principle of the created world.  Only Man is quickened by the very breath of God, and without him the ‘plants’ could not grow, as if they were rooted in him.  And it is he who ‘names’ the animals, discerning their spiritual essences.  Only Man – who is priest as well as king – can bring out the secret sacramentality of the universe.  Adam was put in the world to ‘cultivate’ it, to perfect its beauty.  It was Vladimir Soloviev’s profound observation that the vocation of the human race is to become a collective cosmic Messiah and ‘subdue the earth’, that is to say transfigure it.  For the universe therefore, humanity is its hope of obtaining grace and being united to God.  Man is also its risk of failure and degeneration, because, if he turns away from God, he will see only the outward appearance of things and impose a false ‘name’ on them. . . . Humanity’s fate determines the fate of the cosmos.  The biblical revelation, understood symbolically, confronts us with an uncompromising anthropocentrism, which is not physical but spiritual.  Because Man is at once ‘microcosm and microtheos’, both a summing up of the universe and the image of God; and because God, in order to unite himself to the world, finally became a human being; humanity is the spiritual axis of all creation at every level, in every sphere.  . . . the heart of the saints is the ‘place of God’ and therefore the center of the world; better than that, the heart contains the world and so situates it in love.”   (Olivier Clement, ON HUMAN BEING, p 110-111)

Next:  Being Human Before the Fall (II)

God and Humanity (IV)

 “A person is always a gift from someone.” (Metropolitan John Zizoulas quoted in BEING BREAD, cover page)

Fetus6monthsThis is the 6th blog in this series which began with the blog Being and Becoming Human. The previous blog is Being and Becoming Human: An Excursus on the Holy Spirit.

In Orthodoxy we know to be human is to have a relationship with God.  No human being brings himself/herself into existence, but each is a creation of the eternal God.  Not only are we each part of God’s on-going, creative work, but we each are brought into being through the creative and procreative work of those humans who proceed us.  As the genealogy in St. Luke which traces the origins of Christ says,

“ the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.”    (Luke 3:38)

We believe everyone ultimately shares this ancestry.  Every person is a gift from someone who came before.  Adam is God’s gift, and each of us are also gifts of our parents as well as all of our ancestors, not to mention God the Creator of us all. (Note: each of us is a gift but also a stewardship, each generation shares a responsibility for the next generation.  No one theological metaphor is ever all encompassing in itself).   We do not bring ourselves into being, but are conceived by our ancestors.  We are a product of human synergy with God as well as humans fulfilling their God given vocation to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28).

“In other words, our consciousness is not the source of itself.  We come into being through dialogue with an ‘other.’  It is this encounter which always accompanies what seems like consciousness of ‘myself.’  The truth is ‘I AM only when THOU ART.’”    (Stephen Muse, BEING BREAD, p 119)

An infant learns there is a world outside of himself or herself, an existence beyond the self that we are somehow related to and dependent on and yet distinct from.  We learn about self, about “me” about “I” as we learn the contrast between myself and all else around me whether it pre-dates me or not.  We learn that there are those greater and lesser than “myself.”   I am not from the beginning of my existence equal to my parents, but am dependent on them.  They are older, wiser and more knowledgeable than I am.  I will learn the meaning of love from them and others who care for “me.”  True Love is always other directed and not focused on the self.   I experience in the world that some love me.  In this context, I experience God.  As is sung in the Akathist: “Glory to God for All Things”:

“I was born a weak, defenseless child,

but Your angel spread his wings over my cradle to defend me.

From birth until now, Your love has illumined my path,

and has wondrously guided me  towards the light of eternity.

From birth until now the generous gifts of Your Providence

have been marvelously showered upon me.

I give You thanks, with all who have come to know You…”

We encounter in every act of love, the God who is love, and we realize that the God who is love is always oriented toward us. We are ourselves to learn to love others through this experience of being loved.  Sadly, in the broken world of the Fall, we do not all or always experience such love.  Sometimes we are raised by narcissistic parents who may only occasional give us true love.  They see the world distortedly and imagine their children are there to serve their dysfunctional self-loving orientation and their destructive egocentrism.  Nevertheless, the ideal is that parents will love their children, and the Church endeavors to teach that morality to all.   Jesus is the self-emptying God who calls us to a life of self-denial and co-suffering love so that we can become God-like.

“When Job asks, ‘What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him?’ (Job 7:17), Holy Scripture characteristically gives the answer straight away: man is the target of God… The man whose heart has been targeted by God will come to stand before God and converse with Him on ‘equal’ terms as he intercedes for the salvation of the whole world, for God has given him this honour.  God desires this equality of communication with man; He does not see him as a thing which He has simply ‘brought into being’, but as His ‘image’, His equal, with whom He can communicate.”    (Archimandrite Zacharias, REMEMBER THY FIRST LOVE, p 23)

The God who is love created us to love one another.  When we approach God through the love we give to neighbor and to others, we fulfill the very purpose for which God created us.  We approach God in love for our neighbor when we intercede in prayer for our neighbor.  We pray for the other, this is love – being oriented not toward ourselves but toward the other and the good of the other.  This ability to love, is an honor God bestowed upon us humans. God has created us to be like Him, to be creatures of love (other oriented and caring for others rather than being narcissistic and self-centered and selfish).

“Through faith and love, through the prayer of faith and love, I can include both God and men in my heart.  How deep and vast is the human heart!  How great is man!”     (St. John of Kronstadt, MY LIFE IN CHRIST Part 2, p 9) 

“A conclusion, therefore, is that the soul is united in will with whatever it is joined and bound to as its master.  Either it has, therefore, the light of God in it and lives in that light with all of his powers, abounding with a restful light, or it is permeated by the darkness of sin, becoming a sharer in condemnation.”  (PSEUDO-MACARIUS, p 41)

God honored His human creatures with His great glory.  He made us capable of love.  God placed the greatest trust in humans to carry out His will and plan of salvation.  He empowered us to love as God loves.  This is why Orthodox Christianity has an anthropology which exalts humanity for we know humans are capable of doing the things God does and also wills for us.  When Christ performed healing miracles, he was not doing something beyond the capacity of humanity, but was doing exactly what humans were created by God to do.   When Christ performs these signs of the kingdom, He is simultaneously showing us what it means to be human: fully united to God!   Our anthropology is positive and not pessimistic about humanity despite the Fall and the power of sin.   Regardless of the news and world events, we believe the incarnation occurred because humanity is capable of being united to God, loving like God, and fulfilling God’s will at all times.  God wishes the salvation of every human and the damnation of none.

“Say to them, As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?”   (Ezekiel 33:11)

The Christian faith holds to this hopeful and merciful view of God and of humanity.

“Atheism obliges Christians to correct the flagrant faults of the past and to recognize man and God at the same time, to show in God a human epiphany.  Abraham’s faith made him confess that with God all things are possible.  The Christian’s faith implies that with man also all things are possible.”  (Paul Evdokimov,  AGES OF THE SPIRITUAL LIFE, p 46)

Humans can cooperate with God and do the things of God.  We do not encounter God only in the world to come, in heaven, in the future.  God’s life is offered to us now in this world.

“We can only meet God in the present moment.  This is an area where God chooses to place limits on His own power.  We choose whether or not to live in the present moment.  Because we can encounter only in that present moment, whenever we live in the past or in the future, we place ourselves beyond His reach.
We can only make decisions in the present moment.  We can only enjoy sights and sounds in the present moment.  We can only love or hate in the present moment.  The present moment is the interface between ourselves and the rest of the universe, and, more importantly, it is the only point of contact between the individual and God.  Of all the possible points of time, only the present moment is available for repentance.  The past cannot be taken back and remade.  The future remains forever outside our reach.”  (Meletios Webber, IN COMMUNION  Pentecost 2009 Issue 53, p 1)

The present moment, now is given to us as the time to encounter God and become united to Him.

“Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”  (2 Corinthians 6:2)

Next: Being Human Before the Fall

God and Humanity (III)

“But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”   (Isiah 64:80)

This is the 4th blog in this series which began with the blog Being and Becoming Human. The previous blog is God and Humanity (II).

God is the original iconographer and Adam is the original icon of God.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”   (Genesis 1:26-28)

God made living icons, not ones painted on wood – icons that have eyes and see, ears that hear, lungs that breathe, minds that consciously think.  God blessed those icons and as we have seen even bestowed His glory on the humans created in God’s own image and likeness.  Additionally, by breathing His breath, the Holy Spirit, into the dust of the earth when God created humans, God created us to be temples of God’s Spirit – we are to be the very place where God dwells on earth.  We were created capable of bearing God within ourselves.  Even more, as we have seen, we were created capable of being in union with God and in participating in the divine nature.   Scripture offers us many ideas about what it is to be fully human.  All of those ideas have us in relationship with our Creator.  We cannot be human without God.  And when God became incarnate as a Human, God fully reveals what a human is, what humanity is capable of, what humans were created to be – the very interface point between God and creation, between divinity and the physical world.

God also bestows upon humanity an ability to be creative as God is creative.  Humans are able to procreate beings in their own image and likeness as well.   God bestows upon the first human the gift to continue being an iconographer:

“When Adam had lived a hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.”  (Genesis 5:3)

Humans indeed  share in God’s image and can conform themselves to God’s likeness.  As we saw in the previous blog:

“The human vocation is to fulfil one’s humanity by becoming God through grace, that is to say by living to the full.  It is to make of human nature a glorious temple. . . .  ‘Every spiritual being is, by nature, a temple of God, created to receive into itself the glory of God.’ (Origen…)”  (Olivier Clement, THE ROOTS OF CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM, p 76)

We are icons of God, and God’s original temple.

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? … For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are.”  (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)

“But he [Jesus] spoke of the temple of his body.”  (John 2:21)

“The God of gods, and Lord of lords (compare Deuteronomy 10:17; Joshua 22:22) created our soul to be a dwelling place, a temple for Himself.  Let us, therefore, hold our soul in great respect, keeping it from becoming corrupted by inclining toward something lower than itself—meanwhile keeping our desires and hopes centered on this invisible presence of God with us.”    (Jack Sparks, VICTORY IN THE UNSEEN WARFARE, p 98)

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? …. So glorify God in your body.”   (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

“You are accustomed to look upon your body as upon your own inalienable property, but that is quite wrong, because your body is God’s edifice.”  (St. John of Kronstadt, MY LIFE IN CHRIST Part 1, p 25)

God created us humans for a purpose – to be His dwelling place on earth, to be His temple and his priests, to unite earth to heaven, to transfigure and transform all of creation into a communion with the Creator.  Even more we were created to be in union with the Holy Trinity, and through us all creation was to be united to God.

 “For man can be truly man—that is, the king of creation, the priest and minster of God’s creativity and initiative—only when he does not posit himself as the ‘owner’ of creation and submits himself—in  obedience and love – to its nature as the bride of God, in response and acceptance.  And woman ceases to be just a ‘female’ when, totally and unconditionally accepting the life of the Other as her own life, giving herself totally to the Other, she becomes the very expression, the very fruit, the very joy, the very beauty, the very gift of our response to God, the one whom, in the words of the Song, the king will bring into his chambers, saying: “thou are all fair, my love, there is no spot in thee’ (Ct. 4:7)  (Alexander Schmemann, FOR THE LIFE OF THE WORLD,  p 85)

Next:  Being and Becoming Human: An Excursus on the Holy Spirit

God and Humanity (II)

‘The human being is an animal who has received the vocation to become God.’ (Words of Basil of Caesarea, quoted by Gregory Nazianzus…) (Olivier Clement, THE ROOTS OF CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM, p 76)

This is the 3rd blog in this series which began with the blog Being and Becoming Human. The previous blog is God and Humanity (I).

Humans are the glory of God.  God delighted in creating a being in His own image with whom He could share His life and love.   Humanity was invited by God to share in the power of creative love in relating to the rest of the created universe.  Not only did God create a world in which His glory could abide, but God also brought into being a creature – the human – in whom His glory could dwell.   But God’s indwelling in the human was not even the whole story, for the Persons of the Holy Trinity created the human to be in union with Them.  Not only would God indwell in His human creation, more amazing and mysterious is that God created something with whom God could share the divine life in a living union.  God does not even withhold the divine life from us.   Humanity was created capable of union with divinity, with the potential to participate in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).  That is how glorious humans were in the plan of God for creation.   It was God’s intention all along to have humans living in the unity of the Trinity.    God never intended to withhold from us the divine life but wanted us to become everything that God is.  We were given that potential to perfect our humanity to become God by God’s own invitation and love.

“The human vocation is to fulfil one’s humanity by becoming God through grace, that is to say by living to the full.  It is to make of human nature a glorious temple. . . .  ‘Every spiritual being is, by nature, a temple of God, created to receive into itself the glory of God.’ (Origen…)”  (Olivier Clement, THE ROOTS OF CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM, p 76)

Humanity was created with each person capable of bearing the divine life and sharing in the divine life.  Each human is capable of being a temple of God, but even more than a temple for God planned that humans would share in the divine glory – not to a remain a temple somehow separate from God, but rather to be united with God and to share the full glory of God.   More powerfully stated: each human is made capable of “becoming God through grace.”   God wanted to completely share His divine life with us.

“We human persons, created in the ‘image and likeness’ (Gen 1:27) of this same Trinitarian God, are called to grow in authentic relationship with God, with our own selves, with other person, and with the creation.  With this bold affirmation, we recognize that we are not meant to be autonomous and self-centered individuals.  To live in this manner is, ultimately, contrary to our basic human nature that is rooted in the reality of the Triune God.  We are meant to be persons in relationship. . . . This means that genuine human life must be lived in relationships that are loving, nurturing and healing.”  (Kyriaki FitzGerald, PERSONS IN COMMUNION, p 4)

God as Trinity always is a relational being: Three divine persons united in love for one another who share the one nature.   God created us in His image in order for  us likewise to participate in this divine life and to become by grace what God is by nature.   As Andrew Louth so wonderfully writes about the Trinitarian God:     “in the Trinity we see that neither one nor three are ultimate: at the very heart of reality, or the source of reality, there is both one and three, together.”  (Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology, Kindle Loc. 1775)   It is this very Trinitarian divine life that God shares with us humans and makes possible for us to experience.

“The total human person is created to progress in union with God-Trinity by living fully.  We are not persons who have a body or who possess a soul or have a spirit.  Rather we are person who are ‘embodied beings’ and ‘ensouled beings’ and ‘enspirited’ being in vital interpersonal relationship on the various integrated levels of human existence with the indwelling Trinity.  The early Fathers conceived ‘nature’ as the total being, created as body and soul with the potential to respond through the Holy Spirit to become a spirited being in living consciously in the likeness of Christ.  All this is embraced by the one general word physis (nature).  Physis is a broader term than our term ‘nature.’ It embraces not only the nature of a human person as he or she comes from the hand of God, but it also looks toward its completion and is defined according to its fulfillment rather than the beginning stage.

Thus physis is everything that God puts into a human being, whether it is the beginning stage or the final one, and it also includes that which comes to a person after he or she is baptized and begins to lead a virtuous life.”  (George Maloney, GOLD, FRANKINCNESE AND MYRRH, p 40)

All of this language is heavily theological, but it reflects the depth and riches of what God wanted us humans to be.   Unfortunately, sometimes we practice a complete reductionism in our understanding of and vision of what it is to be human.  We so want to uphold the value of each person as an individual that we sacrifice the relational nature of humanity.  Individualism becomes alienation and autonomy, an isolation from all other human beings as well as from the rest of creation and from the Creator.   We lose sight of how important the love shared by the Three Persons of the Trinity is for our own ability to be fully human.  Individualism pushed to an extreme denies the value and power of love for others – the very way in which each human shares in the divine life.

“To speak of the sanctity or sacredness of human life is also to speak of ‘personhood.’  One is truly a person only insofar as one reflects the ‘being-in-communion’ of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity.  This is a much misunderstood concept in present-day America, where the ‘person’ has been confused with the ‘individual.’  Individual characteristics distinguish us from one another, whereas authentic personhood unites us in a bond of communion with each other and with God.  We can truly claim to be persons only insofar as we embody and communicate to others the beauty, truth and love that unite the three Persons—Father, Son and Spirit—in an eternal tri-unity.  The Trinitarian God is thus the model, as well as the source and ultimate end, of all that is authentically personal in human experience.”  (John Breck, THE SACRED GIFT OF LIFE, p 8)

God created us to be united to divinity, to share the divine life with the Persons of the Trinity, to in fact become God.  But when we make individualism the greatest good at the expense of denying our relational character, we lose our humanity.   We can never become God if we do not know how to be human as God created us to be.   As. St. Irenaeus of Lyons (d.  202AD) writes:

“’How could you be God when you have not yet become human?”   (THE ROOTS OF CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM, p 87)

Becoming human is a spiritual pursuit.  It is recognizing the divine image in our selves and in our neighbors and then striving to realize the likeness of God through actively loving God and neighbor in our daily lives.  The image of God in us is not limited to our individual selves but is also found in our collective, relational human nature which all humanity shares.

Next:  God and Humanity (III)

God and Humanity (I)

“For the glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God.”   (St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies and Fragments, Kindle Loc. 6111)

“Rather than seeing human life as governed by an injunction to glorify God, for Irenaeus it is God who seeks to glorify man, bringing him to share ever more fully in his own glory.  It is this desire of God that prompted his initial creation of man…”    (John Behr, ASCETICISM AND ANTHROPOLOGY IN IRENAEUS AND CLEMENT, p 56-57)

This is the 2nd blog in this series which began with the 1st blog Being and Becoming Human.

Perhaps the greatest of enduring mysteries is that God glorifies human beings and rejoices in humanity glorified.   God’s desire to share His glory with a being of His own creation is prompted by the very nature of God:  the Triune God is love (1 John 4:8, 16).  Love by nature is creative thus life-giving, and so the Father, Son and Holy Spirit pour forth their glory into a being whom they create in their image, to share their life and nature (2 Peter 1:4).

“We are to think of the Church as many embraced by oneness, and oneness expressed in the many: both poles – the one and the many – are important, irreducible. It is in this sense, I think, that the doctrine of the Trinity is relevant to our understanding of Christian community, or communion. Not that the Trinity is some kind of model that we should try to emulate – that would be to think in too anthropomorphic terms, though such an idea has been very popular in the last few decades, not least among Orthodox – but rather that in the Trinity we see that neither one nor three are ultimate: at the very heart of reality, or the source of reality, there is both one and three, together. So in human community, as it is meant to be, neither the one nor the many is ultimate; the many does not yield before the one, as if what mattered was the one community and the many has to be compressed into it (by some unitary authority, say), nor is the one simply to be thought of as some kind of harmony among the many, as if it were the individuals who were important and their harmony secondary. Another way of putting this is to say that we find our own identity as persons in the togetherness we share with others, and that unity is an expression of something that we genuinely hold in common.”  (Andrew Louth, Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology, Kindle Loc. 1770-79)

We humans are beings created in God’s image (= icon) and likeness (an idea we will explore more in future blogs in this series) and thus always have a natural connection to our Creator.  We are most human when we see the image of God in one another and when we look to that image to find the prototype of that image.  We are most human when we seek out God who is love and join in sharing the life and unity of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity.  We thus find our true humanity in God but also in Christian community. In community we experience the fullness of humanity as being relational to other humans and to creation itself. Pursuing a spiritual life means to become more fully human: to live out our lives in love with others.

“Whatever knowledge we may gain about ourselves through the scientific examination of the untold wonders of our minds and bodies and of the unfathomable depths of our psyche, it will not explain sufficiently or exhaust fully the mystery of who we are as nature and as person because we are more than the sum of our knowledge.  We have been made for something greater than the precarious existence of this world; for something more than conventional morality; and for something beyond the dread finality of death.   We long deeply for an encounter with the holy, for an experience of the eternal, for personal union with our Creator.  The grandeur of the human being lies not in one’s magnificent physical and intellectual powers but in the conscious longing for and pursuit of an intimate personal relationship with the living God.  Our hearts, as St. Augustine observed, remain restless until they rest in the presence of God.  . . .  The grandeur of man, therefore, lies in his God-given desire to exceed, to transcend the limitations of his creatureliness, and to acquire absolute freedom – not simply for himself but for the benefit of all creation – in his communion with the eternal God who made him in his image and likeness.”    (Alkiviadis Calivas, ASPECTS OF ORTHODOX WORSHIP, pp 23-24, 25)

God imprints on each person the divine image which makes it possible for us through creatures to aspire to something beyond creation, to divinity.   We approach our Creator with awe for God has made His invisible, incomprehensible, indescribable and ineffable eternal nature accessible to us creatures who exist in space and time and who rely upon our sight, hearing, touch and smell to know all that exists.  Worship becomes that forum in which the physical world AND our physical senses are transformed; the physical world being the way in which we can know God and communicate with Him and our senses become capable of leading us to an experience of the divine.

“For this is the glory of man, to continue and remain permanently in God’s service.” (St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies and Fragments, Kindle Loc. 5722-23)

God has made it possible for us to know and love Him through the service of the Liturgy.

“Communion with God and neighbor begins with our willingness to see and accept the truth that an authentic human being is above all a worshipping being who feels the irresistible urge to converse with the Author of life, who has love him first.”  (Alkiviadis Calivas, ASPECTS OF ORTHODOX WORSHIP, p 4)

Liturgical worship – worshipping in community – is the way in which we can be fully human and live that life of glory which God has bestowed upon us.

“… our first duty as human beings is to honor and venerate the one true God, and that without the worship of God, society disintegrates into an amoral aggregate of competing, self-centered interests destructive of the commonweal.”   (Robert Wilken,  REMEMBERING THE CHRISTIAN PAST,  p 51)

Liturgy is where we begin to experience the divine life as love in relationship with God, with neighbor, with the entirety of creation.  And what we begin to experience in liturgy is to become the very way we live in the world and approach the rest of the created order and our fellow human beings.

“A person’s glory is orthodox faith, zeal as God wishes, love, gentleness, simplicity, devotion in prayer, generosity in almsgiving, chastity, modesty and all the other aspects of virtue.”    (St. John Chrysostom, OLD TESTAMENT HOMILIES  Vol 3, pp 107)

Next:  God and Humanity (II)

Biological Determinism (III)

This is the 11th blog in this series which is reflecting on E.O. Wilson’s book The Social Conquest of Earth.  The first blog in the series is  “What Does It Mean to be Human?” and the previous blog is Biological Determinism (II).

Eve & Adam in Paradise

There certainly is a debate among humans as a whole and among Christians themselves as to whether it is more proper to speak of humans as naturally inclined to evil or naturally attracted to the godly.   The Western Christian tradition has tended since the time of St. Augustine to assume the natural state of humans is the fallen state or our inclination away from God from which we need to be saved.  The Eastern Christian tradition tends toward speaking about the original condition of humanity before the Fall as the humans natural state, with sin being part of the world of the Fall but not what is natural to humans.   St. Maximos the Confessor is said to have believed that we are naturally inclined toward the good and we have to consciously choose or will ourselves to do evil.

Wilson writes in his book about his take as an evolutionary biologist:

“In summary, the human condition is an endemic turmoil rooted in the evolution processes that created us. The worst in our nature coexists with the best, and so it will ever be. To scrub it out, if such were possible, would make us less than human.”   (Kindle  Loc. 960-62)

Here we see Wilson expressing his belief in biological determinism.  Humans cannot arise above their genetic history for that history is ingrained in our genes and has become part of who we are.  Other scientists have taken Wilson to task for this stubborn belief in biological determinism which denies that the rise in intelligence and consciousness and free will has had any impact on humanity.   For example, John Hogan, writing in the scientific magazine  DISCOVER, War, What is it Good For? , rejects the biological deterministic notion of Wilson that humans are predestined to go to war.  Hogan totally acknowledges the brilliance of Wilson in biological studies, but rebukes Wilson for perpetuating “the erroneous- and pernicious- idea that war is ‘humanity’s hereditary curse.’”  Hogan is one scientist among many that do believe human evolution has led humans to a level where they are no longer passive victims of their own heredity, but rather who have because of consciousness begun to shape their own evolution.

While some scientists may only lately be coming to the realization that humans can transcend their own evolutionary history, such a belief has been core to theistic thinking for thousands of years.  The entire basis of Torah, Christian spiritual Tradition and the Quran is that humans can choose to obey divine commands that go against their genetic tendencies.  Humans can choose to love and obey God and love neighbor even when their impulses lead them in a different direction.  Compassion, selfishness, altruism, forgiveness, self sacrifice and love all are ways in which humanity can choose to behave differently than their biology may be telling them.  Humans can transcend their animal nature.

Consider also the article Beyond the Brain by Tanya Marie Luhrmann in the Summer 2012 WILSON QUARTERLY.   Luhrmann  claims medical science has learned in dealing with psychiatric disorders that ideas based in biological determinism simply don’t work in the treatment of many psychiatric patients.  She writes:

“It is now clear that the simple biomedical approach to serious psychiatric illnesses has failed in turn. At least, the bold dream that these maladies would be understood as brain disorders with clearly identifiable genetic causes and clear, targeted pharmacological interventions (what some researchers call the bio-bio-bio model, for brain lesion, genetic cause, and pharmacological cure) has faded into the mist.   …

All this—the disenchantment with the new-generation antipsychotics, the failure to find a clear genetic cause, the discovery of social causation in schizophrenia, the increasing dismay at the comparatively poor outcomes from treatment in our own health care system—has produced a backlash against the simple biomedical approach. Increasingly, treatment for schizophrenia presumes that something social is involved in its cause and ought to be involved in its cure.  …

The pushback against purely biomedical treatment is also occurring with other psychiatric illnesses. The confident hope that new-generation antidepressants would cure depression—those new miracle drugs such as Prozac and Zoloft that made people thinner, sharper, and “better than well,” in psychiatrist Peter D. Kramer’s apt phrase—dimmed when the public learned that teenagers committed suicide more often while taking them. No simple genetic cause for depression has emerged. There is clearly social causation in the disorder, and it too looks different in different cultures, shaped by particular causes, social settings, and methods of treatment. In the standard psychiatric textbook, Harold I. Kaplan and Benjamin J. Sadock’s Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, depression is now mapped out with a host of factors, some of them biological, many of them not, and the recommended treatment includes psychotherapy.

In part, this backlash against the bio-bio-bio model reflects the sophisticated insight of an emerging understanding of the body—epigenetics—in which genes themselves respond to an individual’s social context.

We are deeply social creatures. Our bodies constrain us, but our social interactions make us who we are. The new more socially complex approach to human suffering simply takes that fact seriously again.”

Thus, while Wilson believes evolutionary biology is proving the genetic basis for every aspect of human behavior, other scientists are disproving these very ideas.

Whatever evolution can teach us about human history, it cannot answer the question of what it is to be human.  Theists would say this is true because the meaning of being human and the forces which shape us are found in God not in our genes which are simply the physical means by which the divine plan is being worked out in the world of the Fall.

Next:  Evolution and the Ethical Human

Being Human: The Relationship between Mind and Brain (II)

This is the 6th Blog in this series which began with Science and the Church:  Are the Facts In?  The previous blog is Being Human: The Relationship between Mind and Brain.  We are now considering some of the ideas and claims of James Le Fanu (Why Us?: How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves) that deal with the human brain and the ways in which scientific materialism in and of themselves cannot account for what it means to be human and how the brain in fact works.

Le Fanu postulates that in fact thoughts are non-material and yet have physical effects.   This goes against the grain of those scientists who are committed to atheistic materialism and who deny that the non-material can have any effect on the world and thus must deny free will which is a non-material force.

“Science holds that nothing can happen that is not governed by the natural laws of material causation. Thoughts are non-material, therefore by definition they can’t cause anything to happen. Hence, my supposition that I am free to choose one course of action over another must be an illusion generated by the physical activity of the brain to create the impression that it is my non-material ‘self, it is ‘I’, who is making the decision.”   (Kindle  Loc. 3654-57)

John 15:16

Some scientists do claim that there is no such thing as free will since all thoughts and emotions are the direct result of chemical processes in the human brain or other organs.   Le Fanu does not accept this assertion and upholds a notion that thinking is real, cannot be completely explained by chemical/electrical impulses in the brain and that these non-material thoughts do in fact effect not only ourselves but the rest of the world as well.

“But to accept the supposition that non-material thoughts (the desire to cross the road) can have physical effects (causing the legs to move) would be to introduce into our understanding of the natural world some non-material force that stands outside, and is not governed by, the principles of lawful material causation. This dilemma can be resolved only in materialist terms by supposing that the decision (for example) when to cross the road is not freely taken, but is determined by the electrical activity of our brain.”   (Kindle Loc. 3014-17)

Such determinism has been part of human thinking for centuries.  It is not the thinking in Orthodox tradition however which does accept the notion of free will.  Some Christians, especially Calvinists, completely believe in predestination – God determines everything in the universe.  Atheistic scientists reject God and accept notions of total determinism –  human thought is merely the product of electrical impulses running through the brain cells and thus follows the materialistic law of cause and effect.   Thinking is thus totally materialistically caused and thus there is no such thing as free will.  Orthodoxy has traditionally rejected such determinism and has accepted the notion that we do have the ability to make choices, for good and for ill.  There really is a thing called the “self” and the self makes real choices which shape the future.  [It is interesting to note that Einstein was a determinist as well and this is why he had such great problems with quantum mechanics which allow for uncertainty and indeterminism.]

Le Fanu says that despite the denial of a few prominent scientists the evidence shows that non-material processes (thinking for example) do have an effect in the world.   Everything does not follow a perfect cause and effect pattern set off by random events.   Rather, humans are able to make choices and influence their future.   A purely materialistically based approach to humanity does not take into full account what it is to be human.  Le Fanu says there is an existing mystery involving humanity, and conscious awareness and thought is part of that mystery and is as real as any physical property.

“Collectively the findings of these studies strongly support the view that the subjective nature of mental processes (e.g. thoughts, feelings, beliefs) significantly influence the various levels of brain functioning. Beliefs and expectations can markedly modulate neurophysiological and neurochemical activity in brain regions involved in perception, movement, pain and various aspects of emotional process.”   (Kindle  Loc. 3715-18)  

The non-material, so scientific studies have shown, thus exists and is able to influence the material world.  This is a basic assumption of believers and Le Fanu thinks the scientific evidence proves the point.  Secular scientists reduce being human to material impulses that ultimately have no true meaning.   We simply do what our bodies’ chemistry and electronic impulses tell us to do.  While that view is held by some scientists it is not the thinking of most theistic Christians who accept free will.

“‘You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.’”  (Kindle Loc. 3027-28)

While the above sentence might appear to be true to those who cannot accept the role of a Creator God, for believers there is something backwards in the thinking.  “I” am not created by cellular electrical impulses, rather the behavior of the nerve cells and molecules is “me” working out my will through the cells and electrical impulses.  “I” am willing my material body to behave in a certain way.   The “self” is inseparably linked to its material brain.  Both brain and mind emerge together and in their interconnectivity the self is born.   We do not have in this world a “self” apart from our corporeal existence.  The self which is non-material is based in the very material nature of the brain and the non-material self effects the brain, allowing us to do things, seeing for example.  The eye works in a most mysterious way to allow us to see colors.

 “… yet the particles of light impacting on the retina are colourless, just as the waves of sound impacting on the eardrum are silent, and scent molecules have no smell. They are all invisible, weightless, subatomic particles of matter travelling through space. It is the brain that impresses the colours, sounds and smells upon them. ‘For the [light] rays, to speak properly, are not coloured,’ wrote the great Isaac Newton.”  (Kindle Loc. 3358-61)     

The brain is interpreting the impulses the body receives.  The brain which mysteriously and even organically is linked with the self imposes meaning on the material and immaterial worlds.

“The first mystery is how the fundamentally similar neuronal circuits in Rachel Carson’s brain conjure from the barrage of colourless photons and soundless pressure waves impinging on her senses that vividly unique and unified sensation of that ‘wild night all around us’…”  (Kindle Loc. 3783-85)

Thus our brains, quite material in their existence open up to us to perceive, remember and organize both the physical and non-materials experiences we have in the world.  Le Fanu sees this as part of the great mystery which is ourselves.  We discover through science that we are not merely physical beings, but have a true non-material dimension which introduces into our study of human beings notions of the self, the soul, the mind, the heart.

Next:  The Mystery of Ourselves: A conclusion

DNA: A Written Record of God’s Hand Writing

“Our DNA, the instruction book of human creation, may well come to rival religious scripture as the keeper of the truth.”   (James Watson, DNA: THE SECRET OF LIFE)

One of the extraordinary facts of life is that our DNA, which encodes all of the genetic information for human reproduction, is both a chemical process and a record of the history of humanity.  For the secular scientist, DNA opens doors into the past evolution of humanity.  For the believer in God, DNA does serve as another kind of scripture – for in that DNA is recorded what God has been working out with humanity for the continuation of the human race as well as for the salvation of the world.

Dr. Frances Collins, former head of the Human Genome Project and current director of the National Institutes for Health, is also a believer in God.  Despite his being a notable and accomplished scientist, he has been criticized by some non-believers because he does not shy away from affirming his faith in God.  In Collins book, THE LANGUAGE OF GOD, he notes that when the Human Genome Project finally sequenced the DNA of humans, there was a tremendous sense of scientific accomplishment in unlocking one of the hidden truths of nature.   President Bill Clinton said of the accomplishment:

“Today, we are learning the language in which God created life.  We are gaining ever more awe for the complexity, the beauty, and the wonder of God’s most divine and sacred gift.”

Collins himself characterized the scientific accomplishment in this way:

“It’s a happy day for the world.  It is humbling for me, and awe-inspiring, to realize that we have caught the first glimpse of our own instruction book, previously known only to God.”

That nature itself can be read as another text speaking to us about God is an ancient idea.   St. Paul writes:

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. (Romans 1:19-20)

Evangelist Mark

Clearly visible in the created world is the characteristics of the Creator.  The science of DNA however has unlocked some of the hidden revelation of God and brought this knowledge to the light.   Recorded in the DNA is both the genetic code for reproducing humans and a history of humankind.    The unveiling of the genetic code gives us further insight into what God has been working out for humanity.   This genetic “scripture” has to be interpreted just as does the Bible.  It opens to us a mystery and yet simultaneously reveals to us that what it means to be human is contained in mystery and only partly revealed in science.

See also my blog –  DNA: The Secret of Life

Of Brains and Brawn: Human Evolution

Carl Zimmer writing in the 8 July 2011 DISCOVER science magazine notes that in 1758 Carolus Linnaeus in creating his taxonomy labeled humans, “Homo sapiens” which is Latin for “wise man.”  Zimmer says one might question how wise humans are but far less questionable would have been to call us Homo megalencephalus – “man with a giant brain” since compared to the body size of other animals, our brains are huge.   On the other hand, humans have far less guts/intestines than one would expect when compared to the weights of other primates.  Studies also indicate that the human and genetic codes between chimps and humans differ in that the human genetic code led to the development of “molecular pumps” that funneled sugar to our brains, whereas in chimps the sugar is more funneled to muscle.  So even if you are not sure about certain people you meet, studies would say humans tend to have more brain while chimps more brawn.

According to Zimmer an amazing 25% of the calories we eat each day are needed to fuel the brain’s functioning.  So by thinking more could we lose weight?  He doesn’t say, and so far it isn’t working for me, but I’ll keep thinking a lot about dieting and see if it helps burn calories.

The size of the human brain and the amount of calories it consumes may also be a reason not to compare humans to rats or mice in certain scientific studies.  Such studies show that these animals when kept on a diet that includes periods of too few calories tend to live longer.  It is not known whether a similar idea applies to humans, but it could be that such a diet would end up starving the human brain and not prolonging human life.

Evolutionary science theorizes that it was humans changed from eating “lower-energy diets of barks and leaves to higher-energy cuisine of seeds, tubers and meat” which fueled the growth of the brain.  The brain demands a lot of energy to grow, and in animals more reliant on their muscle than their brains to survive, there is little chance for the energy to be funneled to the brain.  This may explain why though the large brain has helped Homo sapiens adapt so well to this planet, the large brain has remained a rarity in the animal world.  The flight or fight pattern of survival may draw too much energy to the muscles to allow the brain to grow.

Now, of course, there is the issue if we have all this brain, can we use it to further reduce the need for fight or flight survival and help all humans to further develop their potential?

We do not have to compete in order to survive on planet earth.  We can cooperate with one another to solve problems and to provide for the needs of our fellow humans.