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Painted Black

By Ben Swift
“When evil justifies itself by posturing as morality, God becomes the devil and the devil, God. That exchange makes one impervious to reason.” (Zacharias)
It would be hard to believe that anyone could deny the fact that evil has a real presence in this world. One doesn’t have to travel far through the pages of history to find extraordinarily cruel cases of evil. Take communist Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot, for example. In his time of political leadership an estimated 1.5 to 2 million Cambodians died of starvation, execution, disease or exhaustion. Evil however is at its most obvious in cases like these but disturbingly, it can be found lurking in the hearts of every human being; the inherited seed of our most ancient ancestors.

The Rolling Stones song, ‘Paint It Black’, reflectively portrays the darker side of the human heart, continually being blackened by the evil we are all exposed to on a daily basis. Consider the following key lines:
‘I look inside myself and see my heart is black…..It’s not easy facing up when your whole world is black.’

This is why Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias in his book, Deliver Us from Evil, suggests that evil is not just where blood has been spilled but rather it is in the self-absorbed human heart.

Many theologians and philosophers have struggled and wrestled with the question of where evil came from. In other words, who or what was the author of evil?

Theology suggests that sin came into the world through one sin but the question still remains, how was this able to occur when all of creation as described in Genesis was declared to be good by the all-powerful and loving Creator Himself?

Did God create evil? Did God intend evil? How else could evil have made its way into creation in order to bring it down?

While it’s understood that sin came through one human act of rebellion towards God, the temptation to sin in this way was prompted by Satan (Genesis 3). For this to be true, evil must have already existed in Satan. It would make sense then to learn a little more about who Satan is. Jesus uses the following description of him:

“He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)

Satan, along with other fallen angels whom he leads, were cast out of Heaven – God’s realm – to await final judgement. The mind of Satan and all his demon allies are permanently set to oppose God, goodness, truth, the kingdom of Christ, and the welfare of human beings. He has real but limited power and as Calvin once phrased, drags his chains wherever he goes and can never hope to overcome God. (Packer)

Despite Satan being completely at odds with God, he is not like God. Their opposing natures cannot be thought of as dualistic, yin-yang type entities. Only God is eternal in that only He has always existed. Satan is His creation and all of His creation was created by and for Himself. For if Satan wasn’t created by God, then by who? And if there was another all-powerful creator responsible for Satan, there would also need to be a realm within which God is not in control. According to Scriptures that cannot be true.

“For by Him all things were created: the things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him.” (Colossians 1: 16)

Importantly, “Everything created by God is good.” (1 Timothy 4:4) and “This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)

As the Scriptures testify, God made everything good according to His perfect light but something went terribly wrong. Somehow darkness made its way into creation and there is only one legitimate explanation.

If the perfect loving relationship that has eternally existed in the Trinity is to be reflected in mankind back to the God whose image he bears, freedom to love must be allowed to exist. For without the freedom to love, love is meaningless; simply an act of predetermined obedience. When it comes to freedom, however, there must be an available flip side. It is through this freedom that love can become hate, obedience can become rebellion, light can become darkness. And so the story unfolded and continues to play out to this day. No fallen creature is exempt from the aftershock of Satan’s fall from God’s presence into ours, and the day that human beings tried to assume the position of becoming their own God.

Did God create Satan to be evil? Absolutely not! His evil arose from within; from the heart of the father of all lies.

Did God create human beings to enact evil in order to bring about His purposes? No! But He certainly can and has used what man has intended for evil to bring about His purposes.

In the end we can’t shift the blame for the sin that we personally bring into this world. We, as free human beings, have the ability to make choices and must live with the consequences of the wrong decisions of both ourselves and others. Here the relationship between evil, sin and suffering become painfully apparent; world history highlighting time and again what twisted hearts are capable of enacting even to the point of crucifying the Son of God.

It is only at this point, when we come to realise the depths to which evil has become intertwined with the hearts of humanity that we can fully understand the incomprehensible love and mercy shown by Christ as He paid the price for our sin, crushing evil and defeating Satan’s power once and for all through His death and resurrection. Certainly God is not responsible for evil but rather responsible for the unique hope of Christianity in that we can join with Jesus in saying, “It is finished!”

The Humans Must Be Crazy

By Ben Swift

“I know what you’re thinking. I am proposing a sane world — I must be crazy.”
— Swami Beyondananda
One of my all-time favourite opening scenes to a movie is in an old but continually relevant film, ‘The Gods Must be Crazy.’ The writers of this scene perceptively compare the contrasting life-styles of an isolated, ancient tribe of the Kalahari Bushman to that of the so called modern, civilized man. Within a few minutes it becomes obvious beyond a doubt that the social and cultural progress of the modern man has in fact led to the evolution of a higher order of insanity. Let’s be honest. Humanity in all its wisdom has consistently made life more complicated, fast-paced and self-serving with every passing decade.
I find it interesting that particularly in the workplace, research has shown beyond a doubt that we as human beings need to rest. For those in Christian circles, it’s not uncommon to begin the morning with a devotion in relation to taking time out of the world’s frantic pace and resting in Christ. While this might be a good thing, it often seems that the Amen ending the reflection is synchronized with the downloading of the daily agenda on what needs to be achieved. Surely we can all see the irony of such a practice.
Human beings have not been created with stupidity in mind. In fact, as recorded in Genesis 1:26, God said,
“Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
But it seems from the moment humanity took a bite from that metaphorical, forbidden fruit – seeking to be their own gods and going their own way – self-serving insanity has led the way.
When God warned human beings from the very beginning that if they were to turn their backs on Him that they would surely die (Genesis 3:3), did we ever conceive that our wisdom and sanity would be a part of the dying process?
We as people don’t need to travel far into our past to find classic examples to highlight the insanity of humanity. The tobacco industry and its assault on our species is a case in point. It would be fair to say that for some time the effects of smoking on health were not completely understood but as time passed and suspicions were confirmed by science, insanity kicked in to its highest gear. In the knowledge that the tobacco industry was a death machine in motion, the response of so called civilized and sophisticated man was to continue to support the industry as it continued to support the economic desires of the collective self. The statistics of this insanity are mind-blowingly sad. “Globally, tobacco use killed 100 million people in the 20th century, much more than all deaths in World Wars I and II combined. Tobacco-related deaths will number around 1 billion in the 21st century if current smoking patterns continue.” (The Tobacco Atlas)
The insanity of humanity could be explicitly demonstrated from a number of angles. We could analyse our part in global environmental issues such as climate change or zero in on our obsession for fashion and celebrity as they dictate the new black for our lives. But if we just take the time to step back and reflect on our insanity, what will we find? What drives us to take up residence in such an unquestioning world of blind insanity?
The answer can only be found in the One who knows us because He created us; in the Creator in whom our purpose needs to be regrafted. We as humans have surely lost our way, but thanks be to Christ who is ‘The Way’; the narrow path to sanity.
It is in Christ that we are able to see clearly just how intertwined with the insanity of the world we have all become, but it’s also in Christ that we receive in Grace the gift of hope; a way to walk in truth.
‘But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. That is why it is said: “Wake up O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise.’ (Ephesians 5:13-15)
Of course we must be prepared for the fact that to the insane, sanity will always appear to be insanity; wisdom to appear foolishness. Christ warned us of such things. The path of following Christ may be illuminated to the illuminated mind but will remain hidden to the mind of those who continue to walk in the darkness. Christianity does not provide us with a smooth ride in this life and will not allow us to live as one with the world. Insanity and sanity living side by side in a human mind will only lead to conflict and breakdown. There can only be two choices. We must take on the mind of Christ or take on the mind of those who have rejected Christ. No new, easier way can be constructed that exists in reality. C.S. Lewis knew this well. Consider his words:
“If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about.”
It turns out that it’s actually not the gods who must be crazy, but rather the ways of humanity. But without the Holy Spirit to expose our futile thinking, we cannot and will not, fully comprehend the insanity with which we live. Ultimately, to live outside of a relationship with our Creator is insane. It is to walk a path that leads us away from our very purpose in being and away from life. To gain life, we must be prepared to lose it; to live as fools for Christ in an insane world.
‘Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise.’ (1 Corinthians 3:18)

Fear

By Ben Swift

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10)

Anyone who has ever stood in close proximity to a great male lion – the king of the beasts – and looked into its majestic, yet terrifying face would awaken a sense of fear of what such a beast is capable. The roar of a lion can send thunderous vibrations through the ground on which you stand, indeed through your very being. To come face to face with a hungry lion in the wild would elicit such fear that any normal human being could only freeze and be subject to the desires of this beast. Perhaps this explains why the lion was chosen by C.S. Lewis as the character for Aslan.

While Lewis’ fictional character of Aslan the lion does provide us with some powerful imagery into the awesomeness and majesty of God, we would do well to consider that creatures such as the lion are just that; creatures.

In terms of fear then, are we Christians living in today’s world in danger of losing our sense of who God really is? Are we so blinded by theologies that allow us to create God into whatever image we desire, losing our fear of Him that is far greater than any beast?

Consider the following words from Jesus to His disciples:

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in Hell.” (Matthew 10:28)

Surely true wisdom is to allow these words to penetrate deep within our understanding and consciousness. Who is man and who is God? Isn’t this the question of all questions? We need to continually ponder it, relying on the Holy Spirit to hold us to the truth that exists in its answer. The answer however, should not be sought simply philosophically or scientifically but theologically through what God has revealed to us about Himself. It all begins and ends with Christ as through His living Word the nature of the Triune God is revealed.

“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him.” (John 14: 6)

“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14: 9b)

If we consider the purpose of humanity as revealed in the Scriptures to be to live as image bearers of Christ and therefore to reflect the nature of our Creator back into the world, it would make sense to hold a healthy fear tied to a true understanding of the Creator and His creation. But is this the reality for the church of today, or even for those who claim to follow Christ?

We certainly don’t need to venture very far to see that the Church today does not consistently reflect the nature of God as revealed in Christ. One of the basic principles in reading and interpreting the Word is to interpret Scripture with Scripture but what about interpreting our Christian lives under the same lens. If the Christian life is reflecting cultural norms rather than standing apart from them, surely alarm bells should be ringing?

So why is it that we consistently live as though it is the world we have to fear rather than the One who created the world, holding sovereign power over it? Surely it must come down to human arrogance. C.S. Lewis cleverly puts it in these words:

“According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride….It was through pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”[1]

Pride or arrogance is easily developed and expressed as it comes so naturally to our fallen nature. Perhaps the most effective cure for this diseased state of mind is to be subject to an inescapable reality check, one that breathes life into our fear once more. Like the lion’s breath-taking roar, God can take us to this place as we listen to His voice speak through the Scriptures. The book of Job provides us with perhaps the most humbling starting point. Consider the words of God to Job as he was reminded of the answer to the ever important question of God and man:

“Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?” (Job 38: 2-5)

What if God is asking all of us these questions? Listen to His voice. Brace yourself like a human because you are not God and He alone is all powerful. Like Job, all who claim to follow Christ must come to the same understanding of Job. That is, we must humbly develop a healthy fear of God, echoing Job’s response.

“I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, “Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?” Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, “Listen now and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42: 2-6)

Surely to know God is to love but also fear God; to listen to His voice; to shed our arrogance and to follow Christ in humility. Here lies true wisdom, foolishness to the world.

[1] Lewis. C.S., Mere Christianity, (C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd., 1952) p. 69

Eyes Wide Open

By Ben Swift

“I don’t need no one to tell me about heaven, I look at my daughter, and I believe. I don’t need no proof, when it comes to God and truth, I can see the sunset and I perceive.” (Lyrics from ‘Heaven’ by Live)

Despite the terrible things of this world, there is an undeniable beauty that most certainly exists around every corner we turn, under every rock we overturn, even in the most terrifying aspects of nature. While it is easy to be drawn towards a focus on the darker tones of life, hugely influenced by the bombardment of the press in all its forms, we must not lose sight of the overwhelming beauty that has been gifted us by the Creator God through what has been spoken into being.

‘The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.’ (Psalm 19:1)

When you consider the complexity of creation, it doesn’t matter at what level you enter it. With eyes wide open one cannot help but be awestruck. The human being is a case in point, each individual person made unique through the process of meiosis, each cell carrying with it a genetic code reflecting an individual melting pot of family traits ensuring each of us as a one of a kind, even to the point of our fingerprints. Who could even begin to calculate the number of fingerprint patterns that must have existed throughout all of time, let alone the number of unique patterns represented in snowflakes. And yet the Bible speaks of a God who knows us so intimately that he has numbered the very hairs on our heads.

What’s also incredible is that God’s revelation to His creation would not be possible without the gift of perception. Have you ever wondered why it is that any of us wonder at all? Why is it that we are drawn to the colourful palette of the setting sun, the contrasting blues of the ocean or the soft, white fur of the baby seal? Humankind has certainly been given a gift when it comes to reflecting on beauty and meaning and the source of it all.

Our ability to reflect the creative nature of our God has enabled us to create all sorts of tools for investigating creation at a deeper level. Consider the evolution of the microscope and our ability to understand the nature of cells including the role of DNA as our genetic blueprint. On the other hand, consider the telescope and its ability to open our eyes to what is only the beginning of the vastness of space. Our ability and artistic ingenuity has allowed us to not only reflect on the here and now but to capture it on film, opening up access to areas we personally may never have travelled to or even dreamed of.

Perhaps one of the greatest films to capture and invoke a sense of awe for the natural world was ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’.[1] Sean O’Conner, a photographer in the film made the following memorable quote when sharing a rare view of a snow leopard through the lens of his camera:

“If I like a moment, I mean me personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of a camera. I just want to stay in it. Right there…right here…To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind the walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the meaning of life.”

The character Sean O’Conner certainly resonates with many of us and he comes close to the truth but fails to go the full distance by defining the meaning of life in the absence of the source of life.

So what does this all mean for the human? Is it enough to simply take hold of the gift of perception and reflection, drawing no further meaning from it other than appreciation?

N.T. Wright suggests, “We must acknowledge that beauty, whether in the natural order or within human creation, is sometimes so powerful that it evokes our very deepest feelings of awe, wonder, gratitude and reverence.” But importantly, “The beauty of the natural world is, at best, the echo of a voice, not the voice itself.”[2]

The Apostle Paul understood this well.

‘For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.’ (Romans 1:20)

God has indeed revealed Himself to every human being. A general revelation that should never be regarded as simply ‘general’ in that it is so incredible, so humbling and awe-inspiring that it surely points to a Creator beyond anything we can comprehend. Theologian J.I. Packer suggests that God in His general revelation, “actively discloses aspects of Himself to all human beings, so that in every case failure to thank and serve the Creator in righteousness is sin against knowledge, and denials of having received this knowledge should not be taken seriously.”[3]

Surely God the Creator is not a hidden God in that He has revealed Himself to us. While we cannot know all of God, creation has His fingerprints all over it, from the human being to the venous fly trap. We simply need to approach life with our eyes wide open. Let’s not stop there however, but humbly acknowledge God for who He is, worshiping the Creator, not the creation, and letting creation point us to Christ in whom God has been truly revealed.

 

 

[1] Thurber, James and Conrad, Steven. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. (Harcourt, Brace and Company, United States, 2013).

[2] Wright, Tom. Simply Christian. (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London, 2006.) p.38.

[3] Packer, J.I. Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs. (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois, 1993). p. 9.

Growing Pains

By Ben Swift

“Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.” (C.S. Lewis)

When it comes to the problem of trying to make sense of pain and suffering in this life, surely no human being has been exempt from their own personal set of tribulations. Perhaps that’s why the country music scene has such a huge following as people identify with the melancholy, story-telling lyrics of broken relationships and the struggles we all face in the changing seasons of our lives.

As the old saying, “There’s a fine line between pleasure and pain,” suggests, the experiences of life can be perceived as pendulum-like, swinging us from emotion to emotion as our circumstances drag us from ecstasy to despair and everywhere in between. If we pour all of our energy into bringing this pendulum to a grinding holt, however, what will be the consequence? If we attempt to walk the fine line between pleasure and pain, placing ourselves in protective bubbles, will it lead to the exclusion of life itself?

If we turn to the book of Ecclesiastes and to Christian existentialists for advice, we begin to gain some interesting perspectives on what C.S. Lewis refers to in the opening quote. The goal common to much of humanity in seeking above all else personal happiness through wealth, fame and physical pleasure, are in fact likened to chasing the wind. The values of the common man are reduced to vanity.

‘Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labour on which I had toiled; and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun.’ (Ecclesiastes 2:11)

The thirst for comfort, wealth and fame is unquenchable and consequently snuffs out the parts of life that point us to truth and meaning. Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, took this line of thinking to the extreme. It was said that Kierkegaard refused a parsonage which would have brought him a steady income, left his fiancée and the chance of a settled family life and deliberately used his talent as a thinker to bring ridicule upon himself. Why? Because he recognised that comfort, money and public approval are inferior values.[1]

To anyone living in a modern, Western society, this way of thinking seems absurd as it goes against everything that the world has programmed our minds with since the day we left the womb. But then again, is it absurd to recognise the futile pursuits of the world, attempting to replace them with a way of living that actually awakens us to who we really are and who we have been created to be?

In relation to suffering Karl Barth suggests, “Participation in suffering means to suffer with Christ, to encounter God, as Jeremiah and Job encountered Him; to see Him in the tempest, to apprehend Him as Light in the darkness, to love Him when we are aware only of the roughness of His hand.”[2]

Whether we willingly plunge ourselves into suffering in the way that existentialists do or not, the reality still remains that to live is to experience both pleasure and pain. This is life. This is a truth that cannot be avoided. The problem with pain and suffering is that we cannot avoid what is outside of our control. We cannot eliminate life’s continual bombardment of factors that contribute to the world in which we exist.

Consider the phenomenon known as ‘The Butterfly Effect’. As part of an idea used by physicists in Chaos Theory, a minute alteration to an initial state of a physical system can result in a large, significant difference to the state at a later time. The concept famously uses the exaggerated example of a butterfly flapping its wings in one country only to cause a cyclone in another due to the initial environmental change caused by the beating of the wings.

In a sense, The Butterfly Effect can help us to understand the problem of pain because life appears chaotic. It is chaotic in that outside factors such as other people, the natural world, financial instability and disease can be the cause of our suffering and we have little to no control over how they will affect us personally and collectively. What we do have control over is how we will respond when bad things happen, not in the sense that we won’t feel broken and torn apart, but in relation to who we turn to in order to make sense of life and its tribulations. It is here that by the work of the Holy Spirit we will see that only in Christ the perceived chaos is actually all under control; there is an endpoint and there is comfort in the refuge of our God.

Theologian Martin Luther was certainly subject to his fair share of trials and tribulations and offers us the following thoughts:

“It is impossible for the human heart, without crosses and tribulations, to think upon God.”[3]

“When left and forsaken of all men, in my highest weakness, in trembling, and in fear of death, when persecuted of the wicked world, then I felt most deeply the divine power which this name, Christ Jesus, communicated unto me.”[4]

As frail human beings we need to become wrapped in the One who is greater than ourselves. If we are to take up our cross and follow Christ, we would do well to embrace the following words of David:

Hear my cry, Oh God; Attend to my prayer. From the end of the earth I will cry to You. When my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For You have been a shelter for me, a strong tower from the enemy. I will abide in Your tabernacle forever; I will trust in the shelter of Your wings. (Psalm 61: 1-4)

As life continues to pour its heavy weight on your shoulders, may you learn to shelter in the wings of your Heavenly Father. There you will find rest.

[1] Olson, Robert. An Introduction to Existentialism. (Dover Publications, Inc., Mineola, New York, 2017). p. 2.

[2] Barth, Karl. The Epistle to the Romans. (Oxford University Press, Oxford, translated from the 6th Edition by Hoskyns, Edwyn, 1968). p. 301.

[3] Luther, Martin. The Tabletalk of Martin Luther. (Christian Focus Publications, Scotland, 2003). p. 364.

[4] Luther, Martin. The Tabletalk of Martin Luther. (Christian Focus Publications, Scotland, 2003). p. 186.

The Gift of Christmas

By Ben Swift

Liquid and lungs swiftly part ways

As the Christ child gasps for breath in the world that He made

The Word that breathed life into all that has been

Now lay fully human that God may truly be seen

For knowing the Father is in knowing the Son

A divinely-gifted revelation wrapped in Trinitarian love

A frail, helpless child, His little eyes first awake

The eyes of a perfect saviour, born to suffer our rightful fate.

Being Human Beings

By Ben Swift

‘Science does an excellent job of telling me why I don’t have a tail, but it can’t explain why I find that interesting.’ (Rob Bell)

The question of what it is to be human is one that has surely bounced around in the minds of any person who has the mental capacity to reflect on the deeper things of life. But just how far must we travel in our search for a satisfactory answer; an answer that we can confidently call truth or at least reality? Finding answers to such questions can and will take us in all sorts of directions and so we firstly need a starting point, a contemplation that serves to steer us in the right direction.

A few years ago, the band ‘Casting Crowns’ released a song titled ‘Who Am I?’ that serves this purpose well. In the tradition of the psalmists of old, their lyrics cry out:

Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth, would care to know my name, would care to feel my hurt….

I am a flower quickly fading, here today and gone tomorrow, a wave tossed in the ocean, a vapour in the wind…

Surely such anguish-driven thoughts have paved the way for many a search for meaning. But before we head down the philosophical road, let’s take a detour and see what Science has to say.

At a scientific level, humans, like all other animals, consist of cells, the very fabric of life. These cells work together to enable the physiological and biochemical processes required by the organism to take place as it lives in an environment that meets the conditions needed for its life. The specific bundle of cells known as the human are classified as mammals, along with apes and lemurs, and belong to the order Primates – the highest level of mammal. They are first in the animal kingdom in brain development with especially large cerebral hemispheres. (Hickman, Roberts, Hickman) That’s right, humans have, in terms of the animal kingdom, relatively big brains. But it’s what drives these brains beyond biological explanation that is of greater interest.

Science – recognised as a discipline closely associated with logic – has led people to strange places when it comes to finding answers about the human condition. In 1907 Duncan MacDougall, an American physician, conducted a bizarre investigation known as ‘Weighing the Ghost’. He actually attempted to measure the weight of the human soul. His investigation involved placing humans literally on their death bed, enabling a difference in weight between the alive specimen and the dead specimen to be taken at the exact moment the soul was to hypothetically leave the body. Not surprisingly, nothing was really gained from these experiments. (Rooney)

Science as a discipline can teach us many things but it has its limits. Obviously, as humans, we are more than complex cellular organisms and not everything about us can be tested and measured scientifically.

Unless we are prepared to tackle the, ‘Who am I?’ question at a psychological and spiritual level, rather than at a material level, something of crucial importance to the understanding of what it is to be human remains a mystery. (Vardy)

While it would be foolish to deny that genetics plays a role in many aspects of the human being, just as it does throughout the animal kingdom, it cannot explain why we, unlike other animals, have a consciousness that calls us into a place of reflection and a search for meaning. You will find no written accounts reflecting on the longings of the heart from the perspective of a lemur. There’s just something higher about the human race, something that cannot be explained by including us purely as a piece of the evolutionary jigsaw puzzle.

It turns out however, that there are many voices trying to flag down our attention, hoping to convince us that they have the keys to the vault holding the truth about who we are. Thoughts from humanists, philosophers and religious teachers among others. Consider a thought from The Buddha:

‘All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think, we become.’

But what is the basis for such a claim? If we choose to venture down this path, our meaning as humans lies completely with the self, and it seems that the self has been unable to truly satisfy its own desire for higher meaning. The truth about who we are must transcend ourselves. Denial is a powerful mental state but surely we can’t deny that reality exists simply by thinking it into being something more palatable.

Alternatively, Genesis 1:26 clearly illuminates the special creative intentions that God has for human beings, explaining why we are the way we are.

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Theologian Neil McKinlay puts it this way:

‘He gave His own reflection five senses to appreciate His beautiful creation. And with His own finger He delicately wrote His law of love on His little mirror as He breathed life into him. As the three persons love the eternal Godhead, so man was to image his Creator by loving God and his neighbour personally, perfectly and perpetually.’

It is exclusively through our understanding of who we are in relation to who the Triune God is that we come to comprehend what it means to be human. We have been gifted with the capacity to reflect the very nature of our Creator. Who we have become as human beings is often far from who we have been created to be and perhaps that’s why throughout history we have so widely missed the mark when it comes to answering the question of what it means to be human. The more we close our eyes and ears to all that Christ reveals to us about ourselves, the more we use our creative capacities to construct meaning from a source separated from truth and life itself.

Let us not be reduced to a complex clump of cells answerable only to our DNA or philosophies that preach the death of God and the power of the self. Instead let’s turn to a God who knows us better than we know ourselves; a God who has experienced what it is to be human.

“Christ has put on our feelings along with our flesh.” (John Calvin)