Ok, so I realize my generation is rather renowned for spending all of our time “finding ourselves” or trying to realize “our inner you”, but that isn’t quite what this article is about…at least not directly. This is my attempt to define what it means to be human in light the Gospel and the ramifications of that. I’ve been asking some friends about what it means to be human. I mean what is it that makes us human? In the words of one friend that I asked…”Wow, that’s a big question.” I think that we have made it a much more vague and nebulous question than it should be as our culture has journeyed away from the belief in absolutes and natural fact. As a Christian, when I have big world view questions I try to seek truth from the Bible and allow it to reorient how I view the world. For this question, Christ’s answer to the question of “What is most important commandment?” came to mind.
“28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
–Mark 12:28-31 (Also, see Deut. 6:5, Matthew 22:36-38, and Luke 10:27)
This verse came to mind for a few reasons. First when Christ calls something the most important commandment, we should probably know it by heart as Christians. Secondly, I think that this informs us directly of what makes us humans. The importance of this commandment is that Christ is telling to love God with every aspect of who we are as humans. What I mean by this is that He specifically addresses the things that make us human and tells us to use them to love the Creator who made us. So what makes us human you ask? Four main things: heart (body), mind, soul, and strength.
- – On a quick side note, I believe that the heart is representative of the physical body since it is the center of the anatomical system which provides blood (life) to the rest of our body. While you can remove other parts of our body and still live, we will never survive naturally without a heart.
Hmm, it’s interesting when you think a little bit about why Christ chooses to pick those four aspect of humanity when He tells us to love God with everything that we are. Here is why I think he chooses those four specific things to summarize what makes us human, no more no less.
Heart (Body) – I would think this would be the most obvious, but with different technological advances today, the lines are becoming more blurred. Our body marks us as human since we physically have the DNA specific to the human species. Our physical arrangement, from our DNA at a molecular level to the normal physical make up of humans beings (2 arms, 2 legs, 1 heart, etc..etc), both sets us apart from the rest of living beings and unites us as one race. While physical problems (loss of limbs, physical disabilities, or differences in appearance) may seem to set us apart, on the most specific and most general spectrums we are all the same. If we stuck a human brain in a tiger and managed to make it all function together, we wouldn’t call it human….it would be a weird tigman thing (or Tigger from Whiney the Poo).
Mind – There are many things about the mind that set us apart from the rest of creation. Our emotions, creativity, desire to pursue non-survival oriented pursuits (the entire range of the arts), and general ability to learn and develop make us different from instinctually driven animals. Sure, other species may share in some aspects of our intellectual abilities, but not to the depth and breadth that we possess. While chimpanzees or dolphins may be extremely intelligent in their respective places within the natural order, I haven’t seen any of them develop the technologies or pursue the arts in ways similar to humanity. This is not to mention our decision making ability, but we will get to this later.
Soul – The soul is the major factor that separates us from the rest of the living world. The fact that humanity has a soul means that we are eternal beings according to the Bible (which has huge ramifications that I am not going to address here). Unlike our cat, dogs, and other animal friends, we will continue to exist after our physical death (don’t worry, I’m pretty sure there will be animals in heaven, just not the exact same Fluffy that currently lives in your house). What exactly that means is not what I am seeking to address, but the fact that it is specifically spoken about throughout the New Testament (see Matthew 19:29, Mark 10:17-31, Romans 5:21 to name a few) gives credence to the belief that we will exist after death. Additionally, the existence of our soul points to the fact that we are not merely physical and mental beings, but are innately spiritual as well. As humans, we were created and constantly desire to worship something, something else that sets us apart from the rest of creation. Christ tells us that the object of our spiritual worship is to be God the father.
Strength – In this verse I don’t think Christ is speaking of physical strength, but rather He is speaking about our will or moral strength. First off, I don’t think that Christ is saying that muscles are something that identifies us as human. Elephants have a massive amount of muscle, but are definitely not human. Plus, Christ already covered the physical body through the mention of the heart. Secondly, I think our will is inherently moral. By this I mean that, as humans, we have the ability to think and make decisions that have moral ramifications. If a tiger kills a gazelle, it is not a moral decision, but an animal acting out of instinct in order to eat and live. It is morally the same as the gazelle’s decision to eat grass to survive. Humans, on the other hand, are morally responsible for the decisions that they make. If a human decides to kill even a gazelle, that decision can be morally right (ie: a hunter who kills the gazelle to use it and to feed his family) or morally wrong (a trophy hunter who shoots a gazelle just to say he did and leaves the carcass to rot). Thus, I think that Christ is addressing humanity’s unique moral will and the necessity of having the strength to obey God in the choices that we make.
There is one other aspect worth mentioning. Now, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I think this is part of what God meant when He tells us that we are created in God’s own image in Genesis 1:27. From the Westminster Catechism, “There are three persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.” I heard a pastor recently describe this as a “plurality in unity.” How we are made as humans as a plurality of aspects (mind, body, soul, and will) in one person reflects the image of the Trinity (but by no means elevates us to the level of the Creator). As humans, we are human because we are made up of body, mind, soul, and will together. We would not be considered human were any of these aspects missing, and indeed we would not be as God created us if we were not made of these four aspects.
So, this I extend to you as a challenge. Next time you speak with a person, seek to see them as a whole, not just as the physical person your eyes can see, but as a whole person: heart, mind, soul, and strength. If you are a Christian, I encourage you to think deeply about what it means to worship your Creator rightly with your whole heart, your whole mind, your whole soul, and your whole strength.