Being a human is a big deal. In the flurry of work, kids, TV, buying new stuff, we can sometimes lose sight of who we are and what it means to be human. Pursuing the fullness of human life is what God calls us to do as Christians. Becoming like Christ, the truest human, God in the flesh, is who we are destined to become like. So what is a human?
What we do stems from who. If you are a part of Big Rapids FBC you might be sick of hearing that. James K.A. Smith seeks to answer this question in his book Desiring the Kingdom. The book was one of the most exciting I read in the past year and it has incredible implications for you, me, and the church.
Humans are view one of three ways:
1. I think therefore I am. This model is “as old as Plato but re-birthed by Descartes and cultivated throughout modernity and sees the human person as fundamentally a thinking thinking.”
Reality, then, exists in the mind, what you can think and rationalize. To be aware that you exist is to exist.
One problem with this view is that it almost always leads to an ocean of doubt and uncertainty because it assumes that humans can actually think objectively and be rational – this is not a given. How can you know that you are thinking correctly? How do we understand the fact that it takes more than thinking to actually make a change (otherwise none of would be fat – we know how to get in shape)? Lots of questions arise from this view of the human.
A second problem is that it neglects the entire physical universe, including the fact that humans come with bodies. What is the point of our bodies if they have nothing to do with us actually being humans?
Much of protestant Christianity has absorbed this view of the human and Christianity gets reduced to facts and figures that you can know. I think Christianly, therefore I am a Christian. This is essentially Christian Rationalism.
2. I believe in order to understand. In response to Christian Rationalism, there has been healthy push back that would say humans are not thinking machines, but believing animals, or religious creatures with “worldview that is pre-rational or supra-rational. What defines is…what we believe.”
The humans-as-believers is definitely a healthy step towards understanding that there is something more than just logic and thinking driving humans. This view rightfully questions humans ability to objective and allows for the beliefs and values that transcend logic that we all have. For example, much of charity and self-sacrificial love transcends the logic of self-preservation. A belief about what is good can empower humans to do things that are illogical.
The person-as-believer model is still a bit short because belief is still all about the head. It is broader than the first view, but beliefs are still essentially facts or propositions that can be weighed and measured and picked up or put down with your brain. Like the thinker model, the believer model is also dis-embodied and individualistic view of humans. The beliefs are mostly disconnected from my body, what I do as a body, and has little to do with others that I might interact with.
The end goal of Christianity with this view of the human tends to culminate in bible college or personal spiritual disciplines with very little do with the church. Christianity is a journey of belief where each individual builds up their beliefs as big as they can because belief makes us who we are.
3. I am what I love. Desiring the Kingdom sees the person-as-thinking and person-as-believer models failing to “honor the complexity and richness of humans persons.” Humans are body and soul. We have brains that give rise to our minds. We are physical and spiritual.
The person-as-lover model is what Dr. Smith sees as being the biblical view of humans. While thinking and belief are beautiful, God-given abilities, they stem from the heart. “The center of gravity of human identity shifts from the heady regions of the mind closer to the… heart or gut.”
We are not primary thinkers or believers, but affectionate, embodied creatures who make our way in the world with our hearts and hands. This model paints a picture of humans always being in motion – always headed towards something. If we are lovers, affectionate creatures then we always need an object of our affections, something to love. You can’t get a snapshot of human – you need a video because to be human is to be moving towards the object of our affections and being formed by whatever it is that we love.
Desiring the Kingdom is a good sized book in a trilogy so it’s safe to say that Dr. Smith opens up a huge, new (for me at least) world and then does the work to explore it. Reading philosophic anthropology might not be your jam, but I’m willing to bet being a human is.
So I challenge you to consider yourself as a lover, as someone who is always headed towards something. It may be money, power, sex, acceptance, or God himself. What direction is the arrow of your life heading?