It is common now – among intellectuals and even among government agencies – to deny humans a nature and regard the characteristics once attributed to human nature as merely “social constructs.” Gender, for example, is now viewed by many as an arbitrary social construct.
Such a view is conveniently politically correct, but in denying human nature the proponents of this view cannot help but deny human value. The value once attributed to the human soul has been transferred to the constantly changing judgments of society.
This view of human nature grows out of a philosophical interpretation of reality that discounts the supernatural and understands everything – from the amoeba to Einstein – to be the accidental product of the laws of physics.
The Judeo-Christian view of human nature is decidedly different. “What is mankind,” the psalmist asks God, “that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” The psalmist may not have known what humans are but, whatever they are, he knew that they are important.
The value of human life remains a powerful idea, even as the Judeo-Christian foundations of our society erode. But as that foundation erodes, the superstructure will lean and eventually fall. Without a conceptual foundation for human worth (which many non-theists have attempted to construct but none has to date succeeded), the value of human life will be degraded.
Christian thinkers have, in contrast, celebrated the greatness of the human soul. John Bunyan, author of “Pilgrim’s Progress,” pauses in his comments on the greatness of the human soul to blurt out, “O man! dost thou know what thou art?”
“Older Christian writers,” according to the philosopher Dallas Willard, “used to say that God has hidden the majesty of the human soul from us to prevent our being ruined by vanity.” G. K. Chesterton, through the mouth of his greatest character, Father Brown, says, “All men matter. You matter. I matter. It’s the hardest thing in theology to believe.”
In section six of “Pensées,” Blaise Pascal pursues the topic of the greatness of the human soul and warns, “It is … dangerous to make [a person] see his greatness too clearly.” Dangerous, that is, if he does not realize his weakness and fallibility as well.
While agreeing that our humanity is expressed through matter, Christians reject the idea that a human being is merely matter. The soul transcends the laws of physics. It can be lost – a frightening possibility – but it can never be without value. Humans are fabulously important.
“There are no ordinary people,” C. S. Lewis once said, “You have never talked to a mere mortal…it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.” We think we know people, but there is always more to a person than we can see or even imagine. A single human soul is as vast as an ocean.
Someone living on the coast might say, “I know the ocean,” but what that really means is that he or she knows the shoreline within a few miles of home; knows the color the sea turns before a storm; knows when the weather will be fair or foul. But he or she does not know the vast stretches of ocean that reach the coast of Senegal or the lagoons that refresh the Antilles; and still less the landscape of the ocean floor or the creatures that hide in its depths.
Each of us is as vast as an ocean. Thoughts move across our minds like the relentless waves of the sea. Feelings pass over us like the ever-changing clouds. Ideas live in us, frolic in us, like whales in the Pacific. We are, like an ocean, vast and largely unexplored. Those who know us best know only the shoreline. Even we know only the surface of our own thoughts, fears, and emotions. Only our Maker knows what lies in the depths, and what treasures he has placed there. He alone is able to attach true value to us as human beings.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 9/13/2014