What does it mean to be human? Answering this question requires that we know who human beings really are (anthropology). But we cannot do anthropology any justice apart from theology, for it is only in hearing from and listening to our wise Creator and Designer that we get a true and accurate picture of who human beings really are and what we really need in order to be virtuous. And virtue then leads to fulfillment, not in terms of pleasurable sensations or “happiness” in the superficial and existential understanding of these concepts in our contemporary world, but in the ultimate and lasting sense of the word fulfillment. In this way, the expression of virtue is the “coming home” of human beings, to do what we were made to do, to think what we were made to think, to finally arrive where we were meant to be.
Modernity has tried to convince us that we are the ones who know—or even better, I am the one who knows—how to find the path to fulfillment. Thus, we see ourselves as gods, as the ones who individually know and can do what we internally believe and declare to be right, all in the name of “authenticity.” But if there is no transcendent referent point beyond the human condition, we logically and actually have no means of knowing who is actually closer to or farther from the ideal of the right and the true for every human. All we have, as Nietzsche rightly saw, is the hope or attempted ability to assert our vision of humanness—our “will to power”—over others in order to create a subservient community for our own perceived well-being and good. But history shows that such dictators great and small usually wind up destroying others and themselves in the quest to bring about their personal kingdoms. Nietzsche’s powerful vision, while logical when God is thought and declared to be “dead,” is largely destructive in nature. And this suggests that it is wrong to possess the ability to have whatever I want before this short, brutish, and nasty life comes to its unyielding end.
But the desire and ability to obtain everything I want is precisely what must be debated at the start. Is having everything I want actually what is best for me? To the contrary, the raw necessity of prohibitions, the limiting of the self and others, appears to be part of the very fabric of God’s design for long-term human well-being and thriving. We are hard-wired to need taboos, sanctions, and injunctions. But far from being restrictive in a purely negative sense, these embargoes are the very things that direct and channel our lives toward the fulfillment of who God designed us to be. As a result, limiting ourselves to the things we were ultimately made for is the only way to experience the joy and satisfaction of knowing that our lives are truly good, that they are well-lived and not being wasted, that they are making a real and lasting impact and are directed toward the eternal ends for which they were graciously created.
That we are not self-sufficient, that we must exist in an environment and take from outside of ourselves, resources like oxygen, food, and drink in order to survive, is direct evidence that we are not, and can never be, “self-made” men and women. In one sense, this is the negative side of reality. But the positive side is no less important. We are not merely made to be prevented from certain practices and desires and ideations. We are also made to fulfill and actualize certain divine goals and purposes, and it is these that become the greatest sources of satisfaction that each and every one of us longs to know and enjoy.
The very notion that we are creatures first and only secondarily creators, presupposes that we are dependent, needy, and wholly incapable of knowing for ourselves who we really are or why we are here in the first place. It is the Creator who understands the purposes and restrictive aspects of the creature He has made, and not the creature itself. “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” (Romans 9:21). It is not the clay’s decision to be whatever it wants to be—unless, of course, it is granted some measure of freedom by its maker to pathetically try and become something it was never intended or meant to be. It may freely submit to the purposes given to it by the potter, or it may try to become something else and something more in its own estimation. But a pot that tries to be a hammer may very well find itself shattered on the base of substances much harder than itself because it wrongly believes that it is able to withstand that kind of misuse and abuse.
When we seek to detach ourselves from our Creator while possessing only a limited and tainted vision of the good, we are destined to find ourselves crushed on the rocks of unyielding reality, a reality grounded in God, the One who is really real and intimately involved in the maintenance of this world. As such, we must echo the Pauline reminder that “God cannot be mocked. A person reaps what s/he sows” (Galatians 6:7). One cannot sow to the wind and finally avoid reaping the whirlwind. And yet we can rejoice that the converse is also true: “The one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8). It is for this we were finally made, and it is in this we discover what it really means to be human as we confidently and gladly submit to the empowerment and wise guidance of the One who made, sustains, and loves us.