Fifty years ago the Christian understanding of human nature fell into two camps. The fundamentalist approach placed humanity at the apex of an unchanging universe. Humans were created in the image of God, never to evolve, were comprised of a body and soul, the latter of which could earn eternal life for a life well lived, and were differentiated from other living creatures because of this soul. The epitome of this grandiose scheme was the fact that the Son of God himself had become homo sapiens. The other camp, of which I was a member, asked questions rather than provide simplistic answers. Was homo sapiens the apex of evolution? No. Is a human being comprised of a body and soul? Doubtful. The Hebrews rejected anthropological dualism, asserting instead that we are psychosomatic unities, and when we die, that’s the end. Christian theology before the inroad of Platonism held not that we have a soul but that, once dead, we are resurrected. I was pretty much agnostic about all this. How is it possible to answer such questions? Are they essential to living a faithful and loving life?
As I ask myself today “who are we?” I find it interesting that my attention turns not to the former questions as listed above, which are still unanswerable, but rather to empirical comments about our daily human experience. I find there to be four foundational characteristics true of all people. I have described these characteristics at length elsewhwere and will only summarize here. First, as we individually come into and progress through this life, we inescapably develop a framework into which experience is forced to fit. In so doing, we lose contact with the reality that is “out there”, and consequently we each live in our own little world, our individual perception of what is real. From this egocentric perspective we sense that something is missing in life and experience an emptiness, a void. In certain moments, however, we transcend our own world in an encounter with reality/Reality, but the moment does not last, and we sink back into the search for meaning. Lastly, both in the search and in the moments, community with others with whom we share and for whom we care- this community is essential to our fulfillment as human beings.
If there is one central change in my theology over the last fifty years, it is this increasing focus on these four facets of humanity. They provide the key to my understanding of wholeness and sinfulness, and also the key to understanding who Jesus was and how he impacted the disciples.