Friday, February 02, 2007

The Unfinished Creature

As I have often said from the podium, it helps to clear away the "spirit of the age" clutter to ask: Why are we here? Or: What are humans for?

Now that I've violated the one grammatical principle that I still try to uphold -- against ending a sentence with a preposition -- let me repeat the offense: One way of putting our predicament is this: The challenge and the quintessential human task is to discover -- existentially at least, and cognitively as far as possible -- what human existence is all about. It remains, after all, an open question. We are, par excellence, the only unfinished creatures. But that does not mean that we are free to fashion ourselves according to our whims. Our existence would then simply been absurd, which is to say incapable of being assessed. A "well-lived life" would be an unintelligible phrase, purely subjective. There must be a pattern, a form, a purpose, and logic, in a "word," a Logos.

More that merely a synonym for the English "word," the Logos of John's Gospel means the reason, the pattern, the (Trinitarian) reality toward which creatures made in the image and likeness of God are inherently ordained. Everyone whose life has any moral or conceptual or existential coherence has a logos at work in the background of his or her existence, that is to say: an operational notion, however vaguely conceptualized, of the meaning and purpose of human existence.

The question is: how true is the logos on which one's life is based? A Christian, like everyone else, ought to routine ask: What are humans for? In other words: what is the true pattern, the true nature of human existence? To what are we called by the fact that we are made in the image and likeness of (the Trinitarian) God? The answer is Christ, simply: Christ: the Logos in the flesh, that is to say, the Reason (for human life) embodied in human form.

It would be technically true to say that "what we Christians believe is that Christ is the answer," but, in the squishy world of multicultural diffidence, that way of expressing it inevitably relativizes it. Imagine a person getting up at an international meeting of scientists and saying: "what we Western scientists believe is that the earth is spherical." There are people who don't believe that, but those who do believe it are right and those who don't are wrong. When is the last time you heard a Muslim say: "What we Muslims believe is that there is no God but Allah and Mohammad is is prophet"? Don't hold your breath waiting to hear it. Our Islamic brothers and sisters may be religiously mistaken (they are), but at least they believe what they claim to believe.

To make the truth claim unabashedly will seem, again in the present atmosphere, to be an act of pride. In fact it is an act of humility, inasmuch as the one who makes such a statement is precisely not stating his or her personal opinion. One is simply assenting to the truth that has been mediated by centuries of credible Christian witnesses ("Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe") and, provisionally at least, corroborated by one's own experience of prayer and the sacraments.

Accounting for one's creedal affirmation surely requires the summoning of apologetic, theological, and (especially in the case of Christianity) anthropological corroboration, but none of these things will avail if the original affirmation is too diffident, too equivocating, too relativized to be taken seriously.

To say, as Christians always have, that Christ is "Lord," is to say that He is the true Logos, the unsurpassable pattern of self-sacrificing love to which all humans are called by God. To say that Christ is the "Lord of history," is to say that history is the drama of Christ's gentle appeal to his mortal brothers and sisters to come their senses and claim their ontological inheritance by participating, here and now, in the joy of Trinitarian self-donation.

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