How should we ‘be’? As people who intimately know the most powerful being in the universe? As people whom that being calls children and even friends? As citizens of an ancient culture?
How do we treat our co-workers, friends, family? Do we embrace our human nature or do we strive for a higher level of morality?
What should it be like when we talk to others? When we love? When we work? Should it be in any way different? Different than what, or whom?
Recent personal experience
Last week I experienced a feeling of disappointment, anger and even hatred rolled into one. I felt used. I can’t go into specifics, but suffice it to say an acquaintance of mine treated me very badly for their own benefit, then pretended it never happened. It wasn’t the first time I’d had this type of experience with this person. Shortly after the incident I was livid. By the grace of God I managed to hold my tongue.
I instantly found myself looking for a proper course of action – revenge? Appeal to a higher authority? Forgive and forget? Pray for this person? Turn the other cheek?
I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being tread upon like a cheap rug. I was deeply offended and having a hard time shaking it. I’m quite a patient person, and it usually takes a fair bit to get me this angry. For me, this doesn’t happen a lot, and I didn’t really know how to respond. I was amazed at how deeply this question resonated with me. Before a whole day had passed I was entrenched in philosophical questions on ethics, doctrine and the character of God and Jesus. I had to figure this one out.
What I discovered
My first train of thought was how I could find justification. There were many routes, but I was also concerned with preserving my own reputation. Then, as I went through option after option, I found myself questioning my motives. I thought, “surely this can’t be what I’m meant to pursue right now – my own justification”. It is not a person who justifies me, but God. I was on the wrong track. I had to swallow that hard pill to accept that I may not be vindicated to this person, for this particular circumstance. Justice would wait, because the day of judgement is not here yet. It was a hard pill to swallow.
As I followed this train of thought I arrived back to the core of what I believe my purpose to be – to bring glory to God. I changed my direction, following this new fork in the road, back up toward the top of the mountain. My new dichotomy was If my purpose is to bring glory to God, how can I do that in this situation?
I had to be concerned with my own position with God – I had to be careful what action I took, because if I acted out of anger I knew it would effect my relationship with God. I knew I had to act only from direction from The Spirit. It was not my job to judge or deal out punishment. My first step was to let go of my offense.
After much difficulty I managed to release my offence – at least consciously. I didn’t feel like I wanted to let it go, but I knew I had to. I knew it was the right decision. But my heart had not yet followed suit, and I knew the repentance was not yet complete — I had turned 90°, not a full 180°. I knew I wasn’t able to do this on my own — I needed God’s heart on the matter. Not knowing how to gain that perspective at-will, I never did make the turn complete. It was still a personal victory over my mind and emotions, yet remained a spiritual failure.
Which brings me back to the question, How should we ‘be’?
Human Nature is a term built with layers of meaning, like an onion. The term always fascinated me because—having spent much of my adult life thinking on the subject—it is clear that there is nothing simple about it. The term contains many truths. Some more meaningful than others. And so I attempt to dissect and organise them.
In descending order, Human Nature is:
- the nature of the soul
- the nature of the heart
- the nature of the mind
- the nature of the body
- the nature of the culture
- the nature of the circumstance
- the nature of the need
- the nature of the desire
- the nature of the fear
And I’ll go through a couple of these here:
The Nature of the Soul
Being created in God’s own image, our soul is the part of our being which—you might say—is our spiritual character. It is our cosmic fingerprint, unique in every way. Many have questioned whether the soul is inherently good or inherently evil, but it appears clear to me that if we are indeed created in God’s image, and God is good, then it follows that what He creates will be like him. Good.
Here on the ground, most of us feel little control over our soul. In fact, if we believe we have one, most of us feel like it’s a part of us that is perhaps the most inexplicable—the most broad human mystery—and therefore unexplainable and at least unexplorable. And yet for those of us who know we have a soul, we might describe it as something that is sort of woven through every part of our being. Even knitting all other aspects together. Our soul is the deepest part of our identity.
The Nature of the Heart
Closely bound—but not to be confused with—emotion,the heart is the nerve centre where we experience emotion. It often feels out of our control, yet there are many degrees of mastery over it, attainable by us. The heart also has a relationship with the soul, the heart acts like a door to the soul, and we are the door’s guardian. Whatever we let in ultimately communes with our soul, which is why ‘guarding our hearts’ is so important.
For me, the question of how to be induces recollection of past life experiences and scenarios where a moral pitting occurred. The example at the beginning of this article is a good one. Should I embrace the flawed nature of my current state in humanity or attempt to transcend my broken state, my culture, my mind and heart in order to be better than what I believe I am?
There is a person I know well who seems to live by the former option; daily, this person chooses to be human rather than try to transcend his basest emotions. This person also knows God well. It is a fascinating thing to watch someone like this live their life. To see how they interact with others, how they deal with disappointment and disagreement. It seems that at any point, their friends could become like lepers to them. The nature of this method seems nothing less than unstable. Volatile. And yet there remains something attractive about it; they way they embrace their humanity and are free from the constant disappointment of not transcending their desires. My initial reaction is awe and jealousy, but I know better, I think.
In the end it is a human question: Do I believe I am this, or that? It’s not an easy one. It asks can people change?, can I be a better person?, what would it take?
The bible tells us to “be perfect, just as He is perfect.” If you believe the bible is true, and know something of God’s character, you probably also know intimately that faith is not a crutch. Faith is the difficult road. It’s the hard choice, because faith requires you to constantly be in pursuit of something you’re not—perfect.
Like any muscle, the soul takes exercise to improve strengthen. Like any sport, the soul takes practice to perfect. Conversely, muscles lose their strength when unused, and skills lose their edge when not practiced. It is the same with the soul. This nature of improvement answers our question of ‘how to be’. It shows us that, if we are to strive for perfection, then we must be at constant practice. We must constantly be challenging ourselves to be better guardians of our heart’s door, to ultimately protect our souls.
Revenge, deceit and hatred allow the soul to become weak and out-of-practice, slowing or reversing the progress toward perfection. That’s why we must be pure. It’s why we must not follow our basic instincts of fear and revenge. It’s why we must rise above the dross of life and exemplify Christ. “But I’m only human” is no longer an excuse, because we’re something different now—we’re children and friends of God.