Insignificance of Humans

I assume it is fairly normal for most of us to think a little more highly of ourselves than is warranted. By saying that, I don’t want to imply we are pieces of junk! To the contrary, I believe that we are created in the image and likeness of God. I do like the early Genesis creation accounts that give humanity a key role to play in the universe. In a very real sense, we are special.

But being special and being significant is a balancing act. I realize it is risky even to take on the subject. I am postulating that we are all special. Each of us is created in the image and likeness of God. We each come with divine potentiality to create and develop the specialness we have. And some people actually pull it off. I suppose those are the ones we call saints. The really big saints are known to all of us. There are people like Mother Theresa. Probably only the youngest have not heard about her and the incomparable work in the slums of Calcutta. But in a few more years, no young person will ever have heard of her.

In God’s economy there continues to be the need for new saints. God continues to need some of us who are special to step up and live lives of saintliness. That sounds daunting, but maybe it is easier than it seems. To be a saint is simply to be holy. Now I know “holiness” language does not typically enjoy favor in the world we inhabit. It sounds way too sanctimonious---holier-than-thou. I am not even a real fan of the word. But I know what it is supposed to mean, so I am ok with that.

In the classical languages holiness is best understood as the opposite of profane. So look at it this simply by examining our language. If I am determined to go around telling people, “God damn you,” then I am being profane. And if I am going around with the language of “God bless you,” then I have opted for holiness. Blessings or curses? If we assess our television/movie culture, we see how pervasive the language of cursing has become. Damning people in God’s name is so common, it seems perfectly normal. In fact, it is not unusual for kids to damn us and send us to hell---linguistically at least. When was the last time you heard someone say “God bless you?” (sneezes don’t count!)

We live in a damnable culture and hardly think about it. And oddly, too many of us think we are not only special, but also significant. I would argue there is nothing of significance in a damnable society. Of course, I can throw out the baby with the bath water. In this case the “baby” is every one of us who is special. And with my logic, that is every one of us. I will keep coming back to this foundational point: you and I and every person is special. You and I and every person is a creature of God---created in the image and likeness and, therefore, special.

But special is nothing until we begin to do special things. And doing special things is difficult if the “bathwater” in which we find the baby is polluted. For sure, no one thinks he or she is living in polluted “baby water.” But many of us are. Sometimes I know I am! We may not be junk, but think of some of the junk on television! Or what passes for entertainment is often quite junky in my opinion. I am convinced it often is polluting the minds of our young (and older) people. We are all creatures of our cultures. We can’t help but be creatures of our cultures.

The story of Adam and Even is the story of a culture change. They were in paradise with only one rule: don’t eat of that one tree. Of course, they did! And in that eating, they experienced a culture change. They had changed the “baby water.” It was now characterized as sin. It was no longer pure. Most of us don’t talk any longer of a “Fall.” But we do live in a fallen world.

We humans are still special people in our fallen worlds. We never cease being God’s creatures. Adam and Eve did not cease being children of God. But they were tossed out of Eden. They went to live East of Eden. They were still special. But they had become insignificant. They had forfeited their significance as children of paradise. We are more like them than we care to imagine…special but not significant.

Let me explain. We are special in the sense that we are (and always will be) creatures who image the Divine Itself. Bunnies don’t image God. Birds don’t and flowers do not. They are all created by God and may well be images of beauty, etc. But they are not created in the image and likeness of God. Only humans are. And that makes us special.

Specialness is a given. To be human is to be special. But we are also living East of Eden. We are sinners. I know that word has little currency today. Let’s just say, we are not perfect. Too many of us are living selfishly and not selflessly. Mother Theresa I am not. She was a saint. Her life was significant as well as special. And that’s the hope. You and I can be significant. But that is not a given as being special is a given.

That is the spiritual quest. The quest is not to be special. You and I have already achieved that, although many people do not know they are special. The real quest is to become significant. And this really is quite tricky. Significance is skewed in our culture. Significance is too often measured by money or status. Mother Theresa had neither. She was not rich and had no status---she was not a CEO! Her status was more like a servant to the poorest of the poor and to the sick. What a job description! But it was a saintly job. She threw out the “bathwater” and kept the “baby.” She was a saint to the sick.

I can’t imagine she was full of pride. I doubt that self-esteem was much of a concern. She was more concerned with obedience and service. In some ways she pulled off what Adam and Eve could not. She stayed obedient in the slums. They blew it in paradise! How ironical…

Adam and Eve are the model story. They were special and significant. They blew it. They were then special and insignificant. Mother Theresa is a model for our story. She was special. And then she chose of life of service and ministry. In a screwed up culture, it made no sense. But in a spiritual culture, it was a choice of holiness and saintliness. It was a significant witness in a world that is too often committed to the insignificant.

To become significant is a choice. It is the choice of a spiritual culture and a life of service.

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