The third session of The Way was held last Friday evening and the session was entitled “Being Human: Fully Alive.” The talk was written by the late John Bazlinton and was read on his behalf by Christine Mangala Frost.
This presentation addressed the purpose of our lives and argued that the purpose of life is not to become religious, or even to become “Christian” or “spiritual” – rather, the purpose of life, according to a Christian understanding, is to become truly human. It is to become what God intended us to be. However, the Christian understanding of what it means to be truly human is something far greater than the limited understanding of much secular thought.
We are all in some sense philosophers, for we ask questions about the meaning of life, and it is important that we address these questions face on – in the words of Socrates: “The un-examined life is not worth living.” However, there are forces in contemporary western society that inhibit our ability to ask these questions.
We live in a materialistic culture that tends to teach us that matter is all that there is. From this it follows that the most important thing in life is acquiring material possessions. In such a context ideas about “good” and “evil” become meaningless; as Dostoyevsky said: “If God does not exist, everything is permissible.” It can appear that the only moral absolute is that there are not moral absolutes. But it takes a great deal of faith to believe this bleak view that life is essentially pointless.
Some people who react to materialism look for “spirituality” in a range of “New Age” type approaches, often picking and choosing from various religious traditions. The problem with this is that such orientations are often rooted in subjective feelings and what seems to work at any given moment. Instead of asking whether something is true, the criterion becomes whether it works, and especially, whether it works for me.
Another alternative to both materialism and “New Age Spirituality” is a Platonic view that sees matter as inferior to the world of the spirit. While there may not be many Platonists around today, such ideas have had an influence on our culture, including on aspects of Christian thinking. However, the Orthodox Church is clear that human beings are both matter and spirit. It is important that we maintain the proper relationship between them, for
whatever our philosophy of life may be, we all face the same facts: we all live on a tiny planet, suspended in the vastness of space; our tiny planet faces horrendous problems – so horrendous that we sometimes want to run away, into empty, materialist lives, into New Age fantasies, or the belief that matter does not matter. To quote the Gospel, we “hear of wars and rumours of wars … famines and earthquakes” (Matthew 24:6-7) and we realize that we “are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14). It is all too easy to fall into either fantasy or despair.
In contrast to such beliefs, Christian belief is rooted in a God who really is – a personal God who acts in human history.
However, Christians also believe that the situation in which we now find ourselves is not natural. Things are not as they should be. The Bible tells us that we were created in the image and likeness of God. We were intended to grow ever more magnificent into the perfect image of God. But instead of evolving and being divinized by God’s grace, we “devolved.” We became less than we were intended to be. Adam and Eve doubted God and broke their trust with the Giver of life and as a result death came into the world.
Sin is not only a crime: not only evil action against our fellowman and against ourselves, and so an offence to God. Sin is also a sickness. When you live out of harmony with life, when you act in a way that is out of harmony with God, the Giver of Life, you die. Little by little, in big or little ways, something inside you dies. You know it, deep inside, when you do something that is out of harmony with life. Something in you gets sick.
However, this sin is not the final word.
Now if Christians just believed in the Fall of Man, our lives would be pretty bleak. In all the confusion, it is easy to forget that Adam and Eve fell away from something. From what? What was the destiny that they abandoned when they abandoned God? It was to become the full image of God, through the love of God. It was to grow to the stature of one person – Jesus Christ.
When we failed to live up to what we were meant to be Jesus Christ came to us, becoming human and conquering death. In Him we see the full meaning of what it means to be in the Image of God, for He is “the express image,” that we are called to become. And it is through the Holy Mysteries that the Church offers to us that we receive medicine for soul and body and something starts to change in us. We are sick and the Church is a hospital in which Someone starts changing us.
To be continued…