Why are we here? What are we made for? What does it mean to be human? And how can we be more fully alive in our humanness?
In one way or another, those are simply the questions that human beings ask. They are the questions of existence. Why? What? What for? Are such questions answerable at all? Much of our activity springs from a groping-after answers to those questions. We build things and then break them. We start relationships and then end them. We lurch from one experience to another and then disavow them. We try new religions and religious experiences on for size and then write them off as mere sentimentality.
The Biblical response to those questions is stunning for both its depth and simplicity:
We did not merely spring into existence as a result of random processes… rather, we were made
And not just made, but made by Someone, for a purpose
This Someone, the Bible claims, is all goodness and love
Which means that we were made by Love, in Love, and for Love
That is to say, we were made by, in, and for relationship. Communion. Friendship. Being-with. Being-with God. Being-with each other. Such a state of affairs is what the Bible is referring to when it uses the Hebrew word Shalom, “peace”… Shalom is not an absence. Shalom is a presence. Or rather, a Presence. It is when human beings are situated rightly in God’s world, related rightly to themselves, to each other, to God’s world, and finally to God. We flourish in and through our right relatedness to what is around us.
It is a peculiar tragedy of our Western intellectual heritage that we have often been prone to define our existence otherwise. The 6th century Christian philosopher Boethius once said that man is “an individual substance of a rational nature.” But that is not even close to being true. Nor is it an apt foundation for understanding how to appropriate our humanness. When I think of an “individual substance of a rational nature”, I think of Data from Star Trek. Data had all the markings of humanness, but was painfully sub-human at best, incapable of true emotion. A bipedal computer at best. So close to being human and yet at the same time so pitifully far from it. When I think of human beings created in the “image of God”, I think of something much warmer, more wonderful, more mysterious, more plural.
God, we should remember, is no “individual substance of a rational nature.” Not at least the biblical God. Our God is no solitary being standing aloof in some far corner of the universe. No, our God is plural. He is Three. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit living together in perfect communion (here is the “One” of “Three in One”) from before all eternity… loving, giving, delighting in, serving, rejoicing in the face of each Other. And we, the Scripture claims, out of the endless surprising delight of Triune love, were created in precisely THAT image. We were not made to be solitary creatures. We were made in a for relationship. From before all eternity, we are called to Holy Communion. With God. With each other. Here is our truest humanness.
No surprise then that John opens his Gospel with the stunning declaration that “The Word became Flesh, and pitched his tent among us…” (John 1:14) Like the Holy Presence that indwelt and journeyed-with the people of Israel through their wanderings in the wilderness, so now John claims the impeccable Word has donned our humanness and made his home among us. He sought the deepest communion with us, by sharing in what we are. And he will never lay that humanness aside again. He will always be one of us, for us, God with us. His ministry can be looked at from one angle as the playing-out of God the Creator’s relentless desire for grace-filled, welcoming, redemptive, restorative communion with human beings. Tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners, younger brothers, older brothers, Democrats, Tea-Partiers, the Taliban… Jesus welcomed them all, without discrimination. And his welcome transformed. He was the Divine desire for Holy Communion IN-FLESH… in-carnated. He welcomed all. He welcomed us still.
It is my conviction that our longing for communion is a powerful, if sometimes faint, trace of the image of God in us. It is why we marry and have kids, why we seek roommates and make friends, why we gather in bars and coffee shops to chew the fat and laugh about the stuff of life. We don’t want isolation. We want a realization of the image of God in us. That is, we want communion.
Advent, if it is anything, is that. It is the reminder that that impulse towards communion is right and good, and that if we’ll let it, it will be a signpost towards faith. One person said, “Right at the depth of the human condition, lies the longing for a presence, the silent desire for a communion. Let us never forget that this simple desire for God is already the beginning of faith.”
Let your longing for communion lead you home…