December 17, 2008


The human person is essentially a question: why. I don't mean a human's physical body - humans are not in essence physical matter. A human's essence, their defining trait, that which seperates them from all other beings, is a question.

Aristotle states that man is the "rational animal". While man is an animal, and has physical matter, he is more than that. He is "rational". He is seperated from the animals in that he can think - he has self knowledge, and he can link things in his mind. He is rational. He can ask questions, and answer them on his own. Man is not different from the animals because he is "smarter"; he is different because man can function on a spiritual level - a rational level.

Man is also different from all the spiritual beings (angels, demons, God...) in more ways than just having a physical body. Man can ask a question. This may seem odd, but think of it this way. God is omniscient. He knows everything, and sees the full course of his actions and everybody else's actions before any of them acts. Thus, he cannot ask a question (intellectually - he can, of course, form words into a question). There is nothing that he doesn't know. Similarly, angels see the end result of their actions plainly - Satan knew that he would be thrust into hell even before he fell (thus he cannot repent). Humans, alone among the spiritual beings, does not know the end result; man does not know, and thus can and must ask questions. This is sort of a physical trait displaying itself on the spiritual level. Because of time and matter, out minds simply can't know beforehand, and we end up having to ask questions.

So if man is divided from the animals by rationalism, and from spiritual beings by physical matter, then the point of connection between these two (the question) is man's essence. His defining point, what makes him man, is questions.

However, not just any question. One question in particular is man's. Why. Animals, because they do not have self knowledge, cannot see motive (the answer to "why"). They can ask "where is the food?" or perhaps "where is the pain coming from?" but they cannot ask "why don't I have any food?" or "why am I being hurt?" They can recognize things - pain, hunger - but cannot see the reason. Man can. He can see that the man who tortures him and deprives him of food wants information out of him.

This also differentiates him from angels and God. Both of them see the whole matter through clearly, since they are out of time. Satan knew that his actions would lead directly to Hell. He saw that distancing himself from God intellecutally would lead him to be distanced from God by being thrown into Hell. Satan didn't ask why. Man, however, misses the connection and has to ask. His mind doesn't automatically do that, and thus he asks a question.

So, man's essential trait is "why". Men ask "why" since they are two years old. Any parents will back up this claim - most children ask questions like "why is the sky blue?" until they are blue in the face. However, man is also himself a question, waiting to be asked.

"Why?" very much describes the relationship between God and man. God created man "to know, love, and serve Him" (Baltimore Catechism #1). Now, man doesn't see his purpose straight from the beginning. He asks a question, an essential question: "Why am I here?" You can see this question written all over the media and explorative art. Man asks his creator what his purpose is, and the creator responds, "I AM." From this question-answer, man moves forward to the loving and serving, which can be described as the natural reaction to the question-answer. If God is, and we are because God is, the loving and serving make sense. Man loves his life; he ought to also love the source of his life. Man serves himself; he ought to also serve the source of himself.

So, if man's essential nature is the questions "why", why is "why" so absent in our culture? In our fast-paced, work-a-day week, there is no time for deep theological question-answer. We get up every morning, drink our coffee from our automatic coffee makers, drive to work in our automobiles, use our word-processors for eight or nine hours, and then drive back home, eat a meal, and go to bed. The question "why" is gone. Or at least, we only get shallow "why". The deepest essence of our human nature is gone.

Why is this? It is uncomfortable to ask "why", because after we know the answer, an action is required. After we know God, we must love Him and serve Him. There is no middle ground. "Take up your cross and follow Me" is not an easy command to follow - for death on a cross is a very unpleasant thought in any human mind. Thus, in order to keep these questions out of our minds, so that we can live in a world of shallow, material pleasures, we confine ourselves to the shallow "why" and ignore our true human nature. We don't want to be human.

The only reasonable move is to begin, as a culture, to ask "why?" If we simply asked "why?" and moved rationally to the answer, then the implications of the answer would be realized. We'd have to love; we'd have to serve. So, instead of losing twenty pounds or being nicer, why don't we try this new year to become more human - to ask why, and find the answer.

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