True Humanity

The more I learn and the more I study, the more difficult it gets to talk about sin and the human condition. I remember being quite comfortable using the the term "true humanity" as though the humanity that was staring me in the face, through the faces of those around me, was somehow untrue or less true than it should be. I remember talking about the human condition, so fraught with sin and ambiguity, as actually inhuman, since sin itself is unnatural and does not belong. It used to be so easy to differentiate true humanity from the condition in which we actually find humanity. Humanity, as I wanted to define it, was somewhere outside of what humans were actually like within context and history. Whoever someone wanted to say that they were, I wanted to be able to play my trump-card and say, "your true identity is in Christ," so that I could differentiate the person from their sin... perhaps so that I could love the sinner and hate the sin.

Philosophically, it makes sense to differentiate the humanity that is conditioned by sin from a "true humanity." But philosophically, to do so might simply be a form of idealism. Now, that doesn't make it wrong, but it does help us to see that when we differentiate the human condition from some outside concept called "true humanity" we're subjecting the individual to an ideal, even an inaccessible one. The benefit of such idealism is that we can identify sin for what it is: a foreign invader that does not define us, does not belong, and cannot remain. We can say of ourselves, "my mistakes do not define me... nor do my achievements. My true humanity lies somewhere else." A great benefit that is! And it's true! But the risk we run, whenever we subject what's actually in front of us to an external norm, is that our judgement on the present according to the norm (be it eschatological, Chritsological, etc.)  can become a force for oppression in the present and a tool for the marginalization of those for whom identity itself is ambiguous. What works philosophically does not necessarily make itself accessible in human experience. The ideal is not always so easy to define. And rather than being a comfort and an encouragement, such an ideal can become a weight too heavy to bear. 

While we may not be defined by our mistakes, we cannot in reality be defined by an ideal. We're actually defined by our situation. We are our relationships. We are the product of our conditions. We are the subjects of our own nature (whatever that means). If "true humanity" cannot take our situation seriously, in all of its ambiguity and even its darkness, then it's nothing but a lie. If "true humanity" tries, for a moment, to ignore death or doubt or struggles, then it's as devious as sin itself and will only enslave us to the ideal, paralyzing us from the freedom to face our anxiety with faith and hope. If we're not careful, we may end up burying ourselves and others beneath the burden of "true humanity." 

But the good news is that there is another way to talk about humanity, one which refuses at once to impose an ideal and yet also refuses to define humanity according to sin and failures. There is a Christian way to talk about humanity, a way which looks to Christ--not only for revelation of God but for the revelation of human identity and dignity. When we look to Christ, we look indeed to a victim of torture and execution. We look to one who is fully unraveled and destroyed. Surely, in Christ there is no denial of the darkness of the situation. But when we look to Christ we also look to a victor, one who was raised in victory over death and darkness. We look to one who hangs on the cross with resurrection as his future and we look to one who has risen with scars of crucifixion marking his body.  

In Christ, the human situation was taken up into the life and being of God. Therefore, "true humanity" is both existential and ideal (terms like this, in this context, are actually probably above my pay-grade, but bear with me). When we look at a person, when we look at the humanity which confronts us in the face of the other, we look at a humanity shared by God in Christ. It is the true humanity; that humanity which is so conditioned by death and darkness. It is the true humanity as it is revealed in the crucified Christ who reserves nothing from God's solidarity with us. We don't have to wait for happiness to be truly human (I think I learned this last night while watching "Garden State"). But in Christ, that humanity which has been so conditioned by death and darkness is yet conditioned as well by its future, Christ's future, resurrection. True humanity is what it is and it is what it will be. In the darkness of our present, even as it is affirmed, our humanity anticipates itself. "When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory" (Colossians 3:4). True humanity, through the lens of the resurrection of the crucified Christ, is neither complacent with humanity as we know it nor ignorant of the dignity of the crucified (humanity under the conditions of its own estrangement). We see ourselves in Christ as Christ shares our situation with us and makes his future our future.

True humanity is indeed discovered in the face of Jesus, but as such it is discovered in the faces of the least and the lost, the hopeless and the sinful. It is not a burden to be carried through the course of history, but a grace which meets us on the cross and carries us to resurrection.