As a famous hymn reminds us — “All creatures of our God and King, lift up your voice and with us sing” — we are created beings in the image of a good God called to worship Him. However, in our creatureliness, do we forget the beauty that is being human? Yes, we are lowly, but let us not neglect that we were made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). We are more than passive creatures.
This builds to the question: what does it mean to be human?
Without recognizing it, I have been wrestling for years with this question. I have wallowed in my lowliness, forgetting that this life has been granted to me as a gift. I have looked at the world with a furrowed brow, asserting that every part is evil. I have held a magnifying glass to life, and subconsciously declared that there is no meaning in it, other than an inconvenience to be trudged through until Heaven.
Lately, however, I have found myself able to do nothing other than look to the grace of God. For years with an eating disorder, I have wrestled with what it feels like to be human. But as of late, my question has simply been what it means to be human.
Since reading St. Augustine’s Confessions in my Jerusalem and Athens seminar class, Augustine’s cry, “Such was my life! But was it life, O my God?” has become the chorus of my internal monologue (Augustine Book III, Chapter II). I have been meditating on the truth that there is more to being human than simply existing. As Christians, we should consider what this means.
In our class, we also had the joy of discussing another one of St. Augustine’s works, The City of God, and we inadvertently highlighted the question of the value of being human in this world. In Book 15, St. Augustine expresses, “A stranger in this world, the citizen of the city of God, predestinated by grace, elected by grace, by grace a stranger below, and by grace a citizen above” (Augustine Book XV, Chapter 1). When reading this, it is tempting to gloss over the language used, specifically in the phrase “by grace” — so I would like to draw your attention there.
St. Augustine does not simply call us strangers below, but, by grace, strangers below. Therefore, though we are citizens of Heaven, St. Augustine must see some value in this life if we were placed here by grace.
As creatures and strangers below Heaven, we are still allowed to enjoy this world — not to indulge in fleshly desires, but to appreciate the beauty of life. Though tainted by sin, God’s creation is still good. To be human is to glorify our Creator through our lives, and one way to do so is to marvel at how He has crafted the earth and all things in it.
We live in a world where sunsets turn a typically blue sky into a delicate shade of tangerine and human hands are perfectly shaped to intertwine. We inhabit a life in which laughter is understood across language barriers, bodies of water sustain life, and arrangements of sound cause us to dance and to feel. We have the ability to love others as humans and understand that in their creatureliness, they too are made in the image of God. We were not thrown into this world on a whim but placed here to glorify God. In understanding this beauty, we do not worship creation, but its Creator.
Further in his work, St. Augustine expands on what it means to be a created being. He writes, “Therefore I would not exist – I would simply not be at all – unless I exist in thee, from whom and by whom and in whom all things are” (Augustine Book I, Chapter II).
Let us not become functional gnostics, wishing away all matter. To be human is to know that we only exist because of the careful, intentional hand of a good God. It is to know that our time here is indeed inferior to eternity, but not to be wasted. We are strangers by grace — let us kneel at the Father’s feet both in humility and thanksgiving for the good gifts He has given us in our mere humanity.
Despite being marred by sin, there is still beauty to be found here below.