Man (Part 3)
Chapter 5 — The Conditions for Life
We saw that the ten laws of life would lead us to the mountain peak where the treasure called life is hidden. On reaching right mental attitude, however we found we hadn't attained the peak at all. It was only a plateau. Now we see that the summit is still far beyond. But having come this far without too much difficulty, let us take courage and press on.
As we continue, we must keep in mind what we have already learned about the life of wholeness or total health:
1. Life is being truly human. This means being rightly related to the environment, to others and to ourselves.
2. All relationships are defined and governed by law. The laws of human existence are unalterable, and health means being in harmony with them.
3. Right mental attitude is the law which undergirds all others in human existence. Wholeness of life is having a right attitude to ourselves, to others and to the environment. It begins with a right attitude to ourselves.
4. The only solid basis for self-respect and belief in our own self-value is the fact that we are related to God. Apart from God there is no basis for self-respect or for the value of anything.
This unexpected confrontation with God may have caught some by surprise. "How did 'God talk' get into this?" But did anyone seriously think we could traverse the path to total life and detour around spiritual health? Impossible! Some believe life has a spiritual dimension but imagine it can be isolated from the rest of life. They think they can separate body from soul. But life is one. Health is wholeness. And those who keep spiritual health in a room by itself can never be fully healthy.
Since we are human, we are related to God as much as to our bodies. There was a time when society treated sickness as if man were only a physicochemical machine. Today we know better. We know that mental processes profoundly influence a person's well-being. Man's well-being is inseparable from spiritual health. If a man is not whole, he is not healthy. We are now ready to state the principle of right mental attitude. A right attitude to ourselves, to others and to the environment depends on a right attitude to God. Right attitude means to believe He is supremely worthy, that He alone possesses supreme worth. From this word worth we derive the word worship. Having a right attitude to God therefore means worshiping Him (giving Him worth) as He ought to be worshiped — from the deepest level of our existence.
If we do not give God His worth, we will give supreme worth (worship) to something else. This is an inescapable law of existence. We are physical-social-spiritual beings. We are driven to find an object of worship just as we are driven to food and companions. Without good food we will substitute bad food. Without good company we will settle for bad. We must give supreme worth to something. If we do not give it to God, we can only give it to ourselves, to others or to things. There are no other options.
The Worship of Self
Worshiping ourselves, ascribing supreme worth to ourselves, is a bad attitude toward ourselves. It is selfish, egocentric, narcissistic. It makes us megalomaniacs.1 It prevents us from being truly human, for we cannot be human as long as we play God. Because it is impossible to freely admit our failures, we parade in a flimsy masquerade, putting up a ridiculous front to give an illusion of our own worth. We can never face the rude truth about ourselves. We can never have rest. Making self the object of worship inevitably leads to self-hate, self-contempt and the disintegration of the personality. "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled" (Matthew 23:12).2
The Worship of Others
Let us suppose, then, that we worship a person or a group of persons such as the party or the church. This attitude toward others can only dehumanize, degrade and destroy both them and us. Let us take the case of a "perfect" daughter doted on by worshipful parents. Without warning she tries to take her life. Her parents are shocked, for this seems entirely out of keeping with the way their child has always behaved. Unfortunately, they had placed her on such a pedestal that she hated herself for not being what she was supposed to be. The attitude of her parents helped destroy her.
An attitude of worshiping a person may give him such power that he is corrupted by it. Hitler was destroyed by the wrong attitude of those who put him in power. He received a torrent of worship, and the atrocities which marked his career illustrate what can happen to a man who is worshiped. "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." When a man or group of men are placed where God should be, they become beasts which destroy both themselves and others.3
The only One able to cope with absolute power is the One who had it all but willingly laid it aside to stoop and wash the feet of men quarreling over who should be the greatest. The greatest of all proved Himself the meekest and lowliest of all. To Him alone is it right and safe to ascribe glory; might, dominion and power forever and ever.
The Worship of Things
What happens if we give supreme worth to the material order? There is no need to guess. By our supreme devotion to materialism we are despoiling and destroying our environment. The deification of science and material progress by modern man has led to the rape and pollution of nature on the one hand, and to the dehumanization of man on the other.
A right attitude to ourselves, to others and to the environment, therefore, is not possible unless we give God His worth.
Giving God His Worth
What does it mean to give supreme worth to God? We have seen that all relationships are defined by law. Our relationship to God is no exception. There are four principles of right worship.
Being rightly related to God means believing that He alone is supremely worthy of our absolute loyalty, submission, reverence and devotion.
1. Loyalty. As our Supreme Good, He alone is worthy of our unqualified loyalty He is to come first in everything and is to be trusted as our supreme consolation and support.
2. Submission. He alone is worthy of our unqualified submission. Instead of trying to manipulate Him or make Him like ourselves, we must submit to Him, allowing Him to make us like Himself.
3. Reverence. He is supremely worthy of our deepest admiration and respect because He is goodness, truth and beauty personified.
4. Devotion. As Creator of all things, He is worthy of the devotion of all our time.
These four principles are summarized in one word: love. Giving supreme worth to God means obeying the greatest commandment of the Bible:
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength" (Mark 12:30). There can be no reservation, nothing kept back. To love means to go out of oneself to another. It means wholly forgetting oneself in concern for the other. This is important. We must see that we cannot find self-worth by extracting it from our relationship to God any more than we can extract self-worth from people or things. A good marriage relationship, for instance, cannot exist when each party uses the other to establish his or her own value.
Love is to forget oneself for the other. He who tries to find his life loses it. But he who loses his life to God finds it. How does he find it? Instead of defining his own value, he lets God define it. He finds that God puts a far higher value upon him than the miserable value he puts on himself. God does not love him because of his value, but he is valuable because God loves him. This is relational value. It exists wholly in the eye of the Beholder. This value is beyond computation because he is precious in the eyes of an infinitely valuable Being. This is the only way to find true self-respect — at once both great and humbling.
Thus, when man gives supreme worth to God, he finds worth for himself. In giving glory to God he finds dignity for himself. He is truly human because he lets God be God.
Right Attitude to Others
Right attitude to God, believing that He is supremely worthy, leads to a right attitude to ourselves — believing that we are worthy of self-respect. This becomes the basis for our right attitude to others. We can then believe they too are related to God and should be treated with dignity and respect. God defines the value of every human being. When we believe this, we will go out of ourselves to secure their best good. This kind of love is enjoined upon us in the golden rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
This unconditional respect for man is social health. We cannot be whole without it. The way we relate to people has a profound influence even on our physical health. In the words of the poet W H. Auden, "We must love one another or die."4
We may define social health with six principles: respect for human authority, respect for human life, respect for human sexuality, respect for human rights, respect for human reputation and respect for the human condition. Let us briefly explore each principle.
1. Respect for Human Authority. Human society cannot exist without structures of authority invested in such persons as parents, teachers, judges and state ministers. The only person who is really free is the person who can gladly submit to an authority higher than himself. No human authority, of course, is absolute. Therefore we should never give any man or human institution the unconditional loyalty which belongs only to God.
Those in authority should unconditionally respect the persons subject to them and by just governance provide for their maximum security and individual responsibility. In the parent-child relationship the child should always know that his acceptance is certain. He should feel he is accepted whether he succeeds or fails. Every child needs discipline and may sometimes need punishment. But he should never be led to think this is an act of rejection. He must never feel he has to "buy" his parents' acceptance with a particular kind of behavior
2. Respect for Human Life. Since man has been placed in a special relationship to God, loved by an infinitely loving Being, there should be reverence for all human life. This means refraining from anything which deprives others of their legitimate right to full enjoyment of life. It also means promoting the maximum quality of life for everyone. This has vast implications. We could well reflect on the pollution of air water soil and cities in the light of respect for human life.
3. Respect for Human Sexuality. It was God who created the basic relationships of human existence. He made man male and female (Genesis 1:27, 28). The force of this simple fact must not escape us. Man is male plus female. Male alone is not a whole man. Neither is female. Man is a being of community This is not an appendage of human existence. It is human existence. The sexual distinction was God's idea, and we can therefore accept it as a good idea. By this He would teach us that wholeness cannot be found in competition or in isolation. Wholeness is only found in coming together in caring and sharing, in forgetting oneself, in going out of oneself to another. Marriage is the institution of divine arrangement which symbolizes this and therefore is to be celebrated by the community. It is also designed to illustrate the sacred union between God and man. Just as man cannot be truly human except in community, so he cannot be truly human except in union with God.
Marriage can invest life with some of its deepest emotions and highest joys. Its consummation was designed to be intensely pleasurable, to symbolize that the greatest satisfaction in life is not found in being alone but in giving one's self for the other. In this, marriage expresses the essence of what it means to be truly human.
It cannot be said, therefore, that human sexuality is unimportant. It is important. Every member of the race is labeled sexually at birth. Life would be dull if not impossible without the male/female distinction. This distinction has inspired much of man's best music, literature, art and noble enterprises. It has brought out some of the best qualities in the human spirit.
This does not mean that all must be married to participate in wholeness. But it does mean that all must participate in supporting the institution of marriage as God has defined it and that all must participate in the principle of self-giving, which marriage is meant to teach. Marriage belongs to the whole community A man's covenant union with one woman is not just a contract with one, but it is a contract with the community. Faithfulness in his covenant with one is faithfulness in his covenant with all.
As we already know, health belongs to a family of words: health, whole, wholesome, hale, holy. When sexuality is isolated from the rest of life and becomes a preoccupation in itself, it is emptied of all meaning. Separated from the wholeness of human existence, it is autonomous, frivolous and destructive even of itself. When sex is reduced to a mere physical dimension, it can become as boring as barnyard physiology.
Man's deepest feelings and beliefs need to be expressed in appropriate physical actions or symbols. We see this in such things as patriotism, religious convictions and fraternal group interests. We give flowers, send cards and make other appropriate gestures to express our feelings. Our lives are enriched by actions which symbolize feelings and beliefs too deep to express any other way
But the mere imitation of these signs is empty, disrespectful or even sacrilegious. Thus, sexual encounter has legitimate meaning and satisfying potential only in the total union of male and female, only where there is unconditional commitment and a sense of consequence and responsibility The sexually promiscuous are not to be censured for "going all the way" but for not going all the way The Casanova who wanders from one amorous relationship to another is to be pitied. He has destroyed his capacity for wholeness in any relationship. Human sexuality clearly illustrates that human life cannot be fragmented without destroying its meaning.
Human consciousness has always identified the distortion of human sexuality with impurity That is, human sexuality is adulterated; hence the word adultery. Our sexuality becomes impure if:
a. It does not express God's undeviating faithfulness to man, and man's obligation of undeviating faithfulness to God.
b. It does not express wholeness by the union of two opposites which were designed by God to complement — to make whole, to complete — each other.
c. It does not express going out of oneself for the benefit of the other.
d. It does not express total, permanent and unconditional self-giving.
4. Respect for Human Rights. Man is a person because he is made in the image of God. He possesses individuality He has power to think and to do. He has creativity inventiveness and imagination. Personhood also means that he has options. He has the faculty of self-determination. He is not a mere organ stop who can only react to his environment. He has the capacity to act on his environment.
A right attitude toward others will not dehumanize them by robbing them of their God-given rights. Not only will it protect their right to decide how they should use their creativity and its products, but it will also protect their rights of privacy freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
5. Respect for Human Reputation. No principle of social health is violated so frequently as this. With a right attitude toward others we will not indulge in slander gossip or misrepresentation. When our self-respect is based upon the value God gives us, we won t pull others down to lift ourselves up.
If our neighbor's life is at stake or if his house is on fire, we naturally go to his aid. But how few of us defend his character when he is misrepresented!
They are slaves who fear to speak
For the fallen and the weak;
They are slaves who will not choose
Hatred, scoffing, and abuse,
Rather than in silence shrink
From the truth they needs must think;
They are slaves who dare not be
In the right with two or three.5
6. Respect for the Human Condition. God has given man his essential relationships. By these He has defined what it means to be truly human. Made in God's image, man is related to God. Created male and female, he is related to the community Given a physical body, he is related to the material world. He has been placed in the world to rule it and to use it responsibly for his own pleasure and for God's praise. Man has a natural affinity for his material environment, yet he is at the same time above it. He is not God and he is not a thing. He is, as it were, set between heaven and earth, for he is under God and over the world. Ruled by God, he in turn is to rule the world as God's vicegerent. Man is defined by these God-given relationships.
A right attitude demands that we respect the human condition and be content with what the Creator has given us to be. It means being content with our finitude, not trying to be God. God has defined human value, and that value is great because we are related to and loved by a great God. We cannot find this great value in ourselves. We never can and never will. It is a relational value. In this we should be content, not coveting the kind of value God has — intrinsic, inherent, ontological value.6 He has defined the boundaries of human existence by laws as fixed as the stars in their courses. We must be content to live within the jurisdiction of law; for that is part of creature existence.
A right attitude means we will be content with our own sexuality and gladly accept the consequent privileges and obligations. We will also be content with our own body, individuality and gifts without wanting to be someone else. We will not be jealous when others prospect; but from the heart will be glad in another's success. We will not secretly rejoice when another stumbles or fails.
When we are content with the dignity and self-worth God has given us, we can also have a right attitude to the environment. We will not try to acquire status and dignity for ourselves by the reckless exploitation of nature. Neither will we deify nature by finding in it our consolation and support. We know that it is God's creation and that it is there as surely as God is there. Therefore we will not mystically think of the material order as a mere illusion to be ignored or transcended. There is beauty order and genuine pleasure in the world. When we are content to be truly human, we will not have a world-denying, world-hating view of life. It is given us to laugh and play as well as to weep and work. God's world is to be used and enjoyed in an attitude of celebration.
The Law of Life
In outlining what it means to have a right mental attitude, we have simply stated the principles of the Ten Commandments. This is the greatest law ever given. It is the basis of the Judeo-Christian ethic, the foundation of the moral code of Western civilization. Though many have tried to tamper with it and have rained their blows upon it, it is an anvil which has worn out many hammers. Toward God it enjoins supreme love, manifested in absolute
Toward man it enjoins impartial love, manifested in respect for human
This is a description of right mental attitude. Indeed, it is a succinct summary of our whole duty These commandments contain ten principles which undergird and embrace all human existence. They define what it means to be in right relationship to God, to ourselves, to others and to the environment. Spiritual, social and physical health are all included. This law defines what it means to be truly human. It is a whole law for a whole, wholesome, holy healthy man.
The law says, "Do this and you will live." "The man who does these things [the commandments] will live by them" (Luke 10:28; Romans 10:5). Jesus Himself said, "If you want to enter life, obey the commandments" (Matthew 19:17). Saint Paul declared, "It is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous" (Romans 2:13).
This law extends to the thoughts and intents of the heart as well as to the outward actions (Matthew 5:21-28; Romans 7:7). Since it is a perfect law, it must be kept in every part or it is not kept at all (James 2:10). It is so just and reasonable that no one can have any legitimate excuse for not doing it. He who fails to carry it out — every jot and tittle of it—falls under its curse (Galatians 3:10). He deserves to die (Romans 6:23).
1 A megalomaniac is a person with "a mental disorder characterized by delusions of grandeur, wealth, power, etc.," by "a passion for, or for doing, big things," with "a tendency to exaggerate" (Webster's Dictionary).
2 Unless otherwise noted, Old Testament references are from the Revised Standard Version and New Testament references are from the New International Version.
3 Read about this in Daniel 7 and Revelation 13.
4 Quoted in "Loneliness Can Kill You," Time, 5 Sept.1977, p.45.
5 J. R. Lowell, "Stanzas for Freedom," The Great Quotations, comp. G. Seldes (New York: Lyle Stuart c, 1966), p.442.
6 "You [God] alone are holy" (Revelation 15:4). God "alone is immortal" (1 Timothy 6:16). "No one is good—except God alone" (Mark 10:18).