I’ve been thinking a lot about the human condition lately. The headlines in the news have stimulated my thinking.
The phrase human condition is in itself interesting. Being human is a condition—maybe like heart burn or asthma. It’s a condition (though marvelous at times) that comes with built-in limitations.
We’re human. That means we make mistakes. (Isn’t that what the poet Alexander Pope said? “To err is human.”) We’re human. We don’t know the future. We’re human. We’re prone to certain drives or illnesses. We’re human. We’re going to die. Being human means we have very little say-so over our lives. Often we are beset by circumstances beyond our control—-the economy, health issues, freak accidents. Many times the only control we have is how we respond to the things beyond our control.
That’s why being human can be very frightening. If we really dwelt on how vulnerable we are, we wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning. But even staying in bed could be dangerous. The ceiling could come crashing down upon us. Or lying around in bed could make us more susceptible to catching pneumonia! It seems to me what is needed to live lives with at least a modicum of peace, sanity, and happiness is courage. But what is the source of such courage?
The source is not ourselves. We’re only human. It’s not others. They’re only human too. If we turn to the Bible, we find our source of courage: the God who created us and thus knows our human condition even better than we do. The Bible says this same God loves us unconditionally, madly, tenderly, and eternally despite our limitations and failings.
The Bible is filled with stories of human beings as vulnerable, weak, and noble as we are. They were not exempt from fear. But their fear was coupled with their faith in God. This faith or trust in God made their fear bearable. Think of Moses at the Burning Bush trying to convince God to send someone else to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt. God’s response to his objections was, “I’ll be with you.”
Think of the young girl Mary trembling before the angel Gabriel, yet trusting so much in God she was able to say “yes” to circumstances she could never have imagined. And think of Jesus terrified in the Garden of Gethsemane finding the courage to say “yes” to a horrific death because he trusted in Abba, his Father.
In her book, The Preaching Life, Barbara Brown Taylor writes about fear and faith. She describes fear as “a small cell with no air in it and no light. It is suffocating inside, and dark. There is no room to turn around inside it.” She says that faith is not “a well-fluffed nest, or a well-defended castle on a high hill.” Rather faith “is a rope bridge over a gorge.” She points to the story of Jairus, the official whose young daughter had just died. Before tending to the tormented man’s daughter, Jesus gives Jairus the shortest sermon he ever preached: “Do not fear, only believe.”
I don’t know what fears you might be dealing with right now, but, since you’re human, I imagine you have some. And I don’t know where you are on that rope bridge over the gorge either. Perhaps you are taking your first hesitating steps onto that swaying bridge. Or maybe you’re somewhere in the middle where it is sagging the most. Or perhaps you’re nearing the end and you’re already catching glimpses of “the other side.” But wherever you are, this is my prayer for you (and for myself!): May we learn to live the human condition with faith and courage. And may we even learn to love our human condition with its limitations and gifts, its imperfections and wonders, its heartaches and joys, knowing that Jesus lives and loves it too.
The song is “Be Not Afraid.” I believe it is sung here by John Michael Talbot even though the credits say Josh Groban…
What are your thoughts on the human condition, faith, and courage?
What did you think of the song?
PS: Once again I ask for your prayers for a retreat I’m facilitating at the Marie Joseph Spiritual Center August 20 to 27 in Biddeford, Maine. The center is located right on the ocean! Afterwards I’m staying in Maine for a few days for some R&R with an SND friend in Kennebunk. This means I am taking two weeks off from writing this blog. But the next two Mondays, the 22nd and the 29th, I will post two reflections from a few years ago. I will resume with new reflections on Monday, September 5. Thank you again for reading this blog! I really appreciate you!