Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Chimera

He’s the most isolated man on earth. The last surviving member of an uncontacted and undocumented tribe, he lives out his days in a remote swath of the amazon basin enwreathed by tens of thousands of acres of densest South American jungle. Like you and I, he is a human being. But, unlike you and I, he is alone, very alone, and that largely by choice. All attempts to make peaceful contact since his 1996 discovery have failed - the last memorably punctuated by an arrow in the vitals of a search party member.

It’s not often that we get to see or even dare imagine something like this, a man stripped of all of the props and trappings of the world until he’s just plain man. Of course, it wasn’t always this way. This now solitary figure had a family. He had a life. But, at this moment, he is the final live ember in a dying fire. Now the only voice he hears is his own. Who knows but that in the deafening silence of the rainforest he doesn’t still speak and sing to himself in a dialect that’s just a heartbeat away from extinction?

What a story! Thinking about this man in his extreme isolation sets a person to wondering what a man even is. It’s no secret that those of us in the civilized world are so over-civilized we’re prone to forget. So defined by the externals and our relationship to things, oftentimes it's hard to locate the person at the center of it all. If we can’t google ourselves, if there’s no electronic paper-trail proving that we’re alive and influencing the world, well, maybe there is no us!

It’s a strange situation, this. Caught fast in the whirlpool, we’ve allowed the incidentals of life eddying about us to obscure the essentials. As a result, without recourse to resumes and lists of things we’ve done or own, we wouldn’t know where to begin were someone to ask us the very sensible question: What are you?

This, you see, is a very important question. We’ve begun to take up the theme of what God has done to effect the redemption of man. But you won’t have any idea what this means unless you know what a man is. And so it’s not too much to say that the whole of the spiritual life rides on just this - Knowing what you are and what you were and what you may one day be.

So, how can we even begin to answer this question? For starters, any description of humanity worth its salt has to honestly countenance the total picture of what we are. And what we are is not easy to pin down. There’s a strange, undeniable duality here. I think Pascal got it right when he exclaimed: “What a chimera then is man! What a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, feeble earthworm, depository of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error, the glory and shame of the universe!”

The penetrating accuracy of Pascal’s assessment stems from the fact that he doesn’t lose sight of either of the poles of what it means to be human. His description does what it must do, capturing the essential paradox of what you are. Truth be told, you are a contradiction, a strange something, a being divided - You are Man, maker of lullabies and landmines, gardens and gulags, sonnets and spears.

And this is exactly what you would expect in light of the Biblical account of humanity. To locate man in the scriptural scheme of things is to find one who is both lofty and, by his own hand, laid low. Made by God, for God and even, in a manner of speaking, like God, we were fashioned to be kings of sorts over creation. But instead of ruling all things under God, we find ourselves enslaved to all things in a world inverted.

You are a piece of work, you. You’ve really messed this thing up. Of course, I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. Your every experience bears this out. You taste the glory and the infamy, the heavy savor of your identity. You are the image of God, but a fallen image, a marvel and a horror, a temple desecrated. It’s going to take a lot to locate you, to save you from yourself.

Ah, Man, you are the most isolated thing on earth. You are a human being, and you are alone, very alone, and that largely by choice. All attempted efforts to make peace with you failed, as they were destined to fail - all, that is, save one; That one was punctuated by an attempt to kill the one who came looking for you. But, then, that was the plan.


  1. This paradox that you are describing is what I think makes it difficult to love the sinner but hate the sin. Sin is not just an abstact concept that can be seperated from the person; it is part of postfall human nature. On the other hand, the Psalmist suggests man was created a little lower than God. And, even postfall, we are in God's image though marred. Pascal's thoughts are right on. Thanks for this post - good thoughts.

  2. Thanks for the comment. You are right that sin is not just an abstract concept, but somehow interpenetrates all of what we are as a person. However, having said that, I think that it bears noting that the gospel is based on the fact that it can be separated from us and even transfered to another. Of course, in order to be separated from our sin, there is a sense in which we have to die and be recreated in Christ.


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