The Beauty of Explanation: The Human Condition 

Mathematicians and physicists have a unique view of beauty. For them, a solution is beautiful when it fits well, when it is uncontrived and economical, when it just seems right. It's astonishing how important that view of beauty has been to the history of science, for these beautiful solutions tend also to be true. Thus it is said that although the major equations describing the fundamental basis of the cosmos are beyond comprehension for most of us, yet they can all be written on one side of a piece of paper. Note in this article on the "greatest equations of all time" how short they all are; and yet they all describe crucial facets of physical reality. One astonishing equation has even caused some to wonder if it proves the existence of God. It's an intriguing thought, though I wouldn't blame you if you didn't find it convincing all on its own.

As in science, so in other fields, a simple, well-fitting solution often points toward reality. Thus it is with the Biblical explanation of the human condition. 

We are a strange race. We know beauty and glory. We make art. We know caring and sharing and self-sacrifice. We understand, on some deep level, what justice, mercy, compassion, and love mean. We learn, study and explore far beyond what has any obvious benefit to ourselves. We think. We reflect on our thinking. We are aware of ourselves in ways that no animal is. We build for the future.

We have such greatness, yet we have a longing for more. Not just more stuff, but more love, more life, more fulfillment and satisfaction, more assurance that we are on a right track. When we experience the good, we sense it's just a taste of something greater, something beyond our reach.

We have such greatness, yet we are thoroughly screwed up. We know beauty and glory; we also know defacement, pollution, and shame. We know self-sacrifice and we know selfishness. We violate justice and mercy, compassion and love. We use our knowledge for destruction. We rail against our own weakness, and we are frustrated by the uncooperativeness of the world we live in.

Where did such contradictions arise from? The Biblical answer is so simple, so elegant: we are created in the image of God, and we are fallen.

Equations need their terms explained, and so does this explanation. (The source is Genesis 1-3.) God created everything good, including humans. We were designed for a perfect world, for perfect relationships with God, one another, and the world. The first humans "walked with God" in the Garden.

God designed humans to love, in a way that mirrors his own love, which meant love had to be freely offered. Thus God provided the first persons with options: they could walk with him, or they could take their own path, separate from him. This they chose. They fell into sin. Sin is defined as an act of independence from God, either rebellion or indifference toward God.

God let the consequences of sin take their course, as he had warned them would happen in advance. Can you imagine living in a world where your actions make no real difference? Maybe God could have wiped out history and made it as if they hadn't done what they did. Maybe he could have stopped them at the last moment, just before they took their fateful steps away from him. Maybe he could have caused that fruit to vanish in their hands just before they tasted it. But what kind of life would that have been for us? If we couldn't do anything wrong (no matter how hard we tried!), then nothing we did could make any difference. There's nothing attractive about that kind of life, and God had no such thing in mind for us.

So for the first time, death became part of the human condition. Its first manifestation was a spiritual death, or separation from God. We all walk in that condition now, apart from the solution God provides. Its second manifestation was the "curse:" the Garden was lost, and now we have labor and toil. Relationships became competitive and twisted. Parenting became agonizing. And physical death followed. It's all right there in Genesis 3.

Yet the image of God was never lost! We still have the seeds in us for genuine love, joy, and creativity. What's more, we still know that we were meant for something better than this. Our contradictions make sense in this light. The explanation fits what we know of ourselves. Whatever you think of the creation record in Genesis, you have to recognize the depth of insight here. Where else do you find, in so short a space, such an elegant accounting for why we are the way we are?

This leaves in a pickle, though. The solution, thankfully, is as elegant as this explanation of the problem. That will be in posts seven and eight in this series.

Part of a series on Beauty as reason to believe in Jesus Christ:
1. The Beauty of Christ
2. The Beauty of God's Word
3. The Beauty of God's People
4. The Beauty of Virtue
5. The Beauty of Creativity
6. The Beauty of Explanation: The Human Condition
7. The Beauty of Explanation: The Solution
8. The Beauty of Hope

(See the introduction to Part 1, The Beauty of Christ, for the purpose and context of the entire series.) 

Posted: Tue - March 20, 2007 at 09:35 AM           |

© 2004-2007 by Tom Gilson. Permission is granted to quote up to two paragraphs of any blog entry, provided that a link back to the original is included or (in print) the website address is provided. Please email me regarding longer quotes. All other rights reserved.

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