The human condition is a source of endless delight and endless curiosity. We seem to swing from rampant idealism to the most barbarous actions. In today’s globalized and globalizing world, people, ideas, cultures, and ideologies are being flung together into a desperate mix, with many clashes, lots of uncertainties, and unknown outcomes. What does it mean to be human? Who says and does it matter? Don’t all views lead to harmony and justice? And by simply granting space, time, and freedom, we will not finally achieve the Brave New World?
The hopes and expectations, the optimism, all unleashed from the time of the Enlightenment, have been central to both Western thought and the globalizing vision from the beginning. It is a narrative of rational men and women in control of their own destinies, unfettered by religion, superstitions, or the past and fueled with the power of science and rational thought to pursue progress and universal peace and harmony. I believe it functions for many as an alternative salvation story. This is perhaps seen most clearly with the New Atheists, who view all religion or religious thought as something to be saved from!
What is the human condition? How are we to live? With all our education, experience, and insight, we are still mystified by what we do and don’t do, what seems to be right, true, or good in a way that is really lasting and effective. As a means of probing these kinds of questions, the philosopher Peter Kreeft considers the four steps of medical analysis: Observation of symptoms, diagnosis of disease, prognosis of cure, and prescription for treatment. He writes, “The symptoms are the undesired effects, and disease is the undesired cause; the cure is the desired effect, and the treatment is the desired cause.”(1)
Indeed, but in a world of competing and combative claims, we are left confused and divided in the hope of any kind of shared diagnosis and solution. Some years ago I attended a consultation in Europe, which included many leaders, dignitaries, and guests all concerned at that time about the “new” Europe, and what was needed for a better life for all. Many well-considered ideas and scenarios were presented, and yet there was a deep sense that economics, democracy, and better management would not be enough. Almost with a sense of resignation, one voice said, “The problem at the heart of Europe is the problem of the human heart.” There was a sudden quiet as many grasped the reality and depth of that statement. We can substitute Europe in the sentence with America or Asia or Africa and it still fits. It seems we all need heart surgery and some real internal work if external realities are to be impacted and changed.
The good news is that God has provided a solution for this very concern and the promise of a new heart. The hope of inner renewal which leads to outward change is part of what Christianity offers to the human dilemma. Truly, what we need is not more moralizing and polishing of externals, but deep heart surgery and a new beginning. Indeed, we need the very gift of new creation in the one who makes all things new.
Stuart McAllister is regional director for the Americas at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue: Traditional Moral Wisdom for Modern Moral Confusion (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992), 38.