“What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels, And You have crowned him with glory & honor. You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet.” (Psalms 8:4-6)
It seems that we have to constantly prove ourselves today. As children we have to prove ourselves in athletics to our peers & in academics to our teachers. As teens we begin to prove ourselves in labor to our employers. As adults we must continue to prove ourselves as productive & valuable members to society.
We must associate with the right people & buy the right material things equipped with the right features. We must obtain membership in the right organizations be they civic, charitable or religious. Ourselves & our children must be dressed in the latest designer clothes in the latest chic styles. We must live in the right neighborhoods in suitably fashionable homes with stylish landscaping. We must seek the appropriate higher education at the most elite of universities. We must have a perfect career, preferably high-profile, as a suitable job that provides one’s family with a comfortable lifestyle is no longer good enough.
When I was growing up, the “American dream” was the seeking of a comfortable life with a comfortable home. It meant putting a roof over your children’s heads, food in their mouths, clothes on their bodies & beds under their bodies through honest labor & a life lived with integrity. Now the American dream is the seeking of riches, fame & fortune marked with conspicuous consumption of the latest technological gadgets. The richer or more famous one is it seems the more valuable one is. One has only to glimpse the media outlets to see the latest big name Hollywood star or famous music artist endorsing some political candidate or commercial product.
There is nothing wrong with being a productive member of society, or obtaining a quality education for yourself or your children, or of a more lucrative career. Nor is there anything wrong in being rich & famous. In our culture today though, our value as human beings is far too often based on our professional accomplishments, material acquisitions & consumption capabilities, i.e. our success. The failure or inability to be successful in these things somehow makes us less valuable. Furthermore, an accident or condition that renders one permanently incapable, either mentally &/or physically, negates all human value.
But is this truly the case? Is our intrinsic value as human beings, our human dignity, nothing more than the sum total of our successes in life, or in the case of children their potential successes? Most people even at an instinctive level in their conscience would answer no to these questions although those holding such an opinion are decreasing.
According to the Church & the Church Fathers the answer would be a resounding “NO!” Our human dignity comes ultimately from a source that is not only not human, but a source that is beyond all concepts of human or even divine—God; or more precisely the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son & the Holy Spirit. Theophilus of Antioch (115-181AD) writes to Autolycus: “But as to what relates to the creation of man, his own creation cannot be explained by man, though it is a succinct account of it which Holy Scripture gives. For when God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness,’ He first intimates the dignity of man. For God having made all things by His Word, & having reckoned them all mere bye-works, reckons the creation of man to be the only work worthy of His own hands.”
Only then, after the creation of mankind did God pronounce creation “very good.” Mankind was the apex of creation, neither completely physical like the animals nor completely spiritual like the persons of the Holy Trinity or the angels. Thus did God give mankind a purpose, that of intermediary between the created & uncreated, with free-will to either love or not love God as shown by obedience or disobedience; thereby mankind chooses to enter into either eternal life or death.
Christos Yannaras in his book The Freedom of Morality writes: “The creation of man is an act of God’s love: not of His ‘kindly disposition,’ but of His love which constitutes being as an existential event of personal communion & relationship. Man was created to become a partaker in the personal mode of existence which is the life of God—to become a partaker in the freedom of love which is true life.”
This sense of the divine—the image of God—so inherent to our humanity & our being, is rapidly being lost to our modern mindset. While few today would venture to destroy the icons adorning Orthodox Churches or found in the homes of Orthodox Christians, modern day iconoclasm in the form of destroying the image of God in mankind is still very prevalent throughout our society. Rather than letting our successes determine our value in life, let us rather focus on the Holy Trinity who is the source of our life.