What’s involved in being human? We could answer that in many ways. It also depends on why we’re asking the question. If we’re looking to draw boundaries around how far we should extend ‘human rights’, then we very quickly get into dangerous territory, and start setting minimal qualifications for being ‘properly human’ which become both ridiculous and nasty.
If we’re looking for something to aim at, though, then the question can be a lot more productive. What’s involved in being a fulfilled, mature human? The writer of this chapter of Proverbs is clear that wisdom is a big factor.
Thus says the man: I am weary, O God,
I am weary, O God. How can I prevail?
Surely I am too stupid to be human;
I do not have human understanding.
I have not learned wisdom,
nor have I knowledge of the holy ones.
Who has ascended to heaven and come down?
Who has gathered the wind in the hollow of the hand?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is the person’s name?
And what is the name of the person’s child?
Surely you know!
‘I am too stupid to be human’ seems a bit harsh. It doesn’t take much TV to see a fair amount of stupidity among people who are definitely human. But to be fully human, to be a fulfilled, mature human being – that is something different. What would be included in the ‘human understanding’ that we should have? To this author it includes wisdom, the deep learning that interprets the world into right action, rather than the shallower knowledge of facts and theories. It includes ‘knowledge of the holy ones’ – those who can inspire and enrich us by their learning from the past.
But the writer is also looking for something which is beyond human reason and discovery – for wonder and heavenly insight. ‘Who has ascended to heaven and come down?…Who has established all the ends of the earth?’
In a few weeks’ time we’ll hear the wonderful words from the beginning of St John’s gospel, ‘In the beginning was the Word…’, and we will tell again the story of the one who came down from heaven, to ascend again – the same one through whom all things were made. Jesus.
True wisdom won’t be found without reference to him, for he is Wisdom become one of us. He is the model of true humanity – and when we learn from him, we grow into our true selves.