Aristotle said that man is a rational animal. Our uniquely constituted minds with their abilities of reason and language are what make man human.
Descartes, perhaps attempting to somewhat salvage Aristotle from Francis Bacon’s relentless focus on technique and the external realities that surround and confront us, put forth this: “I think, therefore I am”.
Recently, I read this question from technology and culture watcher, Nicholas Carr:
“As we transform ourselves into creatures of the screen, we face an existential question: Does our essence still lie in what we know, or are we now content to be defined by what we want? If we don’t grapple with that question ourselves, our gadgets will be happy to answer it for us.”
What is man’s essence? It is not that man has true knowledge of something*, but that man knows a Who. Without this critical component, it does not really make sense to speak of man’s essence.
Some persons know this God in a partial sense – a sense that will do them no good eternally – and some have begun to know Him fully, in a “now but not yet” fashion.
Those who know Him fully know that “this is eternal life”.
He is known through Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whose words are “spirit and life”.
And along with this it is good to be a creature of the book, the book that carries forth and preserves those words into the future.
The Calvinist author Rosaria Butterfield had some wonderful thoughts about being this kind of creature on the Gospel Coalition blog this past week:
Yes, the Holy Spirit gives you a heart of flesh and the mind to understand and love the Lord and his Word. But without good reading practices even this redeemed heart grows flabby, weak, shaky, and ill. You cannot lose your salvation, but you can lose everything else [Nathan’s note: Lutherans do believe that you can lose your salvation]
Enter…The Puritans. They didn’t live in a world more pure than ours, but they helped create one that valued biblical literacy. [John] Owen’s work on indwelling sin is the most liberating balm to someone who feels owned by sexual sin. You are what (and how) you read. J. C. Ryle said it takes the whole Bible to make a whole Christian. Why does sin lurk in the minds of believers as a law, demanding to be obeyed? How do we have victory if sin’s tentacles go so deep, if Satan knows our names and addresses? We stand on the ordinary means of grace: Scripture reading, prayer, worship, and the sacraments. We embrace the covenant of church membership for real accountability and community, knowing that left to our own devices we’ll either be led astray or become a danger to those we love most. We read our Bibles daily and in great chunks. We surround ourselves with a great cloud of witnesses who don’t fall prey to the same worldview snares we and our post-19th century cohorts do.
In short, we honor God with our reading diligence. We honor God with our reading sacrifice. If you watch two hours of TV and surf the internet for three, what would happen if you abandoned these habits for reading the Bible and the Puritans? For real. Could the best solution to the sin that enslaves us be just that simple and difficult all at the same time? We create Christian communities that are safe places to struggle because we know sin is also “lurking at [our] door.” God tells us that sin’s “desire is for you, but you shall have mastery over it” (Gen. 4:7). Sin isn’t a matter of knowing better, it isn’t (only) a series of bad choices—and if it were, we wouldn’t need a Savior, just need a new app on our iPhone.
I would even go so far to say that it is even better to surround ourselves with those who should know and really do know this God and His book better than we do. In this way we might not only hear the words read to us by another, but hear them explained to us in the clearest way possible and put to us in the idioms of our time and to see how they convincingly confront the falsehoods of our age… We Lutherans especially point to great individuals like Martin Luther, Martin Chemnitz, John Gerhardt, C.S.W. Walther, and Herman Sasse.
….and so we look to the good book…. and also look books by the departed saints and the living examples – the “living letters” – of those who carry forth His word, His purpose, His story, history in the world.
For it is in Him that our essence truly lies.
*Aquinas believed that being human requires the faculties of will and reason