Great Souls

Waste no more time talking about great souls and how they should be. Become one yourself!

-- Marcus Aurelius

"I think that God in creating Man somewhat overestimated his ability," Oscar Wilde once quipped.  It may not be entirely clear whether Wilde meant that God had overestimated his own ability or the man’s; either way, his remark reflects badly on the man.  Certainly, you can muster ample supporting evidence gleaned from the lamentable history of the human race.  However, for Wilde’s observation to hold true, we must also account for the outliers of our species, among them Buddha, Jesus, Gandhi, and, in our own time, Martin Luther King, Jr.  Even allowing for the mythologizing that often surrounds them, these great souls challenge our understanding of human potential.

According to the biblical creation story, we are made in God’s image.  Actually, there are two creation stories side-by-side in the Bible, and in the second we are told the Lord God formed us from the dust of the ground.  So depending on how you spin it, we are either god-like or mere common clay.  The latter is more in keeping with our lamentable history, whereas the former may account for those outliers.

All the mythologizing that surrounds the extraordinary few has had the effect of putting them well beyond the range of normal human aspiration.  Our youthful dreams of glory never extend to the miracle-working attributed to even a run-of-the-mill saint, never mind the exploits of someone like Jesus.  As it is, even the early church had trouble coming to grips with their Messiah.  Was he God or man?  Strong views were put forward on both sides, and centuries elapsed before a definitive position could be hammered out.  The church ultimately came down on both sides of the issue, declaring that Jesus was simultaneously fully human and fully divine.  The intent no doubt was to bridge the gap between God and mankind through a shared humanity.  But this formulation raised as many questions as it answered.  If Jesus was fully human, how could he be without sin?  And if he was fully divine, how could he die?  Whatever the intent, the effect was to set Jesus apart from both.

Perhaps the problem has less to do with who Jesus is than who we are.  We don’t really understand what it means to be created in God’s image, so we’re not really in a position to judge the extent to which Jesus stands apart from us, if at all.  Shared humanity is one thing; shared divinity is quite something else. “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven,” St. Paul instructed.  In his mind, Jesus was never meant to be one of a kind, but rather “the first-born among many brethren.”  How then did the first-born become an only child?  When all is said and done, I suspect people just found it easier to worship him rather than be like him

1 Colossians 15:49
Romans 8:29

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