(I apologize in advance if this is too pretentious or academic. I’m supposed to do 5 of these for my final class in grad school and I just figured I’d share them. If the first paragraph is too pretentious, please just skip it!)
I believe that to study anything about humanity well, ontology—the branch of metaphysics that deals with the nature of being—is precisely where you need to begin; since ontology is the starting point of studying humanity, this alone must be the foundation of academia (i.e. Ontology must be the foundational tenet for studying humanity because being itself is the starting point of humanity.) The reason being: ontology has massive implications for academia and yet not a single field of study has actually addressed the importance of—or even the existence of—ontology as a foundation for approaching each respective subject. You’ll only discuss ontology if you’re into philosophy or if you’re reading Martin Heidegger. However, the problems caused by this lack of ontological exploration is magnified tenfold for Christians since their faith is rooted in the hope they have as children of God. Christians find their vocation in their identity, which ultimately is found in what it means to be human—more precisely, what it means to be human as God intended. If identity—both who we are and whose we are—begets vocation, and identity is rooted in ontology, then why has ontology lost its place as the foundation of what it means to be human for both Christians and academics?
As a Christian, I look to Genesis for ontological hints, not in an exact science—as if it actually matters whether or not the world is 6,000 or over 100 billion years old—but in a way that can help speak to questions of Christian identity. Christopher West says, “the creation stories were never meant to be scientific accounts of the origin of the world. Scientific knowledge is certainly valuable as far as it goes, but it can’t tell us the spiritual meaning of our existence.” Here are my thoughts on what we can glean from Genesis regarding the ‘meaning of our existence’:
Looking back at Creation, God created Adam and Eve in order to reflect divine communal nature. What prompts God to create Eve is Adam’s desire for community—a desire to fully image God. This is not to say that Adam dictated what God did, for God chose to create Eve, not out of Adam’s desire, but rather, as a result of seeing that Adam’s desire revealed an inability to fulfill his created purpose because he lacked community. Humanity was created in the image of God and thus our deepest desire is to reflect this, thus the reason for Adam’s dilemma; his deepest desire and purpose for existence was to live in community and yet he was unable to do so. Humanity was created with a desire to image God relationally, not in the sexual or physical, but also the ontological. The desire is to be in communion, not only with God, but also with something that is both similar and at the same time different. The Trinity is in fellowship with itself because God has the unique ability to be different and yet also remain of the same substance—different as God the Father is from Jesus or the Holy Spirit. Because while they are different persons, they are ontologically the same. God is one in the same (3 persons:1 nature) while Adam (1 person: 1 nature) was created to image God. Therefore, God does not need another being for this inter-relationship. Adam however, is not properly enabled to image God’s example because he only is (ratio wise) one person in one nature. This required God to create a creature that was similar to Adam in person and nature that was also creatively different. Thus, Eve was created. Adam realized that Eve made him fully human as he is able to—finally—properly image God. Eve does not have the same realization as Adam (at least not the very same one) because she never experienced isolation from a being that is different in nature but similar in being. This differs from Adam’s experience because he experienced God as being different both in nature and being. Eve, I would argue, was not only the pinnacle and perfection of creation but was also created fully human in that she was immediately human. What this means is that although Eve was created after Adam, she was immediately 100% human because she was able to image God both in the horizontal (her relation to the rest of Creation…especially to Adam) and the vertical (her relation to God). Eve, from her genesis, imaged God not only in her being but in her relationships. Adam existed outside of humanity, or as an incomplete human, prior to Eve’s creation. Adam’s uniqueness among all of good creation, pre-Eve, was so momentous that God declares “it is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18) and subsequently creates the first full human—yep, Eve was the first human. However, saying this is in no means to take away from Adam’s uniqueness because Adam is unlike any other human in that he was not perfect until Eve was created. Adam means “man” and Eve means “life,” thus Eve gives Adam life. Adam without Eve was, in a sense, partially lifeless. Perhaps this state of lifelessness is not to the point where Adam ceased to exist but, at the very least, the point at which he was not fully human—that is, he cannot fully or appropriately image God.
Understanding our identity in creation is utterly important for Christians because if we are to live into the Missio Dei then we must understand our identity and purpose. Understanding who we are in Christ must dictate how we live. Being a disciple of Christ has implications for how we body forth our existence—there is a Christian ethic that accompanies our identity; they are part and parcel.