What does it mean to be human?

How can a single question be so simple yet so profoundly complex at the same time? It strange isn’t it?

We all, of course, know we are human without a shadow of a doubt yet when we as a collective group were to find ourselves confronted with the simple question of “how do we know we are human”, we may quickly come to find out that we can’t agree on a single answer.

Some of us might attempt to take a biological standpoint towards this question and claim that humanity simply refers to the ‘homo sapien’ species which has the characteristics of the biological ownership of a humanlike body complete with all the features and capabilities that any typical human body would adhere to.

Others might attempt to take a more faith-based standpoint and claim that humanity is simply a state of being made in the image of God while indirectly keeping their personal beliefs of what exactly ‘being made in God’s image’ actually means to themselves.

Even still, some of us might attempt to take a more philosophical standpoint and claim that humanity is, by an Aristotelian definition, the ability to perform the human function of rational activity and that therefore, the good of all human beings is to perform the task of rational activity well.

Each of these answers could serve is partially satisfactory answers towards this question in their own right yet, interestingly, only one of these answers on their own can answer the question completely.

From a biological standpoint, no one would call something that looks and acts like a cat a human being.

That would obviously be incorrect.

Yet consider this simple thought experiment, say that you took a fully developed human brain and placed it into the body of a big cat and, similarly, placed a fully developed brain of a big cat into a human body.

Now answer this, which of those two creatures is human?

The cat with the human body obviously couldn’t be considered to be human since it wouldn’t behave like a human being (self-bathing, hunting on all fours, chasing laser pointer beams, etc. ) yet, from a biological standpoint, the human brain with the cat body also could not be considered human because it, as a single creature, could no longer be considered apart of homo sapien species given its catlike bodily features.

Just as we can’t smack a human ear onto a lab-mouse and call it a human being, we can’t just say a creature of one species is actually of a different species just because changed a small portion of its overall physical makeup.

By that logic, someone could say put a small part of a cats brain into their brain then correctly tell people that he was, in fact, 100% a cat and that my dear reader would be completely absurd.

With that in mind, we could solve this dilemma by instead adopting the Aristotelian definition of humanity by claiming that since the human brain with the cat body can perform the function of rational activity much more completely than the cat with the human body can (although not by much to trade in his human body for a cat’s body), the human brain with the cat body is human and the cat brain with the human body is just a really big cat. When we consider this point of view it may seem as the philosophical standpoint trumps the biological standpoint as it appears to cut closer to the heart the question of what humanity really is. Yet consider a second thought experiment (well not all that much of an experiment since this is likely to happen one day), say the day comes when human has finally developed a completely independently thinking artificial intelligence that is able to process information and rational decisions faster than a human being could ever dream of. By the Aristotelian definition of humanity, that computer program would be more human than you or I could ever possibly hope to be. That’s insane, and for that reason serves to prove that there has to be more to humanity than just rational activity.

From this conclusion, the biological and philosophical standpoints of the question of humanity will always fall short of grasping the epitome of the meaning of humanity. It would, therefore, appear that the only the faith-based standpoint has the greatest chance of answering this question perfectly and completely. The only issue left to resolve is ‘what specifically does it mean to say that we are made in God’s image?’.
This is a seemingly near impossible question to answer for the simple fact that since it appears that while we can know the actions and qualities of God from Biblical literature, the knowledge who God is or what his perfect image specifically entails will always be lost to us given his unknowable nature.

Indeed, God is great— beyond our knowledge; the number of His years is unsearchable
Job 36:26

Indeed God is, was, and always will be beyond all knowledge and understanding as he is, in reality, God and we are, inescapably, mere mortal men and women. Yet all is not lost because within the Bible lies the key to giving the means of understanding everything about God that we would ever need to understand about him to give us the not only the peace that we need to confidently live out our lives in endless pursuit of his glory but also to finally and conclusively answer the question of humanity (and bring an end to this very long post).

Who is God? Who is he that created the universe? Who is he that counted every star in the sky and knows them by name? Who is is he whose heavenly kingdom shall reign for all eternity?

Who is he?

The answer is simpler than you think.

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1 John 4:8

God is love, easy right? It can be so tempting to think of a person with the unimaginable power that God has as scornful father eagerly waiting to punish his misbehaving children or a purely observant entity who only watches life in the universe unfold and leaves the prayers of his devoted followers unanswered, but God is more than that. He is love incarnate and that is made all the more real through the sacrifice of his one and only son, Jesus Christ, that forever cements that fact.

So if God is love and we were made in the image of the love then at long last we have finally answered our question, to be human is to be made in the image of love. Right now you may be asking yourself ‘what does it really mean to love?’ and fortunately for us, the Bible gives us a reasonably complete and all-inclusive definition of what it truly means to love.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

When we put critical thought into it, it is reasonably clear why this understanding of humanity succeeds where the previous two failed.

We would know that just as the human brain is more capable of demonstrating the genuine characteristics of love more than the bran of a cat or a computer program ever could, the human brain with the cat body was human while the other creature was not just a human being is human while a computer program is not.

In conclusion, wherever there is the likeness of God, there also is biblical love and wherever there is a creature capable of demonstrating each and every one of the features of biblical love, there, I argue, is a human being.

So live your life and be the best human you can be.



Thanks for reading, if you in any way find reading this to be helpful, enlighting, or just good food for thought, please feel free to share it with friends and family as it would really help me out a lot.


This is 30 Days of Growth: Day 1

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