God without man would still be God: but man without God is reduced to nothingness. Forgetfulness of this simple truism can lead an entire society or a lone individual to ruin, however. Without that acute awareness of God’s perpetual, abiding presence we are sure to become what C.S. Lewis so eloquently called, “men without faces.” In other words, we lose our true identities, because men and women quickly forget who they are when deprived of some positive reference to their Creator ~ a state of mind that can lead one to desperation and, even more, to desperate actions. For instance, the growing push for society to legitimize suicide is fast becoming one more symptom of modern man’s sense of desperation. But, of course, this is not a part of God’s plan for the human race. In fact, he intends quite the opposite.
The truth is that man is the splendor of God. Men and women together represent the pinnacle of God’s creative genius. This does not mean that God would be somehow incomplete or less glorious than he already is if we did not exist. God is God, and he needs no other beings to support or justify his eternal existence. God is absolutely complete even without his creatures ~ but his creatures would be hopelessly incomplete without God. Yet in man, God has seemingly outdone himself. The human race is like no other part of his creation. What other creature is capable of composing a symphony, exploring the vast reaches of space, or shedding tears of joy? Man’s creative originality and technological achievements attest to the fact that we are indeed formed in God’s own image, and endowed with an exalted dignity that surpasses even the angels. (For while the angels can know and love God through their superior intellects, man was given the ability to know and love God with both mind and heart: intellectually as well as emotionally.)
So if man is truly the splendor of God (just as woman is the splendor of man) why is it that such exalted dignity is not more apparent? Can it be that our dignity has become tarnished and covered in soot to the extent that we cut ourselves off from the source of our dignity, which is God himself? Scripture teaches us, “God created man in his image,in the divine image he created him, male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:27) The human person then is a sort of icon, an image of God projected onto the world. But like any projected image, it will quickly fade and disappear if cut off from its source reality. It is only when men and women begin to forget or ignore the reality of God, who is the very source of their own being, that they begin to fade and lose their innate sense of dignity. As we descend further into our own sinful habits the luster of human dignity is more and more lost. We then begin to see ourselves only in the basest terms; more as animals than as the splendorous children of God.
Modern day man is faced with a real paradox concerning his own dignity. On the one hand he demands a kind of political dignity, i.e., the right to be recognized, supported, and even applauded by society simply for existing. At the same time he sacrifices his God-given dignity by indulging his basest passions to excess while neglecting any spiritual duties he may have. Yet even in debasing himself man is searching for happiness and acceptance, albeit in all the wrong places. G.K. Chesterton once quipped, “Every man standing in the doorway of a brothel is searching for God.” He meant that man can never find complete fulfillment in himself but only in terms of the “other.” Without others, the self becomes isolated and lost. This does not mean that we should patronize brothels but rather that it becomes essential to recognize that ultimate, supreme “other” who alone can satisfy our restless hearts. That supreme “other” is God, of course. All those other human beings milling about us will become opportunities to either draw closer to, or further away, from God, the ultimate “other.”
Man basks, as it were, in the divine glory of God and becomes a reflection of that glory which is not of his own making, somewhat like the moon which refracts the rays of the sun. That reflected glory is not always apparent because man is often covered in grime and mud, just as clouds may obscure the rays of sunlight bouncing off the moon. But God’s glory is still present, even when sin has seemingly obliterated it. All glory, of course, emanates from God as its source and returns to him in the end. But it passes through us, as it were, like electricity passing through a light fixture to produce a visible manifestation of itself. Every living person is like that light-bulb, shimmering effervescently in the glory of God which courses through our filament-like veins. God is the sole source of power supplying that illuminating current of his glory through each one of us.
The modern tagline could well read, “Feed the body, not the soul.” But to fully experience our human vocation it is imperative that we nourish that extension of divinity which is the soul. Otherwise we will never find joy or happiness, nor will we project the splendor of God to others. A beautiful sunset or listening to Beethoven’s “Choral Symphony” can well overwhelm our emotions. Such moments are sacred reminders that, no matter how far one descends into tawdry, self-centered, or useless modes of existence, God, in his beauty and love, is still present and actively adorning his creation.
Despite my own sinfulness, uncleanness, sickness, or pain God is still there, even in my lowest moments. The fact is that God has made each one of us uniquely to be “someones,” not anonymous automatons. We do, in fact, have faces and a true identity, dignity, meaning, and individual worth. We can experience that enervating splendor of God so long as we know that God is there, silently generating his current of love, grace, and glory which animates our very beings. But we must first humbly acknowledge him as the very source and summit of our beings. Only then will we ever be able to reflect the true splendor of God.
Francis Pierson +a.m.d.g.