(HPP Series, Part 5)
When was the last time you stopped and took a good, long look at yourself in the mirror? Have you ever stopped to think about who you are and what you’re made of? If you see nothing but a face, hair (or lack thereof), arms, and legs, you’re not seeing yourself in full. In fact, you’re only getting a small picture of your robust and intricately designed being.
Understanding our design is critical to performing at our highest level and fulfilling our potential and purpose. We already understand this principle on certain levels—for example, we know that we can’t properly fuel our bodies if we don’t understand how they were designed to metabolize food and which foods provide us with optimal nutrition.
However, we rarely step back and think about our essence and ultimate purpose as human beings. This matters, because whether we are thoughtful about it or not, we all have some kind of philosophical belief about what it means to be human and how we ought to live, and this belief shapes our thoughts, motives, and behavior in powerful ways.
Let’s consider 3 popular views of what human beings essentially are, and how these beliefs play out.
The Materialist View
Materialism is the belief that all reality is purely physical—that all that exists is the world we perceive with our five physical senses. According to this view, human beings are basically meat puppets walking around at the mercy of evolutionary forces. Things like free will, reason, and morality are simply “useful” fictions of our imaginations rather than being rooted in anything transcendent or spiritual.
Believing that we are purely physical beings who cannot hope for any kind existence beyond death tends to promote attitudes like, “Eat, drink, and be merry,” “Live for now,” and “You can’t take it with you.” Life is short, and the goal of it is to maximize physical pleasure.
The Dualist View
Plato is the poster boy for dualistic philosophy. He believed that reality had two dimensions separated by a fixed chasm —the physical and the spiritual. The physical realm he saw as corrupt, changing, and imperfect, while conceiving the spiritual dimension as an impersonal, ideal world of perfection and excellence, accessible to humans only through our minds.
The implications of this philosophy are that the human being consists of a body and a soul, that these two dimensions or natures are fundamentally in conflict, and that only our souls are capable of experiencing perfection and excellence. Dualists therefore hope to rule over their lesser, corrupt physical nature by conforming their souls to the ideal, spiritual world. Dualism tends to lead people to become legalists who are endlessly striving for moral perfection and superiority.
The Biblical View
The Bible’s account of reality is that God, who is Three-In-One and contains both natural and the supernatural dimensions in His being, created human beings “in His image” and breathed His own breath or spirit into them: “God formed Man out of dirt from the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life. The Man came alive—a living soul” (Genesis 2:7 MSG).
God made us with body, added His spirit to it, and we became a soul. We are spirit, soul, and body, which is why Paul prays in 1 Thessalonians 5:23: “Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again . . .” (NLT).
So we are not one or two dimensional, but three dimensional, like God. What is more, our tripartite nature is not designed to be perpetually at war in itself, but to function organically and harmoniously together. Whatever affects one part of our nature affects the whole.
Training Our Whole Being
There are many profound implications of what the biblical view of our design means for how we must train and grow to perform at our highest level and reach our potential. But certainly one of the most important implications is this: our tripartite nature was designed to live, grow, and flourish not through physical, mental, or moral striving, but through a spiritual connection—a deep, intimate relationship—with God.
For this reason, I believe two of the most important quests of life should first be our relentless pursuit of knowing and developing our relationship with our God at a deeper level, and second, the pursuit of knowing ourselves at a deeper level through that relationship with Him. The more we understand ourselves and offer that back to God in service, the more we will be aligned to grow in our potential according to our design.
The more I have pursued knowing God and knowing myself through relationship with Him, the more I have discovered that training for life is supposed to be a great adventure. I have always known that growth cannot happen without overcoming challenges. The only way we can improve is to push ourselves outside our comfort zones. However, doing this with God looks nothing like the world’s pattern of constantly striving to conquer and prove ourselves. It is about learning to live whole from the inside out, full of joy as we discover the Father and the good things He has in store for us.
(HPP Series, Part 5)