The Divine Struggle to be Human


St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians 2: 5-11 contains an early Church hymn about the attitude of Jesus. Paul wanted the people to whom he wrote to have this attitude. It is to be ours as well.  This attitude—vision, way of proceeding, value—is not the attitude of the world. It is not our human inclination.  Our tendency is to want independence, power, and control, in short, to be gods. 

This was the original temptation according to the third chapter of Genesis. Our ancestral parents wondered whether God could really be trusted, whether it wouldn’t be better to be independent and in control, to have the power to determine for themselves good and bad, right and wrong. They chose, in the words of the song made popular by Frank Sinatra, to do it “my way” and not God’s way.

Jesus, on the contrary, shows us God’s way, a way that is very different.  It is the way of surrender, of emptying, of humility, and obedience—all of which looks crazy in the eyes of the world. Jesus emptied himself, became a vulnerable human capable of suffering and dying.

Humility is truth.  Humility means accepting the truth that I am not God, that I am “humus”—of the earth, dust, as we are reminded every Ash Wednesday.  Therefore, in order to be happy and at peace, I must accept the truth rather than deny it or rebel against it. I must accept my nature as a vulnerable creature made of dust who is not ultimately in control.  I will only be happy and fulfilled in so far as I accept the facts and allow God to be God of my life.  Peace and joy will not be found in doing things “my way” but only in doing things “God’s way.”  That’s obedience, an unpopular concept and word today. But it’s the way of Jesus.

What worked for Jesus will work for us. This means embracing my humanity and living in accord with nature, my human nature. Then, like Jesus, I will be raised to a glory beyond what our ancestral parents grasped at.

Theologians and Doctors of the early Church taught that God became human so that humanity could become divine. This truth is quietly repeated at every Mass when a few drops of water are poured into the chalice of wine at the Offertory: “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

Some years ago I heard of an author who was writing a book with a very provocative title. I don’t know if he ever finished or if it was ever published.  The title was “The Divine Struggle to be Human.”  I’ve always thought of this title in light of the emptying described in Philippians 2 and of our own struggle. We tend to turn the words of the title around and to see life as “The Human Struggle to be Divine.”  We, like our ancestral parents, grasp at power, control, independence, and equality with God. Jesus shows us that the true struggle is to embrace our humanity as he himself did. In doing so, we will be fulfilled. We will come to the union with God and the communion with all God’s children for which we were created. 

And it begins right here on earth, at the Eucharist where we come with empty hands and receive the gift of divinity—the very Body and Blood of the one who humbled himself to become human and who continues to humble himself, giving himself to us under the humble appearance of bread and wine.  We need not grasp. We need only to open our hands and hearts, empty them of everything, and receive.