Relating to our future, to the other in vulnerability

Excerpt from Jan-Olav Henriksen, Life, Love, and Hope. God and Human Experience. Eerdmans, 2014.

Human evolution, futurity, unfinishedness, vulnerability and love

To be the image of God implies three important things… and requires that humans employ the capacities acquired through the course of evolution.

  • The recognition that we are ourselves not God (God is the Other), but that we are nevertheless related to God in love and in our hope and desire for goodness. It is impossible to do this without having significant symbolic capacities.
  • To understand oneself as an image of God means that human identity is perceived as not yet fulfilled, and that it contains an element of futurity that humans are directed toward in faith, hope and love. Hence, human identity is not yet realized, but is present in the human desire to become a self by means of participating in the world with all its realms of experience. To become a mature human being is accordingly also to be able to recognize oneself as an unfinished project, and as someone who is related to others and to God in order to be able to grow further toward this destiny.
  • In relation to other humans and to the world, human beings are called to represent and manifest God’s care, goodness, and love, while at the same time recognizing others to be carriers of God’s gifts to us. Thus, to recognize the image of God in oneself and in others is a way of realizing our destiny as human beings, which is to represent God in the world.

When we relate to our future and see ourselves in a not-yet-fulfilled destiny and realize that this destiny cannot be wholly appropriated or fulfilled in the present, this attitude safeguards the possibility of living here and now in a way that recognizes the vulnerability of others and ourselves. Humans are not perfect – to realize this is to be confronted with the vulnerability inherent in being dependent upon others – and live exposed to the power of others. This is one of the reasons why love, and the safeguarding function that love has, is so important to human life (p. 220-221).

Theological anthropology

Theological anthropology should help us to see ourselves as human beings in our distinct otherness – from different centers and perspectives – and in a way that still recognizes how we are related to, dependent upon, and partake in an evolutionary history with other living beings. It is only against this background that we can interpret our experience of what it means to be human, harboring love, desire, and the struggle to become selves and find our own identity by means of faith, hope, and love. Who we are is based not only on what we already have in our possession, but also on what we still are to become and what we relate to in our desire. Desire is the very embodied manifestation of God’s future in us. To recognize desire and the erotic as ways in which the Divine is present as creativity in our lives is, on the other hand, a way of making theology come alive in the different experiential realms of human life (p. 222).

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