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on the corner “The human condition”

By Robert Docter, Editor-In-Chief

None of us can claim perfection. We’d like to, but we can’t. We’re human.

In our imperfect humanness we seem required to approach innumerable unsettling and mystifying situations in life. They often occur on a daily basis. We feel threatened, unsafe about something. We perceive a critical glance, a strong word, or negative feedback. We begin to associate that feeling with proof of the accuracy of our own negative self-judgment.

The product comes as a pervasive sense of internal unpleasantness, a steady, unidentified, yet abiding fear. For some, that feeling seems almost permanent. Others experience it and quickly attempt to escape it, often by coming to irrational conclusions.

Regardless of its power, all of us experience it. When we do, we find these situations ominous, difficult to understand. We approach with dread, feeling definitely down, uncomfortable, troubled. Many of us hang on to it, unwilling to let go, possibly even unable to move our minds back to the routine of life.

It’s the “human condition,” the great paradox of life, the major question of our existence. Are human beings good or bad? I want to be good, but, most of the time, I’m just OK. Other questions begin with the word “why.” Why does this always seem to happen to me? Why can’t I be problem free? It then leaps into the realm of the major existential concerns: death and being, freedom and responsibility, loneliness and isolation, meaning and meaninglessness.

Irvin Yalom, in his book Existential Therapy, identified five characteristics for healthy living.

1. Recognizing that life is at times unfair and  unjust.

2. Recognizing that ultimately there is no escape  from some of life’s pain or from death.

3. Recognizing that no matter how close I get to other people, I must still face life alone.

4. Facing the basic issues of my life and death, and thus living my life more honestly and being

less caught up in trivialities.

5. Learning that I must take ultimate responsibility for the way I live my life no matter how much guidance and support

I get from others.

I sense that, at best, we are all highly inconsistent.

As humans, why are we so competitive, aggressive, self-centered? With this spirit, can we truly love? If we believe we do, does that love come from neediness or from giving? Do we realize that true love consists of loving the “different” and the unlovable? Are we only the product of a design error?

Trying to figure out the answer to that one becomes the stuff of poetry, the plot of tragedies, the rhythm of the blues, the lyrics of country music, the pain of daily life.

It’s the dissatisfaction we feel due to our inability to find happiness or even discover its meaning. The evidence seems to point to the design error. In many situations, humans are not nice people; in fact, our brutality directed at others seems annually to escalate. We are close to destroying this fragile planet.

Feelings drive the human condition. That’s the power source. Feelings bring the “condition” into the present. An insidious fear holds sway as the primary contributor to our impulse to remain safe, to reduce the threat of risk, and to avoid growth.

Anxiety is this dread type fear without an object. We manufacture it in our brains.

The fear reveals itself in a large number of different scenarios.

Fear of the unknown

Fear of losing control

Fear of rejection

Fear of emptiness, being hollow

Fear of being boring

Fear of being alone and lonely

Fear of rejection

Fear of making a fool of oneself, ridicule

Fear of intimacy

Fear intertwines with anger. Anger generates hostility. Hostility destroys relationships.

The human condition becomes evident in the magnificent poetry of the biblical book of Job.

Job had everything: a large estate, great land on which pastured large herds, a wonderful family with a loving wife and several children.

Unknown to him at this time, God had called a meeting of all the angels. Satan also showed up, and God asked him what he’d been doing. Satan replied: “Oh, going here and there, roaming the earth” (Job 1:7b NIV).

For some unknown reason, God brought up Job’s name and praised him highly as a man who fears God and shuns evil (1:8b).

Satan knew Job well and confronts God. “Why should Job fear you? You’ve given him everything and built a hedge around him to protect him. What would happen if you took everything away?” (1:9-11).

God told Satan to go ahead: Do what you want to him, but don’t hurt him physically (1:12).

Almost immediately, Job experienced “the first test.” He lost his family, his home, his herds and his fields—gone.

Needless to say, Job was depressed. Nevertheless, he continued to affirm God. “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. May the name of the Lord be praised” (1:21b).

Job’s second test involved his health: terrible sores, scabs from head to foot that took him to a trash heap among the ashes. His wife said to him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!” (2:9). Job replied: “You foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” (2:10). In all this, Job did not sin.

Next, came a series of challenges for Job: in his immense suffering, putting up with speeches from three “friends” who meant well but recited only the conventional religious wisdom of the day. Their answers were “severed from their source”—secularized.

“Real faith cannot be reduced to spiritual bromides,” Eugene Peterson writes in The Message’s introduction to the chapter of Job.

Job’s lesson on coping with the human condition concerns, first, affirming God with perseverance through suffering and second, facing our fears.

 

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