The Relentless Pursuit of Humanity
by Rev. Father Simon Thomas
(Written in May of 2007, in response to the Virginia Tech shooting.)
The entire country was shocked and saddened by the horrific events that took place in Blacksburg, Virginia just last week. All of America spent the past week trying to find the answer to the question, "Why did this happen?" The blame has been spread around to the usual suspects — gun control, the university, the killer's parents and family — anything to explain what ultimately cannot be answered from the grave. Of course, these answers also fail to prevent such an atrocity from happening again.
What we are left with from the killer is documentation of his feelings, his experiences, his mentality leading up to the event. While no serious student of science would consider this "manifesto" a complete or adequate frame of reference in which to understand Cho Seung-hui's psyche, it clearly paints a picture of a young man who was disturbed and affected by how he perceived other people, how others perceived him, and how he perceived himself. These perceptions ultimately led to his personal destruction, and unfortunately, the destruction of many others.
Yet what can we take from such a tragedy? Why did this happen? What answers can we take away that might prevent another incident such as this from happening? These answers lie with Cho himself, but he did provide us with a glimpse of what brought about this outcome. This glimpse indicates a warped definition of the humanity that surrounded him, and a distorted definition of who he was.
Cho, a Korean-American, was told by classmates to "go back to China," classmates who were probably oblivious to the historical tension between the two countries. The son of poor immigrants intent on providing a better education for their children, Cho learned the importance of materialism in America, "You had everything you wanted. Your Mercedes wasn't enough, you brats. Your gold necklaces weren't enough, you snobs ... You thought it was one pathetic boy's life you were extinguishing." That life was extinguished in the end, "This is it. This is where it ends. End of the road. What a life it was. Some life." What a dismal definition of his own humanity! What a perverted understanding of all humanity!
Yet many of us define humanity in the same way — we seek the approval of society, even as we attempt to conform society to our standards, all the while defining for ourselves what true happiness is. Is it any wonder that so many people live unfulfilled lives with unhappiness, depression and misery pervading our society? The proper definition of humanity comes not through us, but through God who created us — He is the Creator who defines His creation. When an artist completes a painting, he names it himself, he does not ask the painting to provide its own title. Likewise the poet, sculptor, songwriter, architect, and inventor, all have the authority of defining their own creation — to think otherwise would be absurd.
Mankind, however, has indulged in this absurdity since the beginning of time. The recurring theme throughout the Old and New Testament Scriptures is mankind rebelling against God in an effort to redefine humanity — man demanding from God, instead of obeying His commands. These attempts are constantly accompanied by failure. Despite this rebellion, God continually reasserts Himself as Creator and Author of mankind, repeatedly providing for us His definition of humanity — the culmination of which was providing His only-begotten Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as the perfect example.
Where does one find this definition? We find it in the Gospels, which recorded the life of Jesus Christ. We find it in the New and Old Testaments. We find it in the lives of the Saints. We find it in the writings of the Holy Fathers. We find it in the Sacraments and Liturgical life of the Church. We find it in the teaching of our holy Orthodox Faith!
Jesus Christ was perfect God and perfect man, taking on our humanity while still maintaining His divinity. While He yet walked among us, He provided for us an example of how to live, and upon His departure from us to the right hand of the Father, He laid the foundation of His Church, which provides for His creation until His return. Writing on this, St. Athanasius says, "[Jesus Christ], when He had descended from the bosom of the Father, took from the undefiled Virgin Mary our humanity, and ... when on earth He showed us light from out of darkness, salvation from error, life from the dead, an entrance to paradise, ... also a way up to the heavens, where the humanity of the Lord entered as a forerunner for us." (Statement of Faith, 1)
This entrance of the humanity of the Lord into the Heavenly Kingdom provides the objective for the end of our life. Likewise, in the beginning of creation, Scripture says, "Let us make man in our image and likeness" (Genesis 1:26), providing for us the parameters within which we were created. Taking into consideration these two truths, we understand that the beginning and the end of our lives are to be with God — as well as everything in between! The definition of what it means to be truly human is to live with God, to experience God, and to commune with God.
Society seeks an answer to what happened on the campus of Virginia Tech University, just as it did after the Columbine shootings, the Oklahoma City bombing, the events in New York on 9/11, and any other tragedy of this sort. The answer lies in the fact that we have lost our identity as human beings, an identity that begins and ends with God our Creator. When we re-establish that identity, and seek to live in a Christ-like way, we understand our true purpose in life. Furthermore, as Orthodox Christians, we are to set an example for society to follow, a witness of true humanity, which can transform our society to include peace, hope and love. In seeking after the Kingdom of God, let us also make His creation a place where there is no pain, no sorrow, no suffering, so that we may enter into life everlasting.