As humans searching for meaning we often come up empty handed, but Dan Doyle gives an interesting perspective to consider.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. – Genesis 1:27
Who am I? That is the most important of all human questions. It recognizes that we have an existence both within and without ourselves. The question has internal importance, precisely because it is tied up with the most human of needs, meaning.
We are transcendentally different from all other creatures on earth. We share much with the rest of creation in that we are made up of base and compound minerals, we share the need for food and reproduction like plants and animals. We share a certain intelligence for survival, etc. But there is something about us that is comparably and objectively different than all other creatures. We not only have a level of intellect for survival, but an intellect that transcends mere survival. Our intellects, charged with curiosity and a hunger for meaning, leap beyond mere material things. We ask questions. We do not simply react to our environment. We wonder about everything. Our wonder leads us to insight in science, in the arts, in philosophy, and in theology. We do this because we have all of this and we have eternal souls.
What are our questions? Some of our questions arise out of our pride, and their answers, if we are lucky, can teach us humility. But many of our questions arise from a humble, true and noble curiosity. We ask because our deepest, most human desire is to know the truth about things. We want to understand the reality that we live in.
Am I my brother’s keeper? What is truth? What is justice? Can I be forgiven? Why do I keep doing the things I know I ought not do? Who is God? What is God’s nature? Why do we suffer? Why do we have to die? Who am I in the totality of this reality I am alive in? What is the meaning of life in general, but more importantly, what is the meaning of my life? Why am I hear? Where am I going?
These questions burn within us. If we are fully alive, we strive with all of our will to find the answers to these existential questions.
The other thing that makes us unique in creation is our free will. Our knowledge is one thing, but when it is acted upon (or against) by our freely willed choices, we begin to find the answers that we so deeply wish to know. We don’t just react to the world. We can come to know why we act. We can learn to think before we act. We can even judge the consequences of our actions and take responsibility for them. It is in doing these things, learning them and acting upon them, that we slowly begin to discover who we are in the world.
Our minds are built to compare and contrast. We have an instinct for the good and know it when we see it . We also have an instinct to recognize evil. The problem, of course, is that with our free wills, we can decide for both. It is reasonable to respond positively to that which is identifiably really good. It is also reasonable to run from evil. Though we often choose to do what we know to be wrong, we have the ability to rationalize countless reasons for doing it, in order to salve our burning consciences.
Our meaning, the answer to the question, “Who am I?”, can be answered by looking at our consistent choices, and what we have done with our lives. But we are also driven by a desire much deeper than this to ask even more powerful questions: Who ought I be? What ought I do to find true, transcendent meaning in my life?
For those who believe in God, there are clear and present resources to go to for help in answering these questions. For Christians, those sources are the scriptures, Church teachings, the community of faith. We are not alone. God is on our side. He is interested in us. He gives us the graces we need to become who we were made to be. When we fail, He does not abandon us. He offers his forgiveness when we sincerely ask for it in the knowledge of our guilt. Who am I then? I am a child of God. What ought I do with my life? I ought to give thanks for all the good that God has given to me unconditionally, by serving my brothers and sisters in the manner that Jesus taught us. In this my life has eternal meaning. Amen!