Tiger Nature and Human Nature

James Tonkowich | ReligionToday.com Columnist | Thursday, July 25, 2013

Tiger Nature and Human Nature

Siegfried & Roy used to perform on stage with trained tigers and lions until October 3, 2003, when, before a packed house, a 380-pound white tiger grabbed Roy by the neck, crushing his windpipe and severing a major artery, and dragged him offstage. Roy survived, but the act was finished.

A formal investigation of the incident was “unable to determine what caused [the tiger] to deviate” from the script. Audience members who witnessed the attack said things such as “That tiger went nuts” and “The animal just got crazy.” But as the preacher who told this story pointed out, tiger crazy and human crazy are not the same things.

Tigers survive in the wild by leaping onto other creatures’ necks and dragging them offstage to be eaten. Dancing, jumping, riding little cars and wearing funny hats are tiger crazy. Tiger sane is living according to tiger nature, that of a predator. And tigers, even if raised by humans, still retain a tiger nature.

Similarly, humans have a human nature. Managing to play Hamlet without suddenly grabbing Ophelia’s neck in one’s jaws and dragging her off stage is human sane since it accords with human nature.

And that, of course, brings up the question of what is human nature — assuming that there even is such a thing.

One of the marks of Western culture today is a widespread disbelief in a fixed human nature. We think we can be whatever we want to be. George Weigel points out that even the most fundamental distinction between male and female has been erased. Weigel writes, “For within a very short span of time, less than two generations, two aspects of the human condition that had been understood for millennia to be the very quintessence of givenness — maleness and femaleness — were no longer taken to be given at all.” In Spain since 2007, he points out, the law allows “men to change themselves into women (and vice versa) by a simple declaration at a Civil Register office (and without any surgical folderol) — after which affirmation a new national identity card, noting the new gender, would be issued.”

And now schools in places like Massachusetts and California are allowing elementary, middle and high school students to make the very same choice.

This pick-your-own-restroom reading of human nature sees it not as fixed and given, but as elastic, in flux, subject to human will — or possibly human willfulness. It is, as Weigel argues, a revival of Gnosticism with its radical divorce between the godlike human spirit and the clunker body the spirit inhabits.

As the early Church Fathers pointed out a long time ago, the Gnostic view of human nature is contrary to the Christian view that we can see when we look at Jesus.

Jesus is God incarnate, that is, God in human flesh. He is one person with two natures, a divine nature and a human nature. His divine nature is his eternally through relationship with the Father in the unity of the Trinity. His human nature came from his human mother, Mary.

Jesus’ human nature was not and does not reflect the Gnostic divorce between body and spirit. He was born bodily. He lived bodily. He died bodily. He rose again bodily. He ascended in to Heaven bodily. And he will come again bodily.

In Jesus, human nature wasn’t changed, it was without sin and thus perfected. His spirit and body are in perfect harmony. What he is on the inside, he is on the outside. He is our model of human nature fully integrated.

Sin keeps us dis-integrated and thus distorts the human nature with which we were created (see the first pages of the Bible) and which, if we are in Christ, is our future destiny (see the last pages of the Bible). Our insides and outsides don’t match and, thus, we live in ways that are contrary to human nature. Sometimes Hamlet does bite Ophelia and so we life in this world requires ongoing repentance.

In the midst of it, Jesus, is our model. He fully and faithfully lived out God’s Law and we can strive for no less. The Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, the moral strictures of the New Testament are all gifts of grace. They supply the framework we need to live according to human nature without the distortion of sin.

The confusion over human nature is at the heart of much of the debate over social issues. Marriage, sexuality, life and death, and religious freedom look very different from a Gnostic point of view as opposed to a Christian point of view. Change comes from first getting it straight in our own minds first and then encourage others to do the same.