What does it mean to be human?

Some would try to tell us that we are just like the animals, and to be fair, we do at times have the capacity to act like animals. However, after a small degree of thought we will conclude that there are significant differences that seem to set us apart.

Many species of animal live in highly complex societies, but they come no where near the complexity of a human society. What is the difference? I believe the difference is moral and spiritual, in that we as humans have a conscience and a soul. We have a legal and justice system that is morally informed. Some would tell us that we have higher intelligence and it is for the benefit of society and the progress of our species, but this does not always follow.

Why do we take the young man to court for mugging an old woman? If our justice system was evolutionary based – survival of the fittest – then the old woman is no longer needed, and a little extra cash for the young man will help his prospects in the world. This is the kind of thing that happens in the animal kingdom, and yet for us as humans, we are outraged at such an act. Why? It is because our conscience tells us it is wrong. We have a desire to help the weak and the needy. Why do we have such a desire?

The Bible tells us that God created us, and created us ‘in his image’. When you read through the Bible, you read over and over again of God’s concern for the weak and needy. He commands his people to take special interest in the widows, the orphans, the immigrants, because he desires to meet their need. This desire is seen in a story the Lord Jesus tells in Luke 14:16-24, in which a man made a great supper. When the invited guests did not show up, the man sent his servants into the streets and lanes of the city and brought in the poor, the disabled, the lame, the blind.

This is not just a religious thing, but goes much deeper to what makes us human. There are many secular charities today doing a very great work in meeting needs all over the world. Why are we touched by the plight of others in this way? It is because we are human; because we have a conscience; because we are made in God’s image.

God has given us a dignity that animals do not have.

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