Gods of Dust
We are just too much sometimes.
Last week I wrote about Harari's Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and shared some reflections on the concept of imagined communities. I return to the book today, just briefly, to share a thought or two about its final line.
As the bestseller comes to a close, Harari write this: "Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?"
Now there's a question. One that strikes to the heart of our seemingly boundless potential combined with our apparently limitless folly. When it comes to controlling our world(s), we have so far surpassed all other life on Earth as to be almost laughable. We have transformed our planet and our physical surroundings. We have created empires and pioneered new science. We are the purveyors of art and literature.
And we have also spent a fair amount of our shared history tearing all these things down as well. Empires fall. Philosophies come and go. We have destroyed our own art. As the poet says, "Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers." Whether simple finitude, a kind of dilettantism, or something more sinister, we can be scattered and dangerous in our efforts--especially when we view from historical perspective.
For Harari, this can be clearly related to the environmental crises that we bring upon ourselves. But--and let's be honest--there are other directions this can go as well. One need only consider the current state of our political system to wrestle with this. With all the power that we have to reshape things, we so often fail to mold them correctly or persistently. From a secular point of view, this may be a simple statement of the purposeless of evolution and the failure of any particular reason for moving forward except to survive, feel pleasure, and pass on our genetic code. From a Christian perspective, what Harari ponders is nothing less than a reflection on human beings as imago Dei yet brought low by isolated finitude and the selfishness of sin. People who can do so much, but who often do in a way that is profoundly misaligned. In the words of U2's Bono, "I'm nearly great, but there's something missing."
I know: such is a depressing commentary on the human potential. But it is perhaps all Harari can muster for the closing of his book. Yet it cannot be the close of mine, and I pray it is not the end of yours. For while the purposes of the Almighty are so often not our own and we may frequently discern them in a matter far too strained, I know they are there. The Christian witness is honest: staring reality in the face and affirming with Harari that we are like little gods strutting about the stage, shredding both scenery and ourselves as we go. But the story does not end there, for there is a larger narrative at work that beckons us out of this trackless and nihilistic spiral. May we seek it, look to be transformed by a purpose and Person beyond us, and may our faith (whatever shape it may or may not be right now) ever come to more understanding.