By H. Boone Porter
It is both exhilarating and humbling to reflect on the breadth fo the human mind. Apart from God himself, our minds are in a sense the greatest things we know. It may be said that all the apparently greater things known to us are either known through our minds (such as the solar system, or the structure of the atom, or the movement beneath the oceans of the continental plates) or else they have been actually produced through the working of the human mind (such as the capsules that have carried men to the moon and back, or the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or the music of Mozart).
Of course God is the exception, for it is not by the greatness of our minds that he is perceived: rather it is he who has made himself known to us. All of the things which we make, furthermore, are made of materials which he has supplied. Our inventions, discoveries, and manufactures operate and fit together within the universe because this universe is a coherent creation already established by God. Wonderful as it is, we in fact perceive but little of it.
Many things greater than these lie hidden, for we have seen but few of his works. – Ecclesiasticus 43:32
Reflection on the greatness of the human mind is ultimately humbling. For who of us is not aware that our own mind is forgetful, easily fatigued, often in error, and dull at many points? Even the greatest thinkers have often been mistaken.
Having lived in the country for many years, there have been many days when I have seen more cows than I have people. At Roanridge, the cattle were in the pastures 365 days a year. Though the scorching summer heat, through violent winds and rain, or through driving snow or sleet, they ate their way through the day, calmly beholding the world through their rich, warm, and reassuring eyes. No wonder the Hindus long to have a cow in every neighborhood! Cows have helped me through some sad and lonely days too.
Although it must be unpleasant out-of-doors in bad weather, cows seem generally comfortable with ife, whereas we humans are so often uncomfortable, in spite of the warm and dry rooms in which so many of us spend so many hours. We not only want life but, unlike cows, we want to know the meaning of life. We want to know how we came to be here, where we are going, and how we are going to get there. We want to know why. In the long run, we cannot enjoy life unless we find meaning in it.
Give a puppy a bowl of food and he usually gobbles it down without a moment’s delay. When we proudly place a bowl of carefully prepared porridge in front of our own progeny, like as not they say “why do we have to eat this?” Why, why, why indeed? “So that you can grow up to be big boys and girls, so that you too can become grown-ups, so that you too can be daddies and mummies (and can offer such unconvincing explanations to children of your own) …” Every answered question only leads the human mind to further why’s. The search for meaning, for significance, for understanding is indeed the relentless hunger of mankind.
Our restless minds constantly torment us, but they have also enabled us to domesticate cattle and cultivate wheat, to press oil from the olive and ferment the juice of the grape, and to build arches, wheels, ships, and flying machines. It is the glory of the human race that we can do all of this: it is our tragedy that we credit it to ourselves and not to our Creator. An authentically Christian humanism can always return to its fountainhead in Psalm 8, an ancient and yet profoundly contemporary poem based on the story of creation. How glorious is the name of the Lord our Governor, whose praise is above the heavens, but who has also been mindful of us, and made us but little lower than angels!
The Rev. Dr. H. Boone Porter was editor of The Living Church from 1977-1990. This article was published in our November 13, 1977 issue.