“To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God.”—Mark 4: 11
A third-grade class was being led through the Natural History Museum with their teacher. A guide patiently explained each exhibit. “This large creature is a dinosaur. Its real name is Brontosaurus. It lived 80 million years ago. In our next display is another dinosaur. It is a two-footed, flesh-eating Tyrannosaurus. Next is the largest bird that ever flew ...” Working their way through the museum, the children were in awe of the strange creatures with even stranger names. Finally, they came to a lifelike exhibit depicting early Cro-Magnon men and women dressed in animal skins, sitting around a campfire. One little girl looked at these alien man-ape creatures and saw her own dim reflection superimposed on the glass that separated her from the figures. "What am I?" she asked her teacher.
Have you ever stared into your own eyes in a mirror and looked beyond the reflection of yourself, beyond the circumstances of your life, beyond the details of your birth—your parents, grandparents, ancient ancestors? Have you ever looked past even the clouded reflections of the countless eons that have brought you to where you are now and wondered ... "What am I?"
Questions Lead to Questions
You are not alone in asking. The Tree of Learning is swarming with people looking for a clue. Climbing up one side are the scientists observing, measuring, weighing, calculating. "Is light a particle or a wave?" "Why is the universe expanding?" "What is the structure of the atom?" Their questions lead to answers which lead to questions which lead to answers which lead to more questions.
Climbing the opposite side of the Tree are the theologians discussing, meditating, thinking, philosophizing. "What is the nature of God?" "Where is God?" "What is Truth?" "Why are we here?" Their questions lead to answers which lead to questions which lead to answers which lead to more questions. The scientists on one side of the Tree and the theologians on the other and everybody in between, including the little third-grader, are looking for the answer that is on the uppermost leaf of the top branch of the highest limb.
The question "What am I?" is the basis of all inquiries, from scientific to theological. From Aristotle to Einstein, from the Old Testament writers through the disciple Paul to each individual on the planet, finding the answer to "What am I?" is the unconscious trigger of every action in our daily lives.
Is Your “Who” Your “What”?
Notice the question is not “Who am I?” This would be too limiting. “I am the electrician.” “I am the office manager.” “I’m a nurse.” “I'm a surgeon.” Who
I am defines the superficial me: “I am Bill's son Harry.” “I am Harry's wife Meg.” “I am Nancy, a third-grader on a field trip to a museum.” “I am a museum tour guide.” Mohammed Ali, the great heavyweight boxing champion proclaimed, “I am the greatest boxer in the world!” So you see that who I am can only be a temporary definition.
“Who am I?” attempts to define the sum total of characteristics that make up our earthly “persona,” our ever-changing sense of self, our personality.
But the answer to “What am I?” identifies our individuality. It defines us at our nucleus, and that is the “I” we all yearn to know.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Man is a piece of the universe made alive.” There is a great degree of truth to that. We are creations of God. That makes us “children” of God, and so we resemble God. This is not to say that we are God. We are not God anymore than a wave is the ocean, but the created reflects the nature of its creator. The wave is born of the ocean—it is a “child” of the ocean, and so while it can never be “the ocean,” it is nonetheless one with it.
Like the wave, we are expressions of God’s universe. We are indeed “the universe made alive.” Each of us is a congregation of inert elements of the physical universe-carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, iron, sodium, and many others, all of which are no different from the elements in the Earth, the other planets, and the stars. But we are unique, vital clusters of those elements, able to walk and talk and dance and sing and think and love and contemplate our place in the universe. We are pieces of the universe made alive! The universe would not be complete without each one of us.
Yet we are more than complex arrangements of physical elements. We reflect the nature of God, with all the secrets of the universe available to us.
Think of the immense journey that life has taken evolving to where we are. From the earliest single-celled forms of life all the way up to complex human beings, it has been a slow, steady march toward perfection. Throughout the millennia, the Creative
Power of the universe-the Power we call God-has sought to create the perfect vehicle through which to express Itself. It has been God's own quest!
So here we are, with all the dreams and ideas and hopes of God invested in us. An old Kalahari proverb says that God is dreaming a dream, and we are it! We are it, the children of God, the beloved creatures through which the Creator intends to best express Itself to the universe. We have been chosen-divinely ordained-to be the hands, the feet, the voice, the eyes, the ears, the hearts of God.
Although we are the pinnacle of God's creation and dreams, with all the responsibility which that implies, we are not created and then left to our own devices. God is always right here with us, holding our hands—like an invisible guide on our quest—if only we choose to follow it. Truly, we are the children of God.