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Questioning Humanity: Where are You?

October 1st, 2007 | 2 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

Recently, my good friend and teacher Dr. John Mark Reynolds glossed the opening to Plato’s Phaedrus, which opens with the provocative set of questions, “Where did you come from, and where are you going?”

Doctor Reynolds points out that we are not very keen to reflect deeply on these two questions, as the answers are terrifying to us. Our history reveals mistakes and sin, while the future bears only the fear of judgment for those sins. And with his analysis, I agree entirely.

But there is a third question which must be asked as well, a question which reveals the difficulty of the human situation, I think, with more clarity than Plato’s questions. It is the question God asks Adam and Eve in the Garden after their unfortunate fall: “Where are you?”

It is silly to oppose this question with Plato’s. They are not opposed, nor is God’s question the only question which we should ask. But it is superior in that it contains Plato’s questions within it. To answer properly where we are, we must understand where we have been and where the course of our life is taking us. The nature of the present is separable from the past and future only in theory–this is the intractable problem with existentialism.

But God’s question to Adam–“Where are you?”–brings into relief what is implicit in Plato’s questions. It asks us to attend not only on what has been or what will be, but on what is–not to escape the past or future, but to see the impossible lostness of our situation.

For if understood properly, God’s question reveals to us a single fact: we do not know where we are, and until we identify the nature of our situation, we will not be able to escape the judgment that our past and future reveals to us. Adam does not answer God’s question, nor can he. He is “lost in a dark wood…the right path wholly lost and gone.”

See also, then, that contained within God’s question is the possibility of grace–or the frightening thought that God wishes only to torment Adam. For in confronting him with the impossibility of his life, the inevitability of his death, God provides Adam an opportunity to return to a position of dependence and reliance upon Him.

The banker, then, who faces his mid-life crisis may see the sins of his youth and anticipate his coming judgment. But until he is able to answer God’s question to Adam, he will be possessed only by the tormenting weight of sin and judgment. And when asked, the only honest answer is: “I don’t know.”

Only then will the light of the glorious face of Jesus Christ break through into the banker’s life and reveal the world as it is to him. Only then will he be able to understand the past and the future, not under the tormenting weight of judgment, but as they are, as they have been restored by grace.

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.