Anthropologists keep trying to come up with a definition of human beings that applies to something about us that is totally, absolutely unique.
We are the toolmakers, they said. Then, Jane Goodall discovered that chimps poke sticks into termite holes to pull them out and eat them.
We have language. That was a poor choice from the start, since anyone who’s been around animals knows they have a sort of language of their own.
So what about us is unique? Are we just a function of our opposable thumbs?
My answer, which I know would not fit into any anthropologist’s toolkit for categorizing, is that we are the only creatures on this earth who were made for our own selves.
Every other creature here has a purpose and, somehow or other, that purpose ultimately pertains to us. We alone are made with such absolute and radical free will that we can both know and reject our own Maker.
We can imagine things that don’t exist and find ways to create them. We can unravel the secrets of our own creation and teach ourselves a bit of the mechanisms God used when He made us and all that is. We can glimpse, albeit in an incomplete way that is filled with longing, the eternity that lies beyond our finite and mortal coil.
We have a touch of the divine within us that resides, not in our big brains, but in our almighty will. We are free. Stars exist within the laws of physics. Planets rotate on their orbits. All of creation occurs within predictable, learnable mathematical certainties.
The only real surprise is us. We are free, in the way that God is free. We can, with knowledge of what we are doing, and understanding of its implications, chose. We can create. And we can also destroy. This means that we alone of all the creatures around us have the capacity for good and evil. We are moral creatures by virtue of our free will and understanding.
We are not the God of the universe, but we can actually convince ourselves that we are because we have the God-given ability to chose. All our days, we hunger for something more, for that eternity we glimpse but can’t quite see.
There is something majestic and powerfully beautiful about our compulsion to push past the limits of what we are and dip our toes into what we are not. We are slower than a horse and much less powerful. But a long-distance runner can literally run a horse to death. We are not fish, but we venture into the deeps with our ships and tanks and diving bells. We extend our reach far past where any single animal can go. Not satisfied with that, we push our lungs and bodies to dive deep without devices.
Unlike any other creature, we push ourselves past what our species can do and into torturous endurance for not reason except to see if we can do it.
We are made for ourselves alone. Which means that we alone can give ourselves away — totally, freely and with full consent. Of all the things and creatures God has made, we stand alone on this earth as the only one who He gave as a gift to themselves. He gave us, from the first breath, our own selves. We were made to love Him.
And we were made to be free to live, love, work, explore, learn, teach and push ourselves past what we think we can do.
There is no horizon to human existence, not even death. We are living souls, made for an eternity of love.
This is a video of William Trubridge’s record-setting free dive into Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas. He dove — on one breath and without assistance — 101 meters, which is just a little more than 331 feet. Watch and be awed.