BBC Radio 2 - What makes us human?


Jeremy Vine with the Archbishop of York at BBC Radio 2

The Archbishop of York gives his thoughts on 'What makes us human?' as part of a series with Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio 2...

A website I visited earlier this year had an interesting tick-box to fill in. It said ‘Confirm your humanity’. A rather more profound challenge than ticking the ‘I am not a robot’ box!

How we confirm our humanity is a question which has fascinated people throughout the ages – as they pondered the mystery.

I was ten years old when I encountered Jesus Christ and knew myself to be truly human - God’s child, creaturely made and wonderfully redeemed in Jesus Christ – called to live out God’s characteristics of love, mercy, and friendliness.

God is Creator, and for me, this is where my creative and imaginative gifts come from. As the Book of Genesis puts it:

The Lord God formed man (Hebrew: ͗adam) from the dust of the earth (Hebrew: ͗adamah). He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being” (Genesis 2: 7).

Yes! Formed from the dust and yet with a closer, intimate and self-giving relationship with the Creator-God. ͗Adam, Sentamu, Jeremy Vine, is a Psychophysical Unity. A being, who is alive because I, you, have the “Breath of God” in us. And therefore, not a mixture of perishable body and immortal soul.

I think and feel with my whole being. Depending on God for life itself. ͗Adam’s, Sentamu’s, Jeremy’s, crowning glory above all other created living creatures is in relation to God. Forever recognising that there is Some-One beyond us, infinitely greater than us.

People who have claimed that some human beings are less than human, or not truly human, have committed terrible acts of violence and oppression. And thereby violating, blaspheming and spitting on the face of God in every human being they have hurt.

Human beings have an insatiable appetite for worship: to give worth to someone or something – resulting in experiencing a sense of wonder and delighting in beauty.

Human beings also have an insatiable appetite for witness: to show and tell. For me, it is bearing witness to God’s love-affair with humanity. Believing in everyone whether they believe in God or not.

As I said, being human makes us look beyond ourselves. Let me end by looking at two very different human beings, whose lives demonstrated this gift wonderfully.

In the space of three days, back in March this year, beloved comedian, Ken Dodd, and world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, died. Could there be a greater contrast? One was an eccentric Liverpudlian who delighted his audiences by helping them see beyond the everyday to the fantastical, absurd and surreal aspects of life. The other was a brilliant Cambridge Professor whose mind reached out beyond the known world to expand our knowledge of the cosmos.

Our human desire to explore and to wonder, recognised in these two people, some gifts of the spirit, which drove them to accomplish so much in very different spheres of work and different ways of looking at the world. May we, in our humanity, celebrate those who help us take an extra step into the unknown.

The Archbishop went on to choose a music track: So Will I (100 Billion X) –  Hillsong United

Listen to the podcast of the Archbishop's essay