God’s Human Death as the Doorway to Life
In fact, death is the only unavoidable part
It is the only thing which I can be sure of,
the only thing which I must contemplate.
Death is a necessity in my life,
as my life is a given for me.
—Archpriest John Behr
With a deft handling of the Scriptures, the fathers, and the liturgical life of the Church, renowned patristics scholar Very Rev. John Behr turns what you believe about being human on its head in Becoming Human: Meditations on Christian Anthropology in Word and Image, from St. Vladimir’s Seminary (SVS) Press.
Becoming Human is presented in a poetic and meditative manner, adorned by ancient and contemporary artwork and with quotations that are offset in imaginative typography. If you are in a hurry, this is not the book for you. Rather, it inclines you towards a meditative reading—weighing, not skimming, each word and image.
Behr begins his meditation by asking who or what is a human being? He makes the case that Christ shows us what it is to be God by the way he dies as a human being and, in so doing, simultaneously show us what it is to be a human being:
Christ does not show himself to be God by
being “almighty,” as we tend to think of
as moving mountains, throwing
lightning bolts and so on—
it is rather by the
all-too-human act of dying, in the particular
manner that he does.
Behr uses the stories of early martyrs effectively to show how suffering and death “is not an end but the beginning of life as a true human being.” He writes: “We have yet to become human and we only finally do so by following Christ through our own martyria, our own witness and confession of him.”
One of the fascinating things about this book is the way that Behr shows how there is no historical distance between us and the disciples. “We are not at a disadvantage by not ‘being there’ two thousand years ago,” he writes. “‘Being there’ did not help the disciples [who denied Christ], and we delude ourselves if we think that we would have known better.” Rather, the disciples come to faith in the risen Christ as he explains the Scriptures and breaks bread with them on the road to Emmaus. “In the Church, we are still on the road to Emmaus,” writes Behr.
Connecting the end—"It is finished"—with the beginning—"Let us make a human being" — Behr challenges us to think again about who we are, as male and female, what we are called to become, and the relation between life and death in our journey.
Other titles by John Behr from SVS Press:
- The Way to Nicea
- The Cross Stands, While the World Turns: Homilies for the Cycles of the Year
- The Nicene Faith
- The Mystery of Christ: Life in Death
- On the Incarnation: Saint Athanasius, With an Introduction by C.S. Lewis (translated by John Behr)
- On the Apostolic Preaching: St. Irenaeus of Lyons (translated by John Behr)