Robert Jenson on the enterprise of humanity

[…] men are those of God’s creatures who have their own true selves not as possessions but as challenges. My humanity is not a set of characteristics that I may be counted on to exemplify: like being vertebrate or brown haired or sapient. My humanity is rather something that happens, and happens exactly as the event of choice and action in which I become something that I was not before. […] that I am not yet myself and must become it, is after all something I cannot very well say to myself. Where would I get the location from which to say it? If I am to discover this peculiar sort of fact, if I am to discover that my selfhood is an opportunity and not a given, somebody else will have to tell me. The challenge to find what I am by becoming other than I am can only come from someone other than me, by some person who is new and strange to me and communicates that strangeness. My humanity is our mutual work. […] Being man, therefore, is an enterprise rather than a condition. It is, moreover, an inescapably joint enterprise. I am man only in that I become it; and this enterprise requires more than one in the same way as marrying and playing football requires more than one. Moreover, the enterprise of being human is also a fearsome enterprise — again like marrying or playing football. For who, after all, is to speak this word that can call me to my true self? You are — and that is what is fearsome. I am dependent on you. I am dependent on your sensitivity to perceive when I need your word; on your judgment to find the right one; on your compassion to risk speaking it. That is, I am dependent for my humanity on yours. And that is a risky bet. There is not only risk here, there is mystery. For if I am dependent upon your humanity for mine, on whom are you dependent for yours? On me. No matter how many members we bring into this circle, it remains a circle. How does it ever begin to turn? The common enterprise seems to hang in time by its own bootstraps. It is obviously impossible that it should ever have begun, and yet it happens.

from “On Becoming Man; Some Aspects,” in Essays in Theology of Culture, (Eerdmans, 1995), 28-29.

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