This is the human test, a test to see if you are…a human.
Thus begins Ze Frank’s recent TedTalk, with a series of questions designed to ascertain whether you qualify as a “human.” As the talk develops, Frank moves from the sillier end of human experience (Have you ever eaten a booger past childhood?) to the more painful and poignant (Have you ever lost the ability to imagine a future without a person that was no longer in your life?).
The gist of the test, of course, as people all around the room raise their hands in response to Frank’s questions, is that “being human” involves a whole range of experiences that we have all shared, some silly and embarrassing, others tragic and painful. Being human can be a lonely when we think that we’re the only ones wading through the murky waters of our own experiences. But Frank reminds us that we’re wading together.
As much as I appreciated the video, though, I would like to render one objection. While we cannot neglect the tragic realities of living in a broken world, we must not define “humanity” based on our own limited and fallen experiences. A human person is more, far more, than the kind of quirky and painfully self-aware individual that we see in Frank’s mirror. Being human is even more than the combined experiences of every human on the planet. What it means to be human was declared powerfully in the words “Let us make mankind in our image” and revealed beautifully in the life of Jesus Christ. Even in its brokenness, we catch glimpses of what it means to be human in the community of God’s people, and we anticipate its fulness in the Kingdom that awaits.
This is not a Pollyannish escape from the “real” world, but a declaration of what it really means to be human, one that should challenge and stretch our imaginative vision of what humanity is and can be.
And this isn’t a critique of Frank’s talk either. Most of my favorite art—whether in the form of books, movies, paintings, or TV shows—depicts humanity as we actually experience it. It’s honest. As Christians, we still tend to downplay the reality of brokenness in our zeal for the power of redemption. That’s just not helpful.
But neither is defining what it means to be human, the essence of humanity itself, based on our tragic experience of living in a fallen world. That’s not honest, it’s blind. Unable to imagine more.
Here’s the video. (Note: Frank employs a couple of “colorful” words.) Enjoy Frank’s fun deliver style and pointed questions. Reflect on the fact that human experience is painful, and that we all experience that pain together. Laugh a little.
Then remember that the real test of whether you are a human is whether you are made in the image of God. And the question to that question is a resounding “Yes!”