Man's Universal Desire For Regeneration: Reflections on 'Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age' by Bill McKibben

EnoughOn the last two pages of the first volume of Jonathan Edwards’ collected works resides a small yet significant piece of writing.  It is entitled, “Theological Questions,” and contains ninety inquiries into many topics apparently posed by Edwards himself and collected into a document.  Questions include queries from, “How do you prove that the Scriptures are a revelation from God?” to “What is true benevolence to men?”  One question in particular has, since my initial discovery of this page, prompted thought and provoked many questions in my own mind: it is number sixty-eight and reads, “Do not the unregenerate desire to be regenerated” (690-691).

It was not until I reached the latter portion of Bill McKibben’s Enough that I saw more clearly than I ever had prior the truth that Edwards implied in his question regarding the universal desire of all men for regeneration.  In the first pages of chapter five (“Enough”), McKibben tells of Max More, a keynote speaker at the fourth national convention of the Extropian movement in 1999, who spoke of his goal to “always improve, never be static” (201).  More also asserted that amendments needed to be made to the human constitution.  These amendments included trading in death for eternal life, increasing perception through improved senses, enhancing memory, intelligence and “emotional responses,” all through the use of complex biotechnology.  These enhancements would thus move us from “a human to an ultrahuman condition” (201).

More’s vision for man sounds similar to the effects of the new birth.  His passion to “always improve [and] never be static” sounds like talk from a Christian, who, impelled by the Holy Spirit, refuses to give into laziness and who pursues sanctification with unrelenting vigor.  More is searching for eternal life through biotechnology, yet eternal life attends the regeneration of a Christian and the latter is the present taste of the former.  A born-again believer receives “improved emotional responses,” namely new affections of love for God, for holiness, and for mankind.  Someday that Christian will set aside the human condition to take on a new “ultrahuman” condition at the resurrection.  Granted, More’s ideas of eternal life, improved emotional faculties, and the ultrahuman condition are vastly different than the Christian notion of these realities, but the fact that they are present and resemble regeneration in profound ways is enough to demonstrate that men were made for Jesus Christ.  We see here the truth that Augustine articulated and acutely felt, “Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.”

McKibben even uses the word “restless” in describing the vision of Nick Bostrum, a Swedish philosopher who also took the podium the same convention.  Bostrom spoke of “aesthetic-contemplative pleasures whose blissfulness vastly exceeds what any human has yet experienced,” and “love that is stronger, purer, and more secure than any human has yet harbored,” and “values that will strike us as begin of a far higher order than those we can realize as unenhanced biological humans” (202).  This man, like his colleague, is looking for regeneration.

In fact, it seems that the entire pursuit of the technological advancements that McKibben outlines in his book reveals that man is looking for that which can only be found in Christ.  Man’s desire for rest and leisure, McKibben predicts, might create a scenario where, through robotic industry, “production and output could greatly increase…so we could all have a better quality of life without having to do work.”  In such a situation, “the primary job of humanity in [this] century will be protecting its retirement benefits by ensuring continued cooperation from the robot industries” (93).  Yes, rest is good and necessary and efficiency can be a blessing, but not at the point where it eradicates work altogether.  Contrary to the dreams of young entrepreneurs who plan to retire at age thirty-five, a life with nothing to do is no life at all.  McKibben recognizes that “Having nothing to do is one kind of hell,” and, quoting Erazim Kohak, admits, “To have without doing corrodes the soul” (94).  Only in Christ can one find that perfect balance of work and rest; even our enjoyment of rest in the kingdom of Christ will not be divorced from fruitful labor (see Revelation 22:3).

It is important for us as Christians to understand technology in light of regeneration and eternal life as we discuss and come to conclusions about our development and use of it.  Some technology is good: it reflects a proper exercising of dominion over the created order, it provides relief from pain and sickness, and it makes us more efficient in certain areas so we can concentrate on others.  On the other hand, however, some technology can be deadly to the human race and to the richness of life because those who develop it do not realize that some improvements and the desires for those improvements can only be satisfied in Jesus Christ and in His gift of regeneration.  Thus, men like More and Bostrum seek these enhancements apart from God and apart from revealed truth, subsequently pursuing and incorporating enhancements that are contrary to the natural order.

Nevertheless, despite continued exponential growth of technology that results in further enhancements to our human constitution and that contributes to the ease of life, man, though able to catalog great achievement and “progress,” will still be lamenting along with Bono saying, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”  The heart will ache until it is satisfied by God through Jesus Christ; all the technological advancement in the universe will never satisfy a guilty conscience.

So technology, it would appear, is tool for evangelism—not in the way that it is conventionally used as a tool: websites, podcasts, blogs, and other such means—but as a window into the soul of man.  I do not think that our primary mission will be to tell men and women inundated with technology to shut of their iPods and take a walk in the woods, although this is beneficial and necessary.  It is not our calling, chiefly, to tell others to quit seeking ways to selfishly improve themselves through biotechnology and germline manipulation, or to knock off trying to live forever through Cryogenics, or to stop seeking perpetual leisure.  Rather, as evangelists, we must use man’s very inclination toward progress, toward eternal life, and toward leisure to demonstrate to them that they were made for Someone else.

Your drive toward progress?  You possess that penchant for improvement because you were created in the image of God to work and to grow, but you have fallen, and now you need Christ to reconcile you to your Creator who will give you the correct motivation for work and self-improvement.  Your passion for eternal life?  That’s there because God put eternity in our hearts and because those of us who have not been forgiven of our sins fear the judgment that comes at death—but Christ tasted death and judgment in our place.  Your insatiable desire for leisure and peace is the result of a guilty conscience that you are attempting to appease through external peace and because your heart was designed to long for an eternal rest that can only be satisfied in God’s kingdom.  Will you not turn from your futile pursuits and trust in the One for Whom you were made?

Although McKibben’s effort is noble—his call for humans to say that we have advanced far enough in regards to technology—I do not think that his call will be heeded.  Why?  Because McKibben himself understands, “Enough is not a possibility for our species” (203).  Yes, Christians can and must exercise the self-control and the wisdom to set aside certain technologies and to speak clearly against others, but we must also realize that man will continue to pursue self-improvement and eternal life—although sinfully because he is fallen—since he has been made in the image of God.

My questions at this point concern the methods by which we can begin, as a Church, to speak evangelistically to a technologically dependent society.  I have posed some suggestions above, but I know there is more to it.  In what other ways does man’s infatuation with technology reveal the longings of his soul?  How do these truths relate to the people in our Church?  How does technology negatively affect the regenerate?  Does it?  Can it?  It what ways?  These are important questions as well as I think about how to shepherd God’s people in an age that cannot say “Enough.”

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