The subject of personhood has come up a few times in my life lately. In Sunday school, we were talking about how one aspect of our being made in the image of God is that we are unique persons. God Himself is not just one unique person, but three. Each member of the Trinity keeps its own personality and role though the three are One. And we too when we become joined to others, through marriage or in the church, still maintain our own unique personalities. I think this really is a very important aspect of Christianity. Other religions or spiritual systems see the merging of the person into the whole. We, though we are joined, never lose ourselves.
I succumbed as a child, as I think many people do, children and adults, to a very unsatisfying view of the afterlife in which God’s people are all standing around worshipping Him together and it seems, well, boring. And I think of lot of what seems boring about it is that we are all doing the same thing in this picture and we do seem to have lost our personhood. But now I do not think that that picture is what we are in for. The Bible speaks of a new heavens and a new earth and it seems that though our lives will be ever worshipful, that we will be doing things. We will still have roles, if you will, and, I think, we will also still each be ourselves, unique persons. If personhood is so integral to the Trinity, I don’t see how we can lose that in the next life when we only become more like Him.
And then I think of what makes me or the people I know so unique. It is very hard to put into words. I can say “oh, she is a good artist” or “he loves to do math problems” but none of those characteristics are going to be unique to that person. Even a cluster of such characteristics is not going to uniquely define one person. It is really not the sort of thing one can sum up with words at all.
And too often I think we define ourselves not by the good things n our lives but by our sins. It is as if our struggles more uniquely define us than the good things. Perhaps that is why we hold on to them so tenaciously. When I think of other people, I can see that no two are alike. If I have a group of friends, though they may all have common characteristics (homeschooling moms) and common interests, they are still different. I have no problem seeing that. But when I think of defining myself, I seem to always use things that will pass away as in “I am a mom of four kids” or “I am the mom of a child with diabetes” or “I am a homeschooler” or “I struggle with . . . ” (well, no reason to go into detail). Even if we focus on good things like “she is so patient” or “he is so kind”, won’t we all be those things in the new earth?And yet I cannot belive that our individuality will be lost. In ways I can’t yet fathom, we will not only still be unique individuals, but if anything I must think that we will even be more so.
To tie this back to homeschooling, this is why I like the Charlotte Mason approach. Charlotte begins by respecting the personhood of each child (her first principle is “children are born persons”) while also acknowledging that they are not perfect and need direction and correction. While true unschooling is anathema to many Christians (and perhaps rightly so) if I couldn’t do Charlotte Mason, I still think I would pick it because it also acknowledges the personhood of the child (while ignoring his sin nature). But if I had to give up one or the other, I would rather keep the personhood and not the emphasis on sin. After all, one of these two is forever and the other isn’t.