How do we define a human being? Who or what are we? How do we best thrive and function?
In the world of men we are whatever we present ourselves to be. We are what we make of ourselves. That is why modern human life is all about self-promotion—that is, the building of an ego persona that the world recognizes as substantial and worthy of respect. We do this through our careers, our social involvements, and our belief systems. And if we work very hard and are fortunate we cross that line from being a “nobody” in the eyes of the world to being a “somebody.” Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), none of this is real. It is an illusion. It has nothing to do with who we really are. Consequently, it has no life in it. We think it is taking us somewhere, only to find out that it is a dead-end street.
The truth about who and what we are has little to do with our own self-promotional strivings. It has to do with how we were created. Therefore as we undertake to try to know ourselves aright, this must be our starting point—not what we can or will make of ourselves, but rather how and why we came into being. Moreover, it is through understanding who we were created to be that we finally click into thriving gear. We get off that treadmill that leads to death and decay and enter the flow of real life.
This is the message inherent in every spiritual wisdom teaching that our world has ever known and embraced. The essential message is: if you want to find true life, do not look for it in the world of men; look to the source—that is, where we came from.
The Bible sums up this wisdom teaching in this often misinterpreted scripture: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Deuteronomy 8:3). At face value we interpret this as speaking about physical bread and physical speech. But in the realm of spiritual mysticism it means far more than that. It teaches us not only about the rightful place of food in our lives; it teaches us about what manner of creatures we were created to be.
When we observe and study the created universe around us, of which we are a part, we come to the conclusion that we are different. There is no other created species or life form quite like man. Other creatures have life and intelligence, but only man has the capacity for receiving the Word of God. What does this mean? Only man has the faculty of spiritual consciousness. Thus while it might be said that other creatures live on bread alone in the physical sense, this does not hold true for man. We have a higher calling. We were not created to live on bread alone, but rather to lay hold of and live according to a vital spiritual connection to the source of life Itself—that which we call God. Therefore what the Bible is teaching us about in this scripture is who and what we were created to be--that is, who and what we really are. It is reminding us of our high calling. Man was not created to live on bread alone; man was created to live on conscious connected spiritual life. Other creatures have the capacity for physical-mental-sentient existence, but man alone has this plus the capacity for spiritual-eternal life. That is why man was created to have dominion over all the other creatures of the earth. It is not because we have greater physical prowess. It is not even because we have superior mental intelligence. It is because we have a direct link to the source. Man is, in truth, not only a creation of God; he is an extension of God. We are God’s arms and legs. Why does the Bible seek to remind us of this? Why does it teach us to utterly forsake the notion that we are like all the other creatures that live on bread alone and exhort us to embrace the truth that we were created for a higher purpose and calling? It is for our own benefit and well-being. It is so that we can thrive and be fulfilled to the fullest extent possible.
The benefits of knowing this truth about our created makeup range from the mystical to the highly practical. Modern human life is, after all, a highly practical affair. We do need bread (physical food); we do need a roof over our heads; we do need social interaction, etc. So our tendency may be to ask: What does it matter that we were created with the capacity for spiritual consciousness? What does it matter that we were created to be God’s arms and legs? But let us not forget that human life is not the same as the life of other creatures. It is rendered highly complex and enigmatic on account of our capacity for spiritual consciousness. This unique capacity, whether realized or unrealized, acts like a barometer for our sense of fulfillment and well-being—that which we succinctly refer to as happiness. Thus for humans, our practical necessity goes beyond food and shelter; it extends into the arena of happiness. For, when we are unhappy, our food tastes bitter, our shelters fail to keep us warm, and we are at a loss to find meaning and satisfaction in our relationships. What this shows us is that for human beings the mystical and practical aspects of life are actually intertwined and inseparable. For us, happiness is not just a conceptual pursuit; it is just as much of a practical necessity as food is.
Knowing the truth about ourselves—that is, who we were created to be—is a power. It is a power for exercising dominion in our universe—not only the universe “out there" but also the microcosmic universe inside of us. It is for this reason that Jesus, when being tempted in the wilderness, answered the Devil with this scriptural statement about the truth of man’s created nature: man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. By answering the tempter in this manner, Jesus proved his unflinching dominion over every temptation, every devil, and every obstacle that life can throw at us.
Every temptation in life is the temptation to live on bread alone. And what is bread? It is the entire human sphere. It is every action, thought and emotion that has a strictly human origin and implication. Therefore to live on bread alone is to negate and reject our created connection to God and look to the world of men for our entire sense of existence. It is to look to the world of men for our identity and purpose. It is to strive to become a “somebody” in this world, to promote and gratify our ego, and to try to find meaning in our human endeavors and social dealings alone. It is to submerse ourselves in human culture to the degree that we adopt its reality view as our own. And what is the nature of its reality view? It is Darwinian prodigal self-reliance. It is godlessness.
The temptation to live on bread alone is therefore the temptation to gain the world and lose our soul. It is the temptation to leave our Father’s house and become a worldly prodigal. This temptation is so overpowering for us that it has colored human life for no less than the past six thousand years. Men give everything they have, including their lives, to become someone in the sight of the world. We get so sidetracked by this that we completely lose sight of our true nature. But as Jesus told the Devil, that is not who and what we human beings are. Rather we are spiritual beings with a vital connection to the source, and that is where our true bread comes from. That is the bread of life.
Living on bread alone is a life of obsessive ego gratification. We imagine that there is a pot of gold waiting for us as we follow our ego’s promptings. But the bitter truth is that there is not only no gold at the end of that rainbow; there is no life. There is only the emptiness of knowing that we have been living in a dream. We have been striving and struggling to prop ourselves up and present ourselves to our fellow man as being worthy of their respect, but even when we reach this goal we are not satisfied.
When we understand that we do not live on bread alone but rather are spiritual beings with a vital connection to the source we become the creatures of authority and dominion that we were created to be. It is a latent power that is a part of our birthright. But prior to that understanding we tend to be weak, hesitant, and anemic. This is because we have no defense against temptation. We have thrown in our lot with the world of men and been sorely mistreated therein. We have lost sight of the Father’s house and floundered in our lost ness.
The spirit of this world has become a deceptive tempting spirit—one that assails us in our innocence and leads us down a path of misery and death. And it is not only “out there” but has come to live inside of us through the vehicle of infantile cultural conditioning. But once we become the creatures of authority and dominion we were created to be we need no longer be tormented by this unclean spirit. Like Jesus, we can answer our personal tempter, whether outside or inside of us, with a firm statement about the truth of who and what we were created to be.
Jesus told us to know the truth, and the truth would set us free. But we have rejected this maxim by insisting that we are already free. Do we really believe this? Can we ever be free as long as we have no defense against temptation? Our weakness and hesitancy testify against us. Our suffering and unhappiness do not lie. No, my friends, we are not free. Why not? Because we are still looking to the world of men for our sustenance and life. We have not yet come to understand that we do not live on bread alone but rather on every word that comes from the mouth of God. We have yet to see the truth about what manner of creature we really are.
There are few things more important in life than knowing the truth about the nature of God and the nature of man. But for six thousand years we have been groping in the dark about these matters. Our concept of God has been so distorted that it has at times bordered on being ludicrous. And our take on the nature of man has been no less aberrant. No wonder our earthly plane experience has come to be defined by misery and suffering. No wonder the people of his day flocked to Jesus. They felt his power and his freedom from suffering. They imagined that he must be superhuman. But what they could not see was that what Jesus had laid hold of for himself was, in actuality, the birthright of every human being.