How many times during the course of the day do we ask each other the simple question, “How are you?” It is a brief question with expectation of an equally brief answer. We are usually not disappointed: “Fine. How are you?” “Can’t complain.” “Great, thanks.” And this is not necessarily a bad thing.
What we are ordinarily trying to communicate by asking the question is nothing more than: I care about you. I recognize that you are a unique individual. I am sympathetic toward you. The question is basically an articulation of respect toward the other person.
From this point of view the details don’t really matter. That is why we don’t normally respond with a detailed description of how we woke up with a headache, the kids are driving us crazy, etc. If you do receive such a detailed response, you can often take it as a compliment. It means that the responder senses that you care enough to merit a complete account. Otherwise, the short and reciprocal answer will suffice.
But imagine if we gave the question itself the full weight of its potential. For at its heart, “How are you?” is an existential question, and the most meaningful question we can ask. “How is it that you come to be?” “How is it that you are who and what you are?” “How is it that you exist?”
Are we, who ask these questions, nothing more than a cosmic accident? Are we created by chance from random but fortunate chemical reactions which brought our ancestors from primordial sludge to primate? If this is true, our lives have no meaning in and of themselves and we must make our own meaning.
But if we are a cosmic accident, can our thoughts be anything more than the result of random, unordered, purposeless functions? If so, aren’t they necessarily invalid? If they are invalid, then we are incapable of making our own meaning. We have no more value than the dust we are made of.
To stay true to evolutionary thought without God or purpose is to invalidate the notion of self. Yet, we feel instinctively that we have a “self,” a “mind,” or a “soul” that has existence and meaning beyond the random chemical and electrical impulses of our brains. Some psychologists and philosophers have even made the argument that we are made up of many “selves” within one person that reflect the sometimes conflicting goals that we can set.
However we seek to define our “selves” in theory, we always come up with a practical understanding of ourselves as something that can somehow transcend our physical bodies. We have a sense that we were made of something more, or made for something more than just the tangible manifestation of our flesh and bones.
Our thoughts, as Descartes expressed, are enough validation of our existence. “Cogito, ergo sum.” The fact that we think, proves that we are more than meets the eye.
“How are you?” I hope you are well. I recognize that you are a unique creation of God, made for his purpose. I recognize that your thoughts and feelings are valid. I care for you because God cares for me, and he cares for you also.
O Lord,… you created my inmost being.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well. -Psalm 139
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