Fleas on the Back of Gaia: The Mystery of Meaning

Note to Reader: This article is for a graduate school project, and I just need a few people to read it, review and critique it. Your comments do not have to be especially long, and they can be both positive or negative. In fact, evaluating and critiquing this article is what I’m after, so if you have any critical and insightful comments and/or challenges, let them fly! Please! And the only reply I will make to you is to say “thank you.” This is NOT bait for an argument or anything like that, I promise. Again, this is simply my fulfilling an academic requirement. If I receive no feedback, then I will at least receive one grade lower, if not two! So again, please help me out here! And bless you!

It seems such an imperceptible existence of mere decades within the stream of billions of years that to inquire into our own value and meaning and possible purpose as humans seems utterly ridiculous. The psalmist was justified in crying out to the Most High, “What is man that you are mindful of him?” Though his answer that God has made humanity “a little lower than the angels” seems dubious at best. Yet so far as we homo sapiens know, we are the only creatures to peer into the past to read it as an intriguing, even compelling story, to give us, too, some clue to purpose in the present, and hope for the future.

“Oh, unsurpassed generosity of God the Father,” cried Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. “Oh, wondrous and unsurpassable felicity of man, to whom it is granted to have what he chooses, to be what he wills to be! … upon man, at the moment of his creation, God bestowed seeds pregnant with all possibilities, the germs of every form of life. Whichever of these man shall cultivate, the same will mature and bear fruit in him.”[1] And while this eloquent, young Renaissance orator may have vastly overstated the case, it is true, nevertheless, that humanity looks to its primordial past, to the origins of its unique life, in order to hopefully better comprehend its current worth and as-of-yet unrealized possibilities.

“Born for a brief instant, powerlessly carried along by the rapid flow of time and condemned by the latter to inevitable death, man possesses eternity in his consciousness and knowledge, for his gaze can hover over both the infinite past and the infinite future; it can know the eternal truths and the eternal foundation of life,” as 20th century Russian philosopher S. L. Frank opined.[2] And so when we are taught that the Supreme Being, the Most High God, created humanity in his own image, according to his likeness, we are inclined to believe we are incarnated semi-divinities, as it were, or demigods. Even the Lord Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, reminded the religious leaders of his day, “It is written in your own Law that God said, ‘You are gods.’”[3]

We share many affinities with other living creatures, especially those of the mammalian strain, such as hunting, gathering, eating, drinking, sleeping, procreating and such. The psalmist simply, but eloquently, declares of the animals, “They all wait for You to give them their food in due season. You give to them, they gather it up; You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good. You hide Your face, they are dismayed; You take away their spirit, they expire and return to their dust.”[4] Touché! We are the same … yet we deeply sense, even know, we are more. As scientist and theologian Alister McGrath points out:

Metabolism is essential to life. Yet that doesn’t mean we are only metabolic machines, as if that provided a total description of a human being. It simply and rightly recognizes that one aspect of our identity is our capacity to process food… Metabolism is not an end in itself. It is the means by which some of the most significant characteristic features of human beings can be resourced. It is the means to these ends, not an end in itself… Being able to metabolize allows human beings to do more interesting things, and it is those that arguably define what is distinct about us.”[5]

Perhaps, then, we are more than fleas on the back of Gaia, hungrily feeding off of her to sustain our very short, temporal existence, with fear of death, the termination of life, dogging our every step. Perhaps we were, after all, lovingly fashioned “in the beginning” by the God who is Love, with an exciting history that truly is story, with infinite value and specific purpose in the present, and realistic hope in the future … maybe even beyond our temporal future and on into eternity. And as aesthetic philosopher and ethicist Roger Scruton so adroitly points out:

You can situate human beings in the world of objects. In doing so you will in all probability reduce them to animals whose behavior is to be explained by some combination of evolutionary psychology and neuroscience. But then you will find yourself describing a world from which human action, intention, responsibility, freedom and emotion have been wiped away: it will be a world without a face.”[6]

Ah, but the world does have a face, perhaps many, and most significantly the face of God reflected in the face of humanity, which is more than merely an object, or highly evolved but soulless animal. No, the face of the human was first the image of an invaluable child forged, not in the dust of the earth nor at the end of long epochs of evolution, but in the heart of the God, who said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.” And so it was, and so it is, contra Henry Vaughn, that we do have root and home, as well as history, heritage, value, meaning and purpose within this universe that is not, after all, Chaos but Cosmos. And upon this realization, upon this truth, rests all else distinctly and importantly human.

[1] Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Oration on the Dignity of Man, 8

[2] S. L. Frank, The Meaning of Life, 53

[3] Gospel of John 10. 34, GNT

[4] Psalm 104. 27 – 29, NASB

[5] Alister McGrath, The Great Mystery: Science, God and the Human Quest for Meaning, 21 (Emphasis Original)

[6] Roger Scruton, The Face of God, 49


Frank, Semen L. The Meaning of Life. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

McGrath, Alister. The Great Mystery: Science, God and the Human Quest for Meaning. London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 2018.

Mirandola, Giovanni Pico della. Oration on the Dignity of Man. Translated by A. Robert Caponigri. Washington D. C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 1956.

Scruton, Roger. The Face of God: The Gifford Lectures 2010. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012.



  1. Jonathan, much was over my head. Referenced authors were unknown to me. I am uncomfortable with the GNT translation of Scripture. I see you struggling trying to mix spiritual truths with worldly wisdom. That is impossible to do. Reading Scripture, keeping in mind its plain meaning is what I try to do personally. Without the help and direction of the Tribune God I would have no real understanding of eternal spiritual truths. Do you ever read Matthew Henry? I hope this is an encouragement.

  2. I love reading your writings Jonathan. You have the true soul of a Holy Mystic. I can’t critique what you write because I’m a fan. I’m biased. I’m always warmed by the fire of your soul. Thank you!

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