What is Man?

Or what does it mean to be “human”?  The Psalmist posed the question like this:

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?

He goes on to answer his own question in reference to Creation.  Man is just a little lower than the angels, or heavenly beings, or God Himself. The Hebrew word and context are tricky here, hence the variety of translations.  Literally it is something like “lacking a little of divinity.”  The key word is “little.”  Man stands in an amazingly exalted position under God’s authority.  In short, it is a glorious thing to be human!

For You have made him a little lower than the “angels”
And You have crowned him with glory and honor.

There is great glory and honor to be under God as steward and care-taker of creation.

You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
All sheep and oxen—
Even the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air,
And the fish of the sea
That pass through the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth!

We see ourselves in these words defined in two dimensions–our relationship to God and our relationship to Creation.  This is our context, the world in which we live and move and discover and realize our true destiny.

Yet, these two relationships barely exist in the consciousness of modern man.  How much time do we spend interacting meaningfully with either God or Creation? We spend our lives with man-made things.  Here my God-made body sits, in a man-made metal and plastic chair, writing these blips of electricity on a laptop, to be posted on a website, to be read on a screen.  I am in a comfortable climate-controlled environment, drinking coffee that I did not pick or roast. I’m thinking about God, but at the moment I am having no real interaction with Him or His world.

I say all this to make a simple proposition: the greatest question of our time is the one posed by the Psalmist, “What is man?”  “What is a human being?”  As Christians we spend a lot of time talking about God, who He is, what He’s like, what He wants.  Rightly so. And if we do that work well we will be led to both questions and answers about who we are in the world and in relation to God.

But we tend to stop short. We are more comfortable talking about God than asking ourselves the questions we need to consider about us.  It is possible to be very knowledgeable about God and His plan of “salvation” but completely lost in our humanity, that is, in our relationships with God and Creation, and the bodies were were given with which to “interface” with both. (Note little computer lingo there.)

I think we are dangerously lost. As more and more of our time and attention and activity is mediated through screens, large and small, what will be the effect on our humanity?  Look up, look round.  The answer is already evident. More of the same will yield more of the same.

In the great western mini-series “Lonesome Dove” there is this profound exchange between Gus and Captain Call.  It takes place in a beautiful grove of live oaks beside a river.

Gus- When was you the happiest, Call?

Woodrow- Happiest about what?

Gus- About just being a live human being, free on the earth?

I’m afraid we are losing our capacity for that delight. And it is not a small thing. I wonder how much longer recovery will remain an option.



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