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Copyright for the journal © 2005
M. S. Thirumalai
WHAT IS MAN?
CONCERN FOR DEATH IN SPACE
YEARS AGO the attention of the world was centered on a tiny object in space. It was at the height of the U.S. space program, and one of our space ships, with three astronauts on board, was in trouble. The flight was going to be aborted and returned to earth. There was a question whether or not the space center here in the United States could bring the spaceship back. All of us who remember the incident recall the concern we felt. If these men could not be brought back, their ship would go on into space where they would wander until, eventually, for lack of fuel, oxygen and food, they would finally die.
I am sure all of us were horrified as we contemplated the thought of their dying out there in the emptiness of space. And yet, how many of us have ever taken time to think that if God does not exist and if the gospel is not true, then we on earth are like those astronauts; we are lost in space – unable to return home because we have no home to return to and no destination to which we can go. If God does not exist and has not revealed His love to us in Christ, then we are doomed to wander endlessly throughout this universe, constantly orbiting, slowly dying one at a time.
IS MAN A PRODUCT OF CAUSES?
Bertrand Russell, a British philosopher who denied the existence of God and the truth of the gospel, said,
Man is the product of causes which had no pre-vision of the end they were achieving. His origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves, and his beliefs are but the outcome of accidental collations of atoms.” In other words, atoms millions and possibly billions of years ago, accidentally came together and eventually produced everything that exists. Russell said, “All the labor of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruin.
ARE MEN A FLOCK OF BUTTERFLIES?
As historians Spengler and H. G. Wells considered man and the universe, they concluded there was no more plan for man than for a flock of butterflies. Wells said that the universe had turned its face against man; it was bored with him and man would eventually die our just like the dinosaurs and be forgotten. That is the view of secular humanism, and it prevails in Western civilization today.
HOW DID WE COME TO THIS STATE OF CONDITION? THE FOUR SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERIES
How is it that our civilization, which was built on Christian presuppositions, and considered man to be the crowning glory of God’s creation, came to such an atheistic and fatalistic position? How did we arrive at the place where today we view life as having no meaning or purpose, seeing man simply destined to die when the whole universe dies
E. J. Carnell in Introduction to Christian Apologetics says there were four scientific discoveries that help to push man down this pathway away from God.
The first was the discovery of the telescope by Galileo in the 17th century. Until that time, man thought the earth was the center of everything. As he looked through the telescope, he saw that the universe was a vast, immense place, much larger than he had anticipated. There were planets and galaxies that he never realized existed. He began to see that the earth was but a tiny speck in a vast universe and man was an even tinier speck. It seemed difficult to believe that there could be a God somewhere in the universe who cared for man who existed on such a seemingly insignificant, little planet.
The second step down for man was brought about by the work of philosophers, one of whom was Descartes. He said that the universe is a mechanical universe where everything runs, not by divine intervention, but according to natural law. Man was reduced to a cog in this vast, purposeless machine.
The third step leading man away from God came in 1871 when Charles Darwin published the Descant of Man. The publications of that book delivered the final blow to the idea of man’s central place in God’s universe. Man was no longer seen as having been created in the image of God but as having oozed from some primordial slime along with everything else.
The final step in the demise of man came with the discovery of the second law of thermodynamics. If it wasn’t bad enough to find ourselves in a vast universe alone, part of a purposeless machine, the product of mindless chance, our despair was heightened by the realization that the available energy in the universe is diminishing and that some day the whole universe will stop functioning and everything will die.
As E. J. Carnell says, modern man appears to be nothing more than a grown-up germ sitting on a gear of a vast cosmic machine which is destined to cease functioning because of lack of power. That is the view that man has of himself today. It is not a very bright or encouraging picture. As a result we find that people will do almost anything rather than face up to the logical conclusions of their beliefs. This is why we find people absorbed in drugs, alcohol, sex, materialism, and mysticism.
LOOKING FOR SOMETHING MEANINGFUL
People are looking for something that will somehow give meaning to life in a meaningless universe. Because of what he believes, men finds himself, as it were, enclosed in a room with no exit. Since he cannot break out of it on the basis of what he believes to be true, he tries to transcend his predicament with some kind of experience that will somehow help him escape reality.
Elton Trueblood, a Quaker philosopher, has called our civilization a cut-flower civilization. It is a civilization which was rooted in the Reformation and the Judeo-Christian belief in God, with man central in the purposes and plans of God, but we have cut ourselves off from our roots, and our civilization is dying. G. K. Chesterton said that when man denies God, it is not that he believes in nothing, but that he will believe in anything. And so we find ourselves inundated today with all kinds of ideas and philosophies and all sorts of attempts to somehow give meaning to life in a universe that seems absolutely meaningless.
TURNING TO GOD'S WORD
How different things are when we turn to God’s Word and read of the promises and purpose God has for us. In Hebrews 2:6-9 we read:
It has been testified somewhere, What is man that thou are mindful of him, or the son of man, that thou carest for him? Thou didst make him for a little while lower than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet. Now in putting everything in subjection to man, he left nothing outside his control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for every one.
WHAT IS MAN?
Here the question is raised, “What is man?” The way we answer that question makes all the difference in the way we live. When the writer to the Hebrews wants to answer the question who man is, he doesn’t give us a discussion of man but turns immediately to God. He knows that we must define man from above, not below.
He answers the question in two ways. He tells us who man is by showing us the attention that God gives to man, and the intention of God for man. He says, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” Why is man so important? Who is this seemingly insignificant person who walks around the face of this tiny planet? Why is he so important that God would think about him? He gives three reasons.
First of all, man is important to God because of his creation. Man is not the product of a blind evolutionary system. He has been directly created by the infinite, personal God in His own image. The origin of man is not from the depths of the ocean, but the depths of God’s heart. God has made us in His own image out of His love for us. He has made us personal like himself; He has given us minds and wills and emotions, great and wonderful attributes of personality, that we might use these attributes to become like God himself, not only in personal likeness, but in His moral likeness. And so our origin is not from the earth, but from heaven.
Second, he says we are important to God because of our destination. Man, having been created out of the heart of God, is made to return to the heart of God. God wants us to come back into fellowship with Him. We are made to be seated at His right hand. God is a triunity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He lives in an infinite relationship of love, communication, and blessing. Out of that love has come the desire to create man, and because of that love, God has put into our hearts the desire to know Him.
The third reason is the realization of man in Christ. As we look around us today, we do not see man as God created him. Man turned away from God in the Fall and refused to love God with all of his being. He made himself an object of his own love instead of a channel of God’s love. He became something that God never intended he should be.
ANSWERING THE QUESTION, "WHAT IS MAN?"
In Jesus the contradiction between what man is and what man was intended to be is resolved. Jesus meets us where we are in order to bring us to where God wants us to be. He is the fulfillment of God’s intention for us and the aspiration of our hearts. Jesus comes and identifies fully with us. He becomes one of us and reveals to us the possibilities of human nature. Jesus shows us that our problem is not that we are human but that we have sinned against God. We are made to live with God and to be like God. We are made to share the holiness and happiness of God who is the holiest and happiest person in the whole universe.
The question “What is man?” is also answered by showing the intention of God for man. He says in verse 8, “Putting everything in subjection to man, he left nothing outside his control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”
GOD'S INTENTION FOR US
What is God’s intention for us? Jesus came into the world to redeem us. The Scriptures reveal that when we turned away from God, He did not turn away from us; that when we sinned against Him, it did not change His love for us. Instead, sin brought forth the greatest possible display of the love of God. Jesus Christ came from the Father’s glory into the world to die for us. But He didn’t only come to show us the Father’s love, He came to reveal to us the ultimate intention of God for each one of us. He came to show us what our Father is like and to show that our security can be found only in relationship to Him.
We live in a generation that is insecure. It cannot cope with the anxieties of life because it does not have a Father to trust. Jesus said we are to be anxious for nothing, for our Heavenly Father knows what we need of, and he loves us and cares for us (Luke 12:29-32). He came to show us that our significance is found not in relationship to other human beings, but in the Creator of the whole universe who is our Father. It is this that gives our lives significance – not what we can achieve or accumulate in this life – but in the relationship that we can enjoy with God.
Jesus said, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me.” The greatest joy in Jesus’ life was found in knowing His Father and doing His will. He had no material possessions; the only thing He had they gambled for at the cross. He found no security in other people; they all forsook Him and fled. But His life was centered in His Father. Jesus revealed to us the intention of God that we should live day-by-day, finding our rest, our peace, and our joy in knowing Him, doing His will, and becoming like Him.
Secondly, we see what Jesus’ humanity restores. Jesus took our nature so that He could receive for us the glory the Father planned for us but which was lost through sin. By His life of daily obedience to His Father, Jesus returned to that place for which we were created. We see Jesus crowned with glory and honor. As we look at Jesus Christ, we see the purpose of God fulfilled in a man. If we look at ourselves, we see defeat, failure, and weakness; but if we look to Jesus, we see what God is after in each one of us. God wants to make us like Him. Jesus took our nature that we might share His nature. He identified with us so that we might be identified with Him, so that all that the Father intended can be fulfilled in each one of us.
Thirdly, we see what Jesus’ humanity removes. Jesus’ life shows us where God intended us to be, and His death removes what we have become. We were made by God to know and love Him, and to love one another. When Jesus went to the cross, He not only took our sins, and the things that we had done that deserved the wrath and condemnation of God, but He went beyond that. Jesus brought to an end this humanity that could do nothing but sin and violate the laws of God. Jesus took the old humanity, centered upon self-pleasing and getting its own way, to the cross. In His Resurrection, God raised up a new creation in Christ.
ARE WE HUMANISTS OR CHRISTIANS?
The humanist sees life as a dead-end street, an interval between two oblivions. The Christian sees that the problem is not our humanity, but our sinfulness, our rebellion against God, with whom we have been made to live in eternal fellowship.
Are we humanists or Christians? Are we living for materialism and self-satisfaction? Are we looking for security in the world instead of in God? Do we find our significance in the fact that we are children of God, that He knows our names, and cares for us, and has a plan and a purpose for our lives? Is it the joy of our lives to do the will of our Father? Is it the one desire of our hearts to know His will and do it every day? Are we using the abilities that God has given us to bring glory to His name? Are our possessions at His disposal to do with as He pleases? Is everything that God has entrusted to us being used to fulfill His purpose here on earth, to love Him and to love others? In other words, are we living like Jesus, who is the true picture of man as God made us and as God wants us to be?
The humanist says that man is the measure of all things. God and the Christian say Jesus is the measure of all things. If we say we know Him and love Him, then we should walk as He walked. If this is not true of us, then we may confess to being Christians, but in fact, we are humanists. A Christian sees beyond the world and its philosophy and has received the revelation of God as to who He is.
God’s intention is that we live in fellowship with Him every day, becoming more like the Lord Jesus Christ, because He alone is what God wants us all to be.
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WHAT IS MAN? | THE LETTER TO PHILIPPIANS | YAHWEH, a poem | EVALUATING THE WORD OF GOD | CONFESSION AND COMMITMENT, a poem | WALKING IN THE LIGHT | HOME PAGE | CONTACT EDITOR
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