By Pastor Glenn Pease
King Louis XIV of France was once reminded by the chaplain of his court that he was a sinner and in danger of damnation. He shrugged his shoulders and said, "All true, no doubt, but the good God will think twice before He casts out so good of Prince as I am." Here was a man of pride who thought of himself more highly than he ought. On the other hand, when the medical student defines man as "A highly developed vertebrate, a more or less clever and successful ape, who has worsted his competitors in the struggle for existence," we say this is foolish pessimism, and an all together too low a view of man. What is man anyway?
J. S. Whale wrote, "What is the truth about the nature and end of man? This is the ultimate question behind the vast debate, the desperate struggle of our time. Ideologies- to use the ugly modern jargon-are really anthropologies. They are answers to that question which man has not ceased to ask ever since he began asking questions at all: Namely, what is man?" This question becomes even more relevant when we think of the Incarnation, for our attention is focused on the fact that God became a man. This adds a whole new dimension to our thinking, for whatever man is in his essential nature God became that, and because of it we have a human Savior.
Several millenniums ago David asked this question from the point of view of a believer. He looked into the starry sky and gazed attentively at the moon, and suddenly the majesty and magnitude of it over whelmed him. In wonder at the great contrast between all of this and himself he cried out in amazement to God, "What is man that thou art mindful of him, and the Son of Man that you visit him?" If David had cause to wonder what made him an object of God's concern, how much more do we in our age of astronomy? Fred Hoyle of St. John's College says that our earth is only a speck of dust, for in our galaxy alone there are ten billion stars as big or bigger than our Sun, and there are more than one hundred million more galaxies.
Sir James Jeans in his book The Mysterious Universe says that the majority of stars could be packed with hundreds of thousands of our earth, and some giants are so large that even millions of millions of our planet could not fill them. We are so materially insignificant that the universe would suffer no more loss by our destruction than a vast forest would suffer by the burning of one leaf. Who can fail to be humbled by such facts? Someone might say that man has gone a long way by getting to the moon. But this does not change the picture in any measurable way. It is like the boy who, when he heard that the Sun was 93 million miles up, asked if that was from the ground or the top of the house? When you are dealing with the figures involved with astronomy, anything that man does in space is relatively insignificant. We can only stand in awe at the magnitude of it, and ask with David, "What is man that you are mindful of him?"
In our search for an answer to this question we find that men fall into two categories in their conclusions. One group is pessimistic as to what man is, and the other group is optimistic. This is an over simplification, and it does not mean there are not all shade of differences. You can never divide men into two camps on anything, for they have the capacity for a great variety of opinions. Someone said that there are only two kinds of people in the world-those who think there are two kinds of people in the world, and those who know better. We know better, but we are dividing them into two camps on this question. First of all we will look at-
I. A BIOLOGICAL VIEW OF MAN.
By biological I mean those who, because of ignorance or false intelligence, cannot see that man is anymore than an animal. They see him strictly as a product of fate and evolution, and not of creation. In other words, it is a view of man that leaves out God. The result is pessimism, for although they recognize that man is the animal of supreme intelligence, they also recognize he has a pathetically poor record of applying it. He can develop all kinds of schemes to protect himself, and then go to war and destroy everything he developed, and himself as well.
Bernard Shaw said that the folly of man convinced him that earth was a cosmic insane asylum where the people on other planets brought their cases of insanity. H. G. Wells, who was an optimist at one time, said, "At one time my faith was: Man must go on-conquest beyond conquest-but now I see man being carried more and more rapidly along the stream of fate to degradation, suffering and death." Without God the man who sees only biological man has no goal, and all seems so futile. Other pessimists express their futility by defining man as-
"A bundle of cellulose matter on its way to become refuse."
"A voice crying in the night with no language but a cry."
"Some random mutation on a wayside planet."
"A pigmy among the giants of creation, a puddle reflecting a star."
"The saddest of all beasts of the field." Homer.
The result of this strictly biological pessimistic view of man is the philosophy that says, "Let us eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die." Man loses his dignity, for he is a mere animal living on an animal level with his life being guided by the lust of his body. This is what leads to all kinds of open corruption on the basis that it is realistic. This is the way man lives, and so this is the way he should be portrayed on TV and in movies. Without the concept of God and the soul people never ask whether or not if what is realistic is right. For biological man what is right is determined by what is being done. To see man as a complex animal only leads to secularism, materialism, and pessimism. Now let's consider-
II. A BIBLICAL VIEW OF MAN.
No view of man's material origin can be lower than that of the Bible, for it tells us that God formed man from the dust of the ground. The Bible is also clear that all has sinned, and that the heart of man is desperately wicked. If we looked at the biblical view of man in his sin only, we might conclude that it too leads only to pessimism. But the Bible gives us a balanced view that leads to a positive perspective. In verse 5 we see that man is God made. It is true he was made of dust, but God breathed into him the breathe of life and made him just a little less than divine. The word here for angels is Elohim, which means God. And so man was made a little less than God, or a little less than divine. He was made in the image of God, and for the glory of God, and for fellowship with God. Therefore, man is of infinite value.
Leonard T. Towers said, "It is not that we are worth it, but that God has made us worth it." We are worthy of God's consideration because He made us of infinite value. Man maybe small, but he is the crown of creation. He alone has the God like capacity to think and to reason. All the wonders of the universe do not compare with man, for he can appreciate the wonders and beauty of creation and praise their Creator. Not one of the billions of stars even knows that they exist. The heavens declare the glory of God and show it, but only man can praise his Creator and know it.
The mistake of the pessimist is that they think only in terms of quantity and not quality. Man is materially insignificant, but qualitatively he is of the first rank. Man ought to know better, for they will give more for the paint on a canvas than for enough to cover a battleship, and more for a pearl than for a huge bolder. Man has a standard of values that prefers the smaller over the greater because of the quality involved. Are we to believe that God is of less intelligence, and that he prefers, in contrast to us, quantity rather than quality.
Is God a child who prefers the nickel to a dime because it is bigger? All of the arguments for pessimism based on the smallest of earth and man are foolishness, for in spite of his smallest man is greater than all the vastness which he sees.
The heavens declare the glory of God, but they declare it to man. All of the beauty of creation only has meaning because of man's God-given gift of intelligence. The Grand Canyon, sunset, snow covered mountains, and flowers are all for nothing without man's capacity to appreciate them. Does the crocodile admire the beauty of the flamingo, or the sparrow that of the cardinal? Man even in his fallen state is great in the sight of God because God made him, and gifted him with the ability to appreciate what He has created. He is corrupted and like a diamond in the mud, but he is capable of being restored to shine again in great beauty.
In verse 4 we read that God has not only made him, but is mindful of him, and cares for him. In spite of man's rebellion and fall God considers man to be of infinite worth. It was while we were still sinners that Christ died for the ungodly. Why? Because even in his fallen state man was of great value to God. Even ungodly man is still the most God-like creature. The church was wrong for centuries in holding that the earth was the center of the universe, but spiritually they were right, for it alone, as far as we know, is the only planet with a cross. It alone is the scene of the incarnation where God became man to redeem him and restore him to the splendor in which he was created.
The biblical view gives us a balance view of man in which we can see that he is, in the words of Pascal, "Both the glory and scum of the universe." To God he was worth the cross. "He is divine grandeur mingled with dust." It is true that he made shipwreck and sank in the sea of sin, but he took with him the treasure of an eternal soul of such worth that God was willing to seek its recovery even at the cost of the cross. Christmas is God's answer to the fall of man. Deity descended to the depths to deliver man from damnation, degradation and death, and to restore him to the dignity, which is rightfully his as the image of God.
God so loved the world, that is the people and not the plains-men and not the mountains, that He gave His only begotten Son. When the Christ child was born the brilliant star shown overhead. Which was the most precious to God-the star or the baby? In spite of its material superiority certainly no one would say the star was more precious. The Psalmist goes from the heavens to the infants in verse 2, and the impression is, what a drop, but after God has become a babe Himself in Christ, it is not a drop, but a rise. In Christ man has been lifted to the place of highest dignity. When Christ ascended He did so as God-man, and man was crowned with glory and honor in the highest sense.
Christianity has always held to the high worth and dignity of man. When Constantine was converted and the Roman Empire became nominally Christian, legislation was passed to abolish the branding of criminals and debtors on the face because man was made in the image of divine beauty. In contrast to the practice of the day Christians loved all children. Adolf Deissman found and Egyptian papyrus containing a letter from an Egyptian worker to his expectant wife in which he wrote, "If it is a boy, let it live, if it is a girl, cast it out." It was a common practice to expose and abandon any child, who was not wanted, but in 300 years Christianity abolished all such degrading practices.
God made man, He loves man, he redeemed man, and, therefore, anything that degrades man and makes his life cheap is not the will of God, but is contrary to the whole revelation of God. The incarnation was the act of God whereby He said that man is the masterpiece of His creation, and is just a little lower than divine. James Mackey said so wisely, "The baby came because God could not get enough of Himself into anything else to show forth His true nature. There is more of God in the helpless infant lying in the hay beside the cattle then there is in all of the stars and moons of limitless space." Let the pessimist hang their heads and despair at the smallness of man, but we will rejoice, for no man is small or worthless before God.
Muretus, the 17th century French scholar fell ill while he was in exile for being a Protestant. He was taken to a pauper's hospital in Lombardy. The doctors who were consulting about him spoke in Latin thinking that this pauper could not understand the tongue of the learned. One of them said, "Let us try an experiment with this worthless creature." Muretus startled them by saying in Latin, "Will you call worthless one for whom Christ did not distain to die?" No man is worthless for whom Christ died, and He died for all men.
It is true that man is a strange mixture of deity and dust, and of love and lust. He has the capacity to murder or to be a martyr; to live a life of crime and ignorance, or of compassion or inspiration. Sin has made him abominable, but grace can make him admirable. Christ can restore the lowest to the place of man's original glory when God said, "Let us make man in our image." A poet wrote,
Hark! The Eden trees are stirring,
Slow and solemn to you're hearing!
Plane and cedar, palm and fir,
Tamarisk and juniper,
Each is throbbing in vibration
Since that crowning of creation. E. B. Browning.
The whole story of the history of salvation is about God's acts in history on behalf of man. The creation, incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension are all for the restoration and exaltation of man to the place of God's original intention, that we might praise Him and fellowship with Him forever. The point is, that a Christian should have a high respect for the dignity of his own soul, and of those of all people. Someone has said, "Self-conceit may be objectionable, but self-contempt is ruinous." One can be humble and still have a great sense of self-respect, for both are essential to an adequate Christian life. The pessimist looks at the greatness of all God has made and says, "Man is a microbe clinging to a grain of sand, and if there is a God, He is too great to care for me." In contrast the Christian looks at it all and says, "Such a God calls me to be great."
What is man? He is that creature who is made a little less than divine, but who fell from this exalted position through sin. Nevertheless, like a diamond in the mud he is worth picking up. Even as a sinner he is precious in the sight of his Creator, and so God out of His infinite love and mercy sent His Son to redeem man and restore him to fellowship with Himself. This makes man the greatest object of God's concern in all the wondrous magnitude of His creation.
He is the only creature God ever made that was worth the cross. The price which is paid for anything determines its value. This means that man is the highest valued part of the universe, for God paid the highest possible price for his recovery. This means that if your life is not involved in God's plan to rescue the diamond in the mud and restore it to a place of beauty, you are missing out on the highest goal in life. Your answer to the question, what is man will determine so much of what your life will be. The story of the Good Samaritan reveals this clearly. The thieves said, "The world is mine and I will take it." The priest and Levite said, "The world is mine and I will keep it." The Good Samaritan said, "The world is ours, and I will share it." He alone had the mind of Christ for he saw the value of man and desired to contribute to his recovery. May God help us all to have a Christ like view of what man is.