God, the universe and all that: Part 4

From the Sola Panel

This is the fourth instalment of a five-part series (Read parts 1, 2 and 3.)

We’ve been looking at Psalm 8, and we’ve seen the puzzle it presents us with. On the one hand, we are nothing compared to the majestic God who created the universe. On the other hand, God tells us that we are important—that we are created for a purpose in this world.

You know that you and your actions matter, don’t you? You know that what you do or say, how you treat the world and how you treat other people actually matters, don’t you? You know that some things are right and that some things are wrong, don’t you? You know that you will face death one day, like everyone else, and that there’s something scary and horrible about that. What are you going to do about it?

One possibility is that you could just ignore the whole issue. You could just decide that it’s enough to eat, drink and enjoy life as much as you can, minimizing pain as much as possible and maybe along the way, doing great things, loving, laughing and crying, and then dying. You could buy, read and act on Dave Freeman’s book 100 Things to Do Before You Die—carve out your own meaning, define your existence.

But is that really enough? History is littered with the corpses of individuals who have died and suffered under dictators who decided they wanted to define the meaning of their own existence. Maybe you will never be an evil dictator—maybe you will never try to live in a way that hurt anyone. And yet, if you’re honest—if I’m honest, I know I have hurt people. Deeply. Despite the fact that I want to pretend that I can run my life the way I want without any consequences, I also know the guilt of my failures, the pain I’ve cause by my selfish actions and the evil in my heart. And I know that my existence, no matter how full of food and drink and life and love, is not, in the end, going to matter when I die and dissolve into the dust from which I came. I also know that this matters too, somehow.

Back to the song and the riddle of the song. God is great. His creation is enormous. In all of this, what is man? Who am I? Who are you? Why am I so important?

Fast forward hundreds of years.

The claim of the Bible is that this riddle—this puzzle—does have an answer—a profound and great answer. It’s there in the words of the New Testament—where a Christian (that is, someone who knows Jesus Christ) can read the words of the song that we ourselves have just read and not only sees the problem, but also the answer:

It has been testified somewhere,

“What is man, that you are mindful of him,
or the son of man, that you care for him?
You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned him with glory and honor,
putting everything in subjection under his feet.”

(Heb 2:6-8a)

Here’s that song—that problem—that age-old issue of our importance: “What is man?” And then, just to make sure we’re all on the same page, our Christian author highlights the particular problem he sees: “Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him” (Heb 2:8b)

We might believe that we have a God-given purpose and responsibility to our lives in this world. But we don’t actually see it. When we look up, we still see those majestic and distant heavens. The original Hebrew song speaks of the greatness of stars—the heavenly lights. Here in this letter to the Hebrews, it’s expressed in terms of angels, heavenly superpowers. But in either case, the point is the same: God is above it all, and we don’t and can’t see with our eyes why and how God should care for us.

And then, when we look around, we don’t see human beings living responsibly, caring for God’s world or for each other, or acting rightly as agents of God’s loving rule, do we. We just see ourselves, trying to define our own existence, hurting and being hurt, loving and hating and dying.

But there is something else—somebody else—who we do see, in verse 9: “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor” (Heb 2:9a). Whom do we actually see? What is the piece of evidence that should make us turn around and take notice? We see Jesus. This is the Bible’s claim; this is the difference and the answer.

To be continued …

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