Monday, October 19, 2009

What is Man?

Grand Canyon, Arizona.

Image via Wikipedia







Today Joanne Sher at An Open Book challenged bloggers to write about the following passage:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

(Ps 8:3-4)

I haven't read anyone else's entries yet, partly because I don't want anyone to think that I wrote the following in response to them.  The fact is, this writing prompt struck a deep chord in my heart, and I have to proclaim God's worth as I see it displayed in this glorious psalm.  Because this passage is not primarily about us. 

John Piper says,

"The really wonderful moments of joy in this world are not the moments of self-satisfaction, but self-forgetfulness. Standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and contemplating your own greatness is pathological. At such moments we are made for a magnificent joy that comes from outside ourselves. And each of these rare and precious moments in life-beside the Canyon, before the Alps, under the stars-is an echo of a far greater excellence, namely, the glory of God."

I couldn't agree more.  And yet the world, the flesh, and the devil have sold us one of the most fiendish lies imaginable.  True joy, these deceivers hiss, comes from focusing on yourself and loving what you see.

When you think of joyful people in the Bible, who comes to mind?  King David probably is one of the first on most people's lists, if they know the Scriptures.  David's psalms of joy have enriched the world for thousands of years.  And yet it was David who asked, "What is man, that you are mindful of him?"  It was David who said, "I am a worm, and not a man" (Ps 22:6).  How could he be such a joyful person with that point of view?

If there were no Grand Canyons, no Alps, no diamond-studded midnight skies to invoke our awe, we might be excused for excessively admiring our own reflections.  But think how impoverished our experience would be!

If there were no God, we might be excused for worshiping ourselves.  But what a paltry, trivial, meaningless life we would have!

Oh how much joy we deny ourselves when we insist on looking for it in the mirror!  The apostle Paul, a man who referred to himself as "the very least of all" (Eph 3:8, 1 Co 15:9), regularly burst into rapturous exultations of joy over the God he knew and loved. 

Should we really be so surprised that the knowledge of the Infinite, Majestic, Thrice-Holy Creator of All would satisfy us more than our own selves ever could?  Should we really?

And yet, are we subtly offended when we're reminded that we really don't need more self-esteem?  Does the thought of increasing our God-esteem make us fidgety, wondering if we could handle the religious boredom? Do we really believe we'd be happier if everything revolved around us?

Of course we do, at least in weak moments.  Maybe, for some of us, that's most moments.  And we're missing out on life's best when we do.

When we pursue self-esteem, we must tread carefully, or we might end up pursuing practical atheism.  Oh we may certainly be believers, but in our hearts we're saying, "I need more self.  I need to like self.  I need to admire self.  I cannot be happy until I love myself.  The secret to fulfillment is found in myself.  Me, me, me." 

Some protest, "Well, you have to have self-esteem, because otherwise you're just running yourself down, beating yourself up, etc."

Really?  Must we focus on ourselves for good or ill?  Are those the only two options?

Our official theology might not be atheism, but if "high self-esteem" and "low self-esteem" are the only two options we acknowledge as worthwhile, then we are thinking like atheists.

Where is our God esteem? 

Many of us left it behind when we decided it couldn't satisfy us as well as good old me, myself, and I.

The humble also shall increase their joy in the LORD (Isa 29:19 NKJV)

Do we really believe that? 

Listen, just listen to the joyful awe in David's question.  What is man, that You are mindful of him? 

Is it possible to fully rejoice in this divine care as David did, if deep down inside we believe we deserve it?  Or is there a richer, more satisfying joy in the humble gratitude that says, "Oh Lord, why do you love me so?  You are so wonderful!"

We were created for a deeper joy than we can ever give ourselves.  I believe that with all my heart.  And that's why my heart sickened when I heard the following words from a world-famous leader in American Christendom:

If you really, really look at Calvary, you'll never have low self-esteem again.

Now, perhaps he didn't mean that the way it sounded.  I certainly hope not.  Because if it is pathological to stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon and contemplate our own greatness, then it is downright blasphemous to stand at the foot of the Cross, where the Holy, Spotless Lamb of God poured out His life's blood because of our iniquities, and puff out our chests.  Calvary does not make us look good!  Calvary would never have happened if we were good (Isa 53:6, Psa 53:3, Mat 19:17)!

God does not love us because we are lovable…He loves us because He is Love!  And that is not bad news…it's the best possible news of all.  Because, as Piper says, "we are made for a magnificent joy that comes from outside ourselves."

Read Isaiah 6 and ask yourself, "If I saw this very same awesome God come in the flesh and die for me, would I really start crowing about my worth?"  What do you think Isaiah would say to that question?

Do you think he got a raw deal because his natural human self-worship got interrupted?  Or do you want to be blessed as he was, to get your eyes off of yourself and onto The Holy One?

Who is your faith really in?

Lord, please forgive us our self-focus, our belittling of Your worth, our pride.  Please cleanse us of our blasphemous suspicion that You're gypping us when you try to reorient our focus from ourselves to You.  Please grant us the incredible joy that can only come from exulting in Your unmerited love!

What am I, that You are mindful of me?


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Joanne Sher said...

Oh WOW, Betsy. SOO much truth and piercing honesty in this piece. I will think on this for a LONG time. Thanks so much for participating!

Sharlyn Guthrie said...

"God does not love us because we are lovable…He loves us because He is Love!" How true! And how amazing that He actually loves others through us, and loves us through others.

Laury said...

It never ceases to amaze me that God doesn't get annoyed with me and turn away. Love so amazing! So patient. I am humbled at His love. Thank you for this post, Betsy. So much to chew on.

Vonnie said...

Beautiful! We are nothing, but He loved us anyway...and became man.
Thank you for this!

Pat said...

I love your God-esteem insight. What a perception to apply to our lives and ponder! And one to work on . . .


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