He chose us in Christ before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. (Eph.1:4)
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph.2:10)
We began the term with a brief look at Psalm 19, which celebrates the way in which the heavens declare the glory of God, and in so doing, creation brings God near to us and indeed, us near to God. Psalm 8 by contrast could seem to be overshadowed by a tinge of threat. When we consider the vast expanse of creation – even those aspects of it that we are aware of – can we really claim significance for humanity?
As we have lost touch with the teaching of Scripture, we have increasingly felt unable to affirm any such significance. Indeed, even the attempt to do so can seem misplaced. Dr Adam Rutherford, geneticist and broadcaster writes, ‘To assume there is meaning to the universe is to misunderstand our cosmic insignificance. It’s just self-centred and arrogant … The universe is indifferent to our existence’.
The secular humanism that dominates our public discourse is not conducive to the sense of human dignity. We are informed that we share 99% of our DNA with chimpanzees, and 98% with gorillas (scientificamerican.com, although the figures are heavily disputed, and the significance of those figures more so). We are not so different, we are told, from any other animal. The question of our origins is reduced to chance and the random application of impersonal physical laws. The possibility of destiny is derided, and the idea of accountability to anyone beyond ourselves is denigrated as philosophically incoherent.
Which means there is no meaning. It doesn’t matter who I am. We become who we make ourselves, and what we want to be. The very foundation of personhood, and the basic categories of humanity are undermined. Technology gives us an ever greater sense of potential, yet so often devalues life and degrades the person. Rather than liberating us, we are plunged into a titanic struggle for purpose, identity, relationships and a worth beyond our earning potential. Meanwhile, the ethics of life and death spin uncontrollably into ever increasing complexity, and our significance becomes ever more elusive.
As we face a seemingly unprecedented ecological crisis the importance of the human race is increasingly called into question. Our assumed superiority has precipitated an environmental collapse. We are told we should recognise our place alongside, or even below other species and concerns within nature. Perhaps we are the enemy, a parasite threatening the system we depend on for survival. Perhaps our extinction would be the best thing for the planet..?
What is humanity? Do we have significance beyond our own arbitrary creating? Does it matter who we are… or even that we are? What is our relationship with our environment? Are we part of the answer, or part of the problem? In what ways are we like the rest of creation (Ecc.5:18-21), and in what ways are we different? The questions of origin and destiny are foundational to our rediscovering our dignity, and finding our place in creation. We cannot hope to understand the journey if we don’t know where we came from, or where we are going to.
Christ designed us for life in this world, and that same Designer created other creatures to also live in this world with us (which might explain commonalities in DNA sequences). Understanding both the Designer and His wise intention in our design, and in the design of our environment is critical to living rightly. He is mindful of us. The incalculable expanse of creation (much of which is undiscovered and unexplored) does not intimidate us, or leave us feeling insignificant, or unimportant. He is mindful of us.
That is the deep resolution to the insignificance I am tempted to in the light of the vastness of creation. The desolate meaninglessness of a world that suppresses the knowledge of Him (Rom.1:18-20) gives no substantial answer to that insignificance. It is only reiterated and by some at any rate, embraced. And rightly so. If there is no Creator then there is no meaning beyond what we create for ourselves, and the question of meaning proves to be an irrelevance. In a world of such cosmic immensity, I have purpose only if He has purpose for me. I matter only if I matter to Him. I have dignity only if I am created by Him. I have meaning only if it is defined by Him. That is what it means to be human.
What provokes feelings of insignificance for you?
What would you say to someone like Adam Rutherford, who believed there was no need for meaning or for a sense of significance in life, and that to search for it is ‘self-centred and arrogant’? How would you share the Gospel with someone who thought this?
Do you agree that our culture is making it harder to believe in the dignity of the human race? Where do you see it most under threat?
Read Psalm 8
How does the praise of children silence the foe and avenger (v.2)?
Do you think the threatened sense of insignificance (vv.3-4) is an authentically human response to grasping the immensity of creation, or is it a result of our fallenness?
Why does our relative position to angels matter?
What does it mean to be crowned with glory and honour?
Do you think humanity does rule over the works of God’s hands?
Read Heb.2:5-12. How does the experience of Jesus relate to the rest of humanity? Do you think Psalm 8 is about us? …about Jesus? …about both Jesus and us? Why does it matter?
Of course, the question of God’s being mindful of us is a two-edged sword. It was this thought that tormented Job (14:5-6). How does suffering affect our sense of being watched over by God? Is it a comfort to know He is mindful of us, or does it cause you problems as a Christian?
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.
For further reflection:
He is mindful of us. That question is settled. The more poignant question is whether we are mindful of Him? To fail here is to fail everywhere. There is a certain futility in people who are not mindful of Christ seeking to diagnose the problems of the world, and to chart a way through them. Even the deepest analysis from such a perspective falls hopelessly short of understanding the situation we find ourselves in.
Only when our relationship (or lack thereof) with Christ is the context and content of our thinking can we begin to grasp the devastating nature of our impact on the world. Our impact on the environment is far deeper than mere ecology! If our footprint was only carbon, and our ravaging of creation were only environmental, we might navigate a way through. But the roots run far deeper.
The crisis is theological. The catastrophe will not be averted by the abdication of humanity, still less by our extinction. Only by our redemption can creation be delivered from the curse. In so many ways we seek to negate the effects of the curse by ourselves: education, reforestation, conservation, recycling. The only thing in this scenario that is more superficial than the diagnosis is the prognosis. Do we genuinely think we can liberate creation from its bondage to decay (Rom.8:21) by recycling? Is our grasp on the severity of the situation we are facing so tenuous? Passages such as Dt.28 and Lev.26 alert us to the fact that much more profound dynamics are at play.