I have seen a lot in life because I am old, worn and well-travelled and there are not too many things that leave me flabbergasted but a notable exception floored me recently and set off a chain of deep, existential thinking.
I like watching wildlife programmes because animals are so much more humane than humans and because they give me a sense of serenity and timelessness. Except when the predators are hunting for food.
The programme in question I was watching was focussing on elephants, and the elephant is one of my favourite animal just behind the imperious lion, and to me it was gripping stuff for an animal-lover like me. Then something momentous happened and took my breath away. Literally.
The elephant herd was cosseting a young elephant in their midst and the adult elephants were on the periphery bristling with hostility toward a pride of lions nearby. Then the matriarch elephant approached the cosseted young elephant, that was now down on its knees, smelled it carefully for a considerable time and then authoritatively led the rest of the herd away from the young elephant. As the elephant herd progressed on its journey the watchful lions approached the young, deserted elephant, which surprisingly gave them a battle, and before too long were eating fresh elephant meat while the elephant herd did not so much as take a backward look.
Why on earth did the elephant herd abandoned the young elephant? Was it dying? Did it contract some disease that made it a danger to the herd? Was it enfeebled to the extent that it could not keep up and so would dangerously impede the herd's progress? Did the matriarch decide to sacrifice the young one for the good of the others? Whatever the reason, and we shall never really know, the matriarch did a due diligence check and gave her verdict - totally useless beyond any doubt.
And then I thought of mankind's relationship to creation; toxic, pestilential, obnoxious and by any measure a fearsome weapon of mass destruction and after that I dug deep to find a reason why God would tolerate, much less love, assist and bless such a vulgar creature called man.
The atheist and his fellow travellers have been telling us for ages that man is a total waste of time, an accident of no worth and a carbuncle on the face of time soon to be gone and forgotten and good riddance. And man is doing everything to prove the atheist right. Even the Bible is not shy in its description of fallen man, "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies." (Matthew 15:19), "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9) and the ultimate acknowledgement, "And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart." (Genesis 6:6) This is mighty strong stuff you'll have to agree.
Truth be told if someone can prove beyond any doubt that this vile creature called man was not created by God then he would be removing a dark cloud from the mind of rational persons everywhere and relieving God, in our estimation, from the awesome responsibility of attempting to rehabilitate what looks like junk. But God does not see man in his true, fetid state as we do and this has surprised many not least a great, iconic king called David.
Here is how David puts it. "When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him?" (Psalm 8:3-4a)
That is the big question. What is man? David was asking, according to John Wesley - How mean and inconsiderable a thing is man, if compared with thy glorious majesty; according to Adam Clarke - what is wretched, miserable man; man in his fallen state, full of infirmity, ignorance, and sin, and according to Burton Coffman - what is man in a physical sense...Amidst the vastness around me, I am lost, and can be of no more consequence than a mote in a sunbeam. If I and all my generation were swept away in the twinkling of an eye, we should be no more missed than a grain of dust blown into the crater of a volcano.
To respond to David's question one has got to point to man's insignificance in nature, his diminished standing in creation and his toxic character that makes him incompatible with God's ultimate designs. But David's question is asking a lot more; it is asking God, why are you so tolerant, so caring, so indulgent with your blessings, so ready to heap favours on him when he has shown to you at every turn that he is totally useless?
This question leads to my topic question. Is useless man worth the efforts of Almighty God? The answer rest entirely on God's perspective of man. We should not be surprised to discover that God finds beautiful ways to make the impossible possible so that he may justifiably accept worthless humanity. To find a way to redeem mankind who is by any human measure irredeemable is the business at which God excels.
David unintentionally gave us information to answer his question and we would be wise not to look a gift horse in the mouth.
God tolerates man and preserves him because:
1. God's mind is on man, he keeps him in his thoughts and his heart is set on him.
This is not essentially about man but rather forcefully declares the true nature of God. God cannot help but be irreversibly true to himself, no more than ice can remain ice and cease to be cold or the river cease flowing and be called a river. God does not change who he is merely because man has taken the wrong turn and become appallingly repugnant. When the Prodigal Son, as told in Luke 15:11-32, demanded all that was his and departed to lands unknown and wasted his substance with riotous living, the Father did not immediately sever links and sought his son's demise. No, he kept watch and was waiting expectantly for his son's eventual return and his daily search of the horizon was rewarded when his son repentantly returned and was fulsomely and joyously reconciled. No wonder that in this story of the Prodigal Son the Father typifies God. We should never under-estimate God' love for humanity, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16)
2. God took time out to visit man.
David actually asked God, "What is man that you actually visited him?" Does a monarch from a foreign country go to South Africa and look up Nelson Mandela because he is a nobody? Hardly. But the supreme God of the universe does just that and visited man. To honour man in this way God elevated man to a level far beyond his merit.
Here is how Adam Clarke commented, "...That thou visitest him? - By sending thy Holy Spirit to convince him of sin, righteousness , and judgment . It is by these visits that man is preserved in a salvable state. Were God to withhold them, there would be nothing in the soul of man but sin, darkness , hardness, corruption, and death."
Burrton Coffman commented like this, "What an incredible honor is this? The Dayspring from on High has visited us! (Luke 1:78), shining upon us who sit in darkness and the shadow of death! But that is far from being all of it."
God visited man in the Garden of Eden; visited many prophets and priests through the ages; visited creation through many representations and above all through Jesus Christ in the flesh. The notion that God created this world and left it to its own designs is transparently false.
3. God created man in a distinguished position.
It was neither a mistake by God nor an accident of happenstance that man found himself in an elevated position for that was the deliberate aim of God. God by creative wisdom had already established everything in their exact order to fit his perfect design. The celestial family was already created: Seraphim, Cherubim, Powers, Dominions, Thrones, Archangels and Angels; all the heavenly bodies and systems were made and functioning and life forms and ecosystems created and performing as designed. So where was man to fit in and what characteristics were to define his being?
David also alluded to this with a statement of powerful clarification. "For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels" (Psalm 8:5a) Some have argued that the Hebrew word translated angel (Elohiym) actual means God and so David's statement should have read, "For thou hast made him a little lower than God." Either way man's position is a highly exalted one and particularly so since within man's composition resides a spark of Divinity unique to him and conferred on him from the beginning. No wonder Christ died to reinstate man to his pre-fall status.
4. God chose man as his crowning glory
It is as if God made everything, took a long hard look at his magnificent, flawless creation and then decided, look here you lot, after careful consideration I've awarded the Gold Medal to man. David put it like this, "...[you] crowned him with glory and honour" (Psalm 8:5b) This is something that man has that enables him to do creative things and engage in high-order abstract reasoning that imitates God himself.
Some have questioned the status of man as God's crowning glory when God has chosen to locate man on a small, ecologically challenged planet out on the periphery of a vast universe. This sort of thinking gave rise to the dilemma that led the church to conclude erroneously, in the days of Galileo, that all celestial bodies must revolve around the Earth. It is precisely the dynamics of man's location that enables him both to demonstrate that divine spark and to justify the wisdom of its endowment.
5. God gave man control
This should neither be confused with God's ultimate, supreme control and the ability to impose his decretal will nor the "so called" control of Satan as John Gill puts it, "not because he [Satan] has any legal power and authority over the world; but because he has usurped a dominion over it, and has great power and efficacy in the hearts of the children of disobedience, who yield a voluntary subjection to him, as if he was their proper lord and sovereign."
David acknowledged man's control when he stated, " Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet." (Psalm 8:6)
Man's control has been amply demonstrated through creativity and originality across all sectors of human endeavour and can be seen from simple tasks like giving names to animals and plants to the more demanding undertaking of determining the flows of mighty rivers and the formation of new islands.
These are the powerful, and from God's perspective, justifiable reasons why man is surviving. We know from the thoroughgoing history of the prophets to the timely advent of Jesus Christ that God has no intention of ever abandoning man to his fate. Unlike the elephants mentioned earlier God sees hope where we see none and if all of God's efforts do nothing other than produce one more solitary, redeemed soul then that to God is worth the effort.
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