How we answer the question “What is a man?” is foundational to human flourishing because it saturates our personal and public policies, laws, culture, decisions, and expectations. If a man is simply the byproduct of random events, he has no inherent value and is nothing more than a collection of subatomic particles. If he is only a byproduct of chance, man is worth little more than any common grain of sand or housefly. If, on the other hand, mankind is designed, formed, and sustained by a Creator for relationship, there can be both meaning and purpose for existence. “What is a man?” is an age-old, contemporary, and relevant question that needs to be settled in our hearts and minds, for it is like an unseen hand guiding our every decision on education, politics, life at every stage, the environment, family, citizenship, and much more. The way we individually and collectively answer the question about man’s place and role in creation will either lead down the narrow road of human flourishing or the broad road of nihilism, hedonism, and/or the pursuit of power.
Each of us makes an individual choice to believe either mankind or God is the center of the universe. We adopt what we learn from parents, teachers, and others and/or do the work of discovering truth for ourselves, especially on deeper matters. The good news is, if we put in the work, our conclusions will be our own and sticky. We should be careful not to stop short of doing the deep emotional and spiritual work required to discover answers to our biggest questions, for reason alone will often lead us to dead ends where we find ourselves settling for immature, undeveloped, or counterfeit conclusions. When we have done the deep work and come to the conclusion that God exists, the diligent will come to some type of understanding of what our relationship with Him has been, is, and should be. After we acknowledge the existence of God, an undiscovered country of wisdom and knowledge has the potential to open up to us. All of the answers to our questions flow from the first principle that all things were made for and sustained by God. How we choose to define truth and reality comes from our understanding of God, for the reverence (fear) of God is the beginning of both knowledge and wisdom (Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 1:7, 2:5, 9:10).
The framers and influencers of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution understood some things as naturally self-evident. In nature, men are equal in the sense that no one man is superior or inferior to another. Thomas Paine argued that no man is naturally king and another naturally subject. Others such as James Otis, Thomas Jefferson, Gad Hitchcock, and Alexander Hamilton all believed God was the only true Sovereign in the universe. The evidence for God’s existing is not only backed up philosophically by reason and history, the evidence for God’s existence presents in nature itself through cause and effect. When Aristotle identified and named the original cause as the “Prime Mover,” he was simply pointing out a fact as he saw it. Just like many thinkers throughout history, before and after, the Greek philosophers were trying to identify the truth. Some, like today, believed the truth was ultimately in concrete things that could be measured, and others believed the truth was an abstract concept that crossed over from the metaphysical into the physical world. Rafael’s painting The School of Athens 1509-1511 gives us a snapshot of Plato and his student Aristotle walking together. As the teacher points up (representing the abstract); the student points down (representing the concrete). Some fifteen hundred years before Rafael, the Apostle Paul’s second missionary journey included a message delivered at Mars Hill in Athens. The well-educated former pharisee who had previously sat at the feet of Gamaliel and knew at least three languages was chosen by God to share the Gospel with people who were well versed in abstract and concrete philosophy.
But Paul did not get bogged down in the philosophical abstract or concrete. Paul preached the good news that the answer to longings of the human heart and man’s search for meaning is found in the one true God alone (Acts 17:22-31). Only when God exists can man be endowed with certain inalienable rights and inherent dignity (Isaiah 43:7). With God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). Without God, there is no absolute truth. With Him, we have a trustworthy foundation, beginning, and end (Matthew 7:26, 2 Corinthians 13:9, Revelation 22:13).
Asking the question “What is a man?” is another way of asking “What am I?” Getting this settled once and for all changes things, because it forces us to confront the existence of good and evil, light and darkness, and the natural and spiritual worlds. It is at first very uncomfortable exposing our deepest self to the reality that we are not at the center of the universe because when we admit there is a God and God is there, we suddenly become aware that we are not Him, and He is above us in every way. Acknowledging God causes us to compare ourselves to Him and we become aware of our sin (falling short). That’s the rub. As individual members of the human race, we do not want to be accountable to God. We want to be our own gods at the center of the universe and make up the rules of reality instead of aligning with the laws of nature and nature’s God.
When our hearts are enlightened to the existence of God, we take a leap and often feel exposed, for we find ourselves, like Isaiah, in the presence of Holiness and sinfully unclean (Isaiah 6:5). Sin creates a dark tension and emptiness within us because it separates us from the one true and perfect God, and the tension of Holiness can only be resolved God’s way- through a relationship with His son. We would do well to return and reflect often on the eternal words of Jesus: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6). Jesus is the answer to the question “What is a man?” He is the answer to “What am I?” He keeps his promises, is a foundation we can reliably build on, and is our blessed hope. As we seek for meaning and truth in this age and the next, each of us must personally choose to accept or reject the invitation to believe by faith in the good news of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Some will, but many will not. We should consider the New Testament examples of people accepting the invitation (Matthew 9:2, Mark 2:5, Acts 2:41), rejecting the invitation (Matthew 19:22, Luke 7:30 Acts 17:32), and putting off the invitation (Acts 17:32 and 26:28).
Education, reason, and philosophy have their place as tools, but truth existed prior to these things (John 1:1-5). When we answer the questions “What is truth” and “what is a man” by trusting God as our source and guide, we are able to live our fullest lives and become like seeds planted in good soil with the potential to be nurtured to maturity. If we trust in Jesus by faith, He will reward us with relationship, meaning, and purpose in this life and prepare us for eternity. When we believe by faith that God is our Creator and Sustainer, anything is possible, and we are not bound by the fetters of time and eternity. He is a good Father waiting for us to come to Him with our questions. Seeking Him first means we pray, read scripture, and meditate on Him and His ways. When we put God first, He will answer many of our deepest questions by giving us what we really need and long for. He will give us Himself.
– Richard Harwood from The Guild