Look to God to Learn about Man

In my short time this semester looking at the doctrine of man, I can safely conclude that it is very complex. Not only are there many different opinions and views on anthropology, but even one who holds a biblical view of man must affirm two seemingly opposite truths. One is that man is noble and valuable as being made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). The other truth is that man is nothing more than clay to be molded at the will and good pleasure of the Potter (Isaiah 64:8; Rom. 9:21). So man is both person and creature. This is a wonderfully complex situation. We have the free will that comes with personhood as well as being subject to the will of our sovereign Creator that comes with “creature-hood”. Anthony Hoekema beautifully describes this dilemma in chapter two of his book, Created in God’s Image.

Another aspect that comes along with man is the depravity in which we find ourselves. We are morally depraved as sinners who have rebelled against a holy God. We are nothing more than worms since we have all followed in the footsteps of our father Adam. We have all gone AWOL. However, despite the sin that oozes from our very cores, we still have the Babel gene running through our bodies. Our DNA is composed in such a way that we think we are much greater than we really are. We ooze with pride and think very highly of our “righteous” deeds and “holy” attitudes. While we may have a few mishaps every now and again, they are only small slips on our way to building that horrendously treasonous Tower. We bolster ourselves above all others and hold ourselves in high regard. As we build this tower with our heads down, it is easy for us to feel this way for we see no one who is greater than us or even our equal. The knowledge that we have of ourselves seems exhaustive. We can easily answer the timeless question, “Who is man?” Man is the greatest moral being there is. And we deserve praise. Praise from others and praise from ourselves. Hence the building of the tower. Until we see something or Someone greater than ourselves, we will never fully understand ourselves. Our view of man will always be too high until we fix our thoughts on the One who is ultimate and who looks down on our “mighty” tower.

In the first chapter of the first book of the first volume of one of the greatest literary works of all time (Institutes of the Christian Religion), John Calvin describes ever so eloquently how man will never realize how deep we are sunk in our sin until we get a proper vision of who God is. As long as we keep building our own “Tower of Babel’s” with our heads down, focused on ourselves and the problems we have when things go wrong in our Babel building project, we will never understand what it means to be human because we will never see our fallenness and brokenness. We will not see God as the first and best being in all the universe, because we are not looking. However, if we would just look up, we would realize just how small we really are. If we would just look up to the God looking down on our puny tower, we would finally see who we really are because we will see who He really is. You think you are holy? Just put down the brick and look up at his holiness! You think you are righteous? Just put down the tools and gaze upon his righteousness! You think you have performed mighty deeds? Ha! Look up and marvel at the God of grace who has been pursuing sinful and puny man since the merciful first question, “Where are you” (Gen. 3:9)? Why is it difficult for so many to realize that a fundamental reality in understanding humanity or personhood or creature-hood is that man is depraved and totally under sin (Rom. 3:9)? To use Pauline language, we are “dead” (Eph. 2:5). The reason we cannot see this is because we do not look upon the glories and majesty of God. To give a correct answer to the age-old question, “Who is man?” we must first answer “Who is God?”

Calvin describes how necessary it is for us to look to God before we can properly view ourselves. I will quote him at length here (Institutes Volume I, Book I, pg. 37-38) and leave you with his thoughts on the innate pride of man being humbled with one look upward. I pray this will be as helpful for you as it has been for me:

Again, it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he as first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself. For we always seem to ourselves righteous and upright and wise and holy–this pride is innate in all of us–unless by clear proofs we stand convinced of our own unrighteousness, foulness, folly, and impurity. Moreover, we are not thus convinced if we look merely to ourselves and not also to the Lord, who is the sole standard by which this judgment must be measured. For, because all of us are inclined by nature to hypocrisy, a kind of empty image of righteousness in place of righteousness itself abundantly satisfies us. And because nothing appears within or around us that has not been contaminated by great immorality, what is a little less vile pleases us as a thing most pure–so long as we confine our minds within the limits of human corruption. Just so, an eye to which nothing is shown but black objects judges something dirty white or even rather darkly mottled to be whiteness itself. Indeed, we can discern still more clearly from the bodily senses how much we are deluded in estimating the powers of the soul. For if in broad daylight we either look down upon the ground or survey whatever meets our view round about, we seem to ourselves endowed with the strongest and keenest sight; yet when we look up to the sun and gaze straight at it, that power of sight which was particularly strong on earth is at once blunted and confused by a great brilliance, and thus we are compelled to admit that our keenness in looking upon things earthly is sheer dullness when it comes to the sun. So it happens in estimating our spiritual goods. As long as we do not look beyond the earth, being quite content with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue, we flatter ourselves most sweetly, and fancy ourselves all but demigods. Suppose we but once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and to ponder his nature, and how completely perfect are his righteousness, wisdom, and power–the straightedge to which we must be shaped. Then, what masquerading earlier as righteousness was pleasing in us will soon grow filthy in its consummate wickedness. What wonderfully impressed us under the name of wisdom will stink in its very foolishness. What wore the face of power will prove itself the most miserable weakness. That is, what in us seems perfection itself corresponds ill to the purity of God.



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