The Supreme Paradox

“What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps. 8:4).

- Psalm 8

Over the course of the past two months we have had the opportunity on occasion to examine briefly the doctrine of anthropology — the doctrine of man — because the narrative of Genesis 1–3 is fundamental to the proper understanding of human nature. In order that we might have a more thorough understanding of what the entire canon says about humanity, we will spend the next six days looking at the biblical teaching regarding man with the help of A Shattered Image, a teaching series by Dr. R.C. Sproul.

We are living in a day when the very nature of humanity is hotly debated. Whether consciously or not, we have all contemplated what it means to exist and how our answer impacts our understanding of ethical behavior. Our policies on abortion and euthanasia, for example, are largely determined by how we define human existence. If, for example, human beings are merely accidental collections of cellular matter, then it is of no real consequence whether or not we afford an infant the chance to come to full term. If, on the other hand, we are made in God’s image, then such dignity rules out the indiscriminate destruction of human life and obligates us to nurture it.

For the past few hundred years, several competing definitions have been offered to help us understand mankind. Karl Marx called man homo faber, “man the maker,” because he believed our ability to produce goods is essential to our identity. Twentieth-century existential philosophy located our uniqueness in our ability to make choices. Anthropologists routinely define man as homo religiosus — incurably religious. This is a point John Calvin understood well when he called our hearts “idol factories.”

While all of these views are true in a sense, none of them fully explain who we are. Man remains complex, and as Blaise Pascal said, “the supreme paradox of all creation.” We are, at the same time, the creature of the highest grandeur as well as the one in the most abject misery. We, alone in creation, experience guilt because we know we are never as good as we should be. Over the next few days, we will examine our dignity and our depravity more closely.

Coram Deo

John Calvin aptly noted that we cannot really understand the nature of God without understanding the nature of His image-bearers and vice versa. The more accurate a view we have of ourselves and the way in which sin affects us, the more we will know God’s glory. The more we know God’s glory, the more we know the depth our sin and finitude. Take some time to consider how the culture’s definition of man impacts your view of yourself and of the Lord.

Passages for Further Study

Job 7:17–18
Ps. 144:3–4
Eccl. 1
Eccl. 12:13–14
James 4:8

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.