Tuesday, May 31, 2005

What is man?

Psalm 8
Journal entry dated February 27, 2005

"What is mortal man, that you should even think of him, the son of man, that you should even care for him?"

This question represents, not only the turning point of this psalm, but the axis upon which the human quest for self-understanding revolves. People have the wrong idea when they think that the purpose of religion is to answer the question, "What is God?" for, as this psalm makes clear, this is a question utterly beyond our ken. Religion seeks to answer the question "What is mortal man?"

The psalm proposes two answers to the question of human existence and identity. The first is that human beings are utterly insignificant in relation to the vastness of the universe, a speck of dust carried by the wind, a puff of smoke rapidly dispersing, a momentary disturbance seeking to resolve itself into some greater harmony.

The other answer is that humans are immensely dignified, "little less than a god, crowned with glory and honor." The psalmist also introduces here the notion of "dominion" that has proved so troublesome in human history. While accepting the essential premise of the psalm, that human beings are bearers of dignity, we must also have the courage to craft a new language of dignity, a new terminology in which humans are dignified, not by achieving dominance, but by preserving harmony and balance.

Almost nothing--almost a god. This is the human dilemma, the existential quandry, the two poles that define human existence. As St. Philaret of Moscow wrote, "All creatures are balanced upon the creative Word of God, as if upon a bridge of diamond; above them is the abyss of divine infinitude, below them, that of their own nothingness."

1 comment:

weorwe said...

Can we distinguish between dominion and dominance? Dominion would be good stewardship, sacrificial leadership, putting the needs of those led first. Dominance the opposite -- controlling, selfish, abuse of power. Dominion is the rule of newborn Narnia entrusted to the hands of the cabbie Frank, who knows he is not worthy or able.