What is Man?

A version of this article appeared in today’s “The Chronicle of Mt. Juliet.

One clear night, David gazed up at the star-filled sky and reveled in the manifold works of his Creator.

Awestruck by a glory that transcends the heavens, he wondered aloud, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him” (Ps 8:4).

On his lips, “What is man?” was more a humble confession of faith than a question of anthropology. How sadly ironic, then, is the way in which our culture’s most influential voices continue to raise the same question, not as a sign of humility but a prelude to pride: “Man is whatever we say he is.”

In his helpful book, “A Strange New World,” historical theologian Carl Trueman narrates how we got from there to here. In simple strokes, Trueman says we first denied God. Then, we realized with Ivan Karamazov that, if there is no God, all things are permitted.

In fact, we need to rejigger our notion of “permission” altogether because categories like “right” and “wrong” are mere inventions — ideological weapons forged by those in power. Words like “man” and “woman,” however we might think they’re rooted in biology, were manipulatively fashioned to keep one group in subjection to the other.

Woah, man, indeed. In this bravely strange new world, to name your gender or sexual identity is to snatch your personhood from the jaws of the oppressor.

And the phrase, “I think I might be a boy,” has sadly become every teenage girl’s get-out-of-angst free card. The moment her parents demur, an ideological army of allies, advocates and anarchists stand ready to trot out every trumped-up study they can find to override the will of her parents and the work of the One who knit her together in her mother’s womb.

Who or what will deliver us from this madness? David shows us where to begin —with a renewed humility before the One who made man, male and female, in His own image (Gen 1:26-28).

On account of sin, our hearts are “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jer 17:9). What we need is not to canonize the delusions of our and others’ sin-sick hearts but to turn to the One who offers a new heart eager to receive every good word He speaks about who we are and why we’re here (Ezek 36:26-27).

If you are in the throes of confusion over who you are, or you find yourself laboring to help such a person, then you are in my prayers. Know this: our great hope is in the Son of Man who was made lower than the angels and crowned with glory and honor because of His suffering and death (Heb 2:5-9; cf. Ps 8:4-6). He is, as we used to say, “the man.”

And if we have trusted and found new life in Him, then we, like David, can stand beneath the starry sky and humbly rejoice to know who and whose we are.