The Dignity of Man in the Suffering of Christ
March 8, 2018 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
While he was pondering the vastness of God’s creation, the Old Testament poet, David, exclaimed, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps. 8:4). David is not complaining. He is marveling at how God esteems humans. “A little lower than the heavenly beings… crowned him with glory and honor… dominion over the works of your hands… all things under his feet” (v. 5-6). Psalm 8 is a celebration of the dignity of humankind, having been created in the image of God.
The writer of Hebrews quotes these verses from Psalm 8 to further his argument that angels ought not be worshiped or esteemed too highly. He says, “It was not to angels that God subjected the world to come” (Heb 2:5). That is for man, as Psalm 8 affirms.
The writer of Hebrews, however, knows that Psalm 8 is easily doubted. “Glory and honor”? Really? Human beings slaughtering other human beings (whether it’s the brutal crucifixions of the 1st century or the violence in our schools) does not look like “glory and honor.” If this is what “dominion” looks like, count me out.
So, the writer affirms this dissonance when he says in verse 8, “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.” While Psalm 8 affirms God’s creational intention for humankind (cf. Gen. 1:26-28), it is not reality at present. We either despair the failings of humans or we see how Psalm 8 becomes a word of prophecy for how God will achieve his creational intentions for mankind.
The later option is where the writer of Hebrews directs our thoughts. We don’t see man fulfilling Psalm 8, “but we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Heb 2:9). The writer interprets Psalm 8 as a Messianic Psalm, one that foreshadows the work the Messiah does on our behalf. Jesus does what we failed to do.
The writer continues, though, in developing his application of Psalm 8. Our fall from glory and Jesus’ crowning with glory is not the end of the story. He says in verse 10 that Jesus brings “many sons to glory…” This he accomplishes “through suffering” (mentioned both in verse 9 and 10). Psalm 8, therefore, becomes our reality only through Christ. Our offense and corruption from sin are removed by the death of Christ and, by virtue of our union with Christ, we are transformed and renewed into the people God intended us to be. We become truly human, who God intended us to be, through the effective work of Christ’s suffering.
This Christocentric understanding of the dignity of man does two things for us:
- It humbles us. We ought not think too highly of ourselves. Yes, God has placed humans in a high place in creation with great dignity. But on our own, we have marred that dignity. We would not enjoy the crowning of glory and honor on our own achievements. Christ does not suffer for us because we are valuable.
- It encourages us. We are valuable because Christ has suffered in our place. God has great intentions for us and we are empowered to fulfill them in Christ. Our dignity becomes alive in Christ.