The Hubris Of Humanity

Feb 13th, 2021 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

Psalm 8 is a praise hymn to God the Creator.  To esteem nature is to acknowledge the glory of God.  To contemplate the heavens not only leads to the praise of an awesome God; it also leads to a sense of the insignificance.  However, as with Genesis 1, the creation of humanity is the apex of God’s creative work.  God created humanity to be His dominion stewards; to represent Him over all dimensions of His world.  God has invested humanity with greatness and with responsibilities.  I reproduce Psalm 8 here:

 

Psalm 8 (ESV)

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
    Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

 

Reading this majestic Psalm should produce humility and dependence.  Tragically for many, it does not for sin has perverted and demeaned humanity.  Humans no longer serve God as His dominion stewards with humility and dependence.  Humility and dependence have been replaced with hubris.  Hubris is a loan word from the ancient Greek, which means overconfidence and defiant arrogance.  A major character flaw, hubris in ancient Greece always produced catastrophe, chaos and self-destruction—a major theme of the Greek tragedies (e.g., Aeschylus, Sophocles).  Psalm 8 is an antidote to the hubris of humanity.  It places humanity in the proper perspective.  And, as the book of Hebrews argues using Psalm 8, only Jesus Christ can restore humanity to its proper place in God’s scheme of things (see Hebrews 2:6-9).  As new creatures in Christ, humanity will realize its destiny that God had intended all along.

 

With Psalm 8 as the context, we in America, as we begin the 21st century, face a stark contrast:  Immense wealth, astonishing technology, power over natural focuses unprecedented in human history; yet crushed by natural and political disorder.  Let me explain.  One of my favorite columnists is George F. Will.  His creative, piercing writing style, his fertile mind and his brilliant insights make him a compelling commentator.  In his recent book, The Conservative Sensibility, Will lays bare his worldview.  He believes in no god, describing himself as “an amiable, low-voltage atheist,” and, in his chapter on religion, he argues that “not only can conservatives be thoroughly secular, but that a secular understanding of cosmology and of humanity’s place in the cosmos accords with a distinctively conservative sensibility.”  As Andrew Sullivan comments in his review of Will’s book, “By that cosmology he means the spontaneous order of an evolving earth in an expanding universe.  Darwin’s breakthrough in human consciousness was the idea that change is always and everywhere and has no ultimate direction, and that no single mind, even the mind of God, can direct or even control any of this, and shouldn’t even try.  The political lesson Will draws from this is telling.  Letting things be is far saner than attempting to wrestle everything into a single theory, let alone marshal it all toward a specific end.”  How sad!

 

Yet, despite his atheism, Will remind us of the following historical challenges to human hubris:

 

  • “The plague year 2020 was yet another brutal rejoinder to the belief that brute forces can be pushed to the margins of, and eventually out of, humanity’s experience. When today’s pandemic recedes, what should linger is a quickened appreciation of the fragility of life and social arrangements. And an awareness that things much worse than covid-19 have happened before, and will continue to happen.”
  • “The 1918-1919 ‘Spanish flu,’ which began in Kansas, killed between 50 million and 100 million people worldwide, lowered U.S. life expectancy by 12 years, and did not spare, as covid-19 largely does, the young.”
  • “The Black Death — the bubonic plague — of 1346-1353 was much worse, killing 10 percent of the world’s population, and more than one-third of Europe’s, including 40,000 of London’s 70,000 residents.”
  • “In the 1980s, AIDS was so shocking because it refuted the complacent belief that infectious-disease epidemics had been banished. In 2019, however, 1.7 million people were newly infected with the AIDS virus, and 690,000 people who were already infected died. But of the 38 million living with the virus, 25.4 million were controlling it with antiviral drugs.”
  • “Astronomy lowered mankind’s self-esteem (we are not the center of the universe), then biology did (our species has an undistinguished pedigree). Geology, too, has disturbed our sense of mastery.”
  • “When the Indonesian volcano Krakatoa erupted in 1883, sea surges, which killed most of the eruption’s eventual 36,000 victims, were felt in the English Channel. Krakatoa, was, however, only one-tenth as powerful as the April 1815 eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Tambora, which killed 10,000 instantly — incandescent ash flowed 100 miles per hour — and generated winds that uprooted trees. Particulate matter blocking the sun’s rays cooled the Earth: Water froze in some American cisterns on July 4. Today, a large majority of the one-eighth of the nation’s population that lives in California resides near the San Andreas fault, and the question is not if but when it will lurch catastrophically.”
  • “A U.S. satellite poised between Earth and the sun can provide perhaps a 45-minute warning if the sun is going to plunge the planet into darkness. On Sept. 2, 1859, before there were light bulbs, a coronal mass ejection (CME) of 100 million tons of charged particles thrown off by the sun only produced spectacular sunsets. If — actually, when — it happens again, it can produce chaos in our thoroughly electrified, digitized world by induced electric currents: no functioning satellites, telephonic communications, water pumps, financial transactions, hospitals. No Netflix. That got your attention.”
  • “On March 13, 1989, a CME solar storm turned out the lights in the entire Canadian province of Quebec. Three days earlier, a NASA astronomer says, scientists had noticed ‘a powerful explosion on the sun. Within minutes, tangled magnetic forces on the sun had released a billion-ton cloud of gas. It was like the energy of thousands of nuclear bombs exploding at the same time. The storm cloud rushed out from the sun, straight towards Earth, at 1 million miles an hour.’ This geomagnetic storm struck the Earth the evening of March 12, creating ‘electrical currents in the ground beneath much of North America,’ crashing Quebec’s power grid.”

 

The above summary provided by George F. Will should remind us how fragile and mysterious life is—and how much of life we really do not control.  Planet earth is under a curse (see Genesis 3) and only the return of Jesus will undo that.  The majesty and grandeur of God’s creation detailed in Psalm 8 should also remind us that God seeks to restore humanity to its rightful place—righteous dominion stewards of His creation.  He is doing so through Jesus. These simple, yet profound biblical truths should be the final antidote to the hubris of the human race.  These truths should cause us to bow in humble worship of an Almighty God who not only created everything but set in motion a rescue plan for lost humanity.

See George F. Will, “2020 was a booster shot against human hubris” in the Washington Post (1 January 2021); Andrew Sullivan in the New York Times Book Review (16 June 2019), p. 8.

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