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what is man?

What is Man?

This is not another discourse on gender politics. Actually, “What is Man?” would be the title of a dream course I would love to teach to college freshmen. What a wonderful antidote to so much of the nonsense being shoveled to students today! Here are some of the things I would teach in this imaginary “Introduction to Man” course.

“What is man?” is an ancient question, and most of the answers offered up move to the plural tense of “man” whereas the question, I believe, is truly singular in intention.

In Genesis we are given more than a clue when we read:

So God created man in his own image (Genesis 1:27)

In the image of God he created him; (Genesis 1:27)

male and female he created them (Genesis 5:2)

But soon enough these creatures made in the image of God find themselves exiled and alone in a world full of suffering and death. Cain kills his own brother and cries out in anguish:

My punishment is more than I can bear. 

Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground,

and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and

a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me. (Genesis 4:13-14)

Basic human themes are embedded in these passages from the first book of the Bible. Man is an exile, a wanderer, a sufferer and he needs to account for this condition. Why does this happen? Why does life seem so tragic when each one of us seems to have been designed for relationship and community?

Job, a virtuous man, experiences unspeakable suffering. He has lost every good this world can provide and no explanation can answer the questions that spill forth from his broken heart. Here is the ultimate question:

Has not man a hard service on earth,

And are not his days like the days of a hired hand?

Like a slave who longs for the shadow,

And like a hired hand who looks for his wages,

So I am allotted months of emptiness,

And nights of misery are apportioned to me….

What is man, that you make so much of him,

And visit him every morning

And test him every moment? (Job:7)

These questions (and many more like them) rise out of a heart struggling with dashed expectations. I believe we are born into this world with expectations that arise out of eternal longings. When we find ourselves yearning to escape our alienated plight, we are merely avowing the reality of the condition of a heart seeking to recover an essential element in our nature lost long ago. This is the condition of man after the Garden and before the crucifixion of Christ. Without Christ we remain exiles and the desires of our hearts are never assuaged. What is man? One of the best answers ever given ironically came from the mouth of one of Christ’s enemies: “Here is the man.”