Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Isaiah 2,22 and Protagoras

Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he? Isaiah 2,22

I ran across this line earlier this week while I was doing some devotional reading. For some reason, that morning I was really struck by it, not so much because of its sentiment which we find elsewhere in Scripture quite frequently, but I suspect because of what was the next thing which popped in my head: the well-known fragment of Protagoras:

Man is the measure of all things

Okay, that is an odd association, I grant you. Yet, it makes some sense to juxtrapose these two lines. After all, encapsulated in these two quotations, we find outselves right up against the difference between the anthropology of the Bible and that of not only classical antiquity, but modern humanism. Both quotations make bold statements about the place of humans in the universe. Both change our outlook on life and the world in profound ways.

In the Protagoras fragment, humanity becomes the standard by which the rest of the universe is evaluated and judged. We are the single most important beings in the world because we alone boast the ability for abstract thought and for judgements. We have the wisdom and the ability to make the world in our image. There is no need for the divine or for God or for gods because they are either hopeless distant and uninterested in human affairs, or they are simply non-existent. We are self-sufficient or, at least, we can be. We are enlightened. We alone can determine what is good and apply it to the world.

All this should sound familiar. Really, Protagoras' thinking is not so different from our own. We often, in practice, push God out of our consideration, thinking that we know better or that God is irrelevant when we deal with the problems we have. After all, if He was so great, why do we have to fix up his mess of a Creation? So, we'll find our own solutions, thank you very much.

Yet, when we read passages like Isaiah 2,22, we come crashing back to reality. At the end of a passage in which God paints a picture of a deluded humanity coming face to face with the folly of their exalted view of themselves and their refusal to trust in Him, the Creator of the world. Everything that makes us proud (possessions, power) will become worthless to us. All the idols we raise up for ourselves to try to hide God will be utterly useless. All the things that we think will save us will fail. We will realize that God really is in charge and at the centre of it all. So, we will realize that we are only mortal and God is the only constant, not us.

That is a humbling realization and I think it is that dose of perspective is what caught my attention the other day. I know I cannot think that I'm more important than anything else in this world for the very good reason that I'm not. The only perspective which works is that we can't count on people or things or Nature or Fate or whatever we find to substitute for God, but we always have to come back to the triune God. Everything else passes away. God remains.


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