There is a sketch in the Calvin and Hobbes comic book that pictures Calvin looking up at the stars and shouting, ‘I’m significant!’. The next panel zooms out to show us a tiny handful of the stars framed against a small picture of Calvin in the bottom left-hand corner, while in the following frame Calvin is acknowledging in a small voice, ‘Said the speck of dust’.
While the two statements may seem paradoxical – individual specks of dust are not significant – they are both true. In relation to the grandeur of the universe, human beings seem nothing more than tiny bodies of matter existing in a tiny space of time, ‘a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away', Jas. 4. 14. Nevertheless, we are significant enough for God to number the very hairs of our heads, Matt. 10. 30.
The psalmist captures it best when, considering the stars, he asks, ‘What is man, that thou art mindful of him?’ Ps. 8. 4. His question acknowledges the two separate truths Calvin struggled to reconcile: that man is significant, but also that he is insignificant.
Biblically speaking, it is true that man is nothing; he is described early on as dust, Gen. 3. 19, and later as the grass that withereth, Isa. 40. 6. This explains the query, ‘What is man?’ – the word ‘man’ here being the less dignified Hebrew noun, enosh emphasizing his mortality and therefore his smallness in comparison to an immortal God. This comparison is further emphasized by the psalmist as man is juxtaposed with the vastness of the universe in verse 3 and against the authority and character of God in verse 1.
Like the Psalmist, though, I do not want to focus on the smallness of man. The psalmist spends less than one verse on this topic and even that verse ends with the reminder that God is ‘mindful’ of man, v. 4. He focuses rather on the significance God has placed on him and the effect this should have on us.
From the beginning, God gave man a special position. The Bible starts, ‘In the beginning’,
Gen. 1. 1. I believe that the beginning referred to is the start of God’s special relationship with mankind, the same relationship seen right through the Bible until the last recorded words of the Lord Jesus, ‘Surely I come quickly’, Rev. 22. 20. John chapter 14 verse 3 tells us the reason for His return is to ‘receive [us] unto [himself]’. So, the Bible begins and ends with God’s concern for man; in fact, the Bible as a whole is evidence that God is mindful of us.
It is John – the ‘disciple whom Jesus loved’, John 21. 20, a title that highlights man’s special position with God – who states that the purpose of his Gospel is ‘that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God’, so that we might have ‘life through his name’, John 20. 31. The main aim of the Bible is to reveal God to sinful creatures who have no claim on Him, and its very existence is proof that God loves us.
Man’s special position can also be seen in his unique creation. Adam’s creation is carefully distinguished from all others in that it is exquisitely intimate. God created everything else simply by speaking, but He took time to form man’s body and breathe him into existence, Gen. 2. 7. There are several differences with the creation of man in chapter 1:
The relationship that began with our unique creation in Genesis chapter 1 is continued with all redeemed people today; in His intimate tenderness, the Lord is the ‘friend that sticketh closer than a brother’, Prov. 18. 24. In a day when evolution is held as scientific fact even by some professing Christians, we must remember that man was specially created by God, for God, and with the purpose of obeying and honouring God. To believe otherwise is to undermine the entire foundation of our relationship with God.
Going back to the Calvin illustration earlier, it is worth observing that he wasn’t talking about mankind as a whole, but about himself personally: ‘I’m significant’. The psalmist comprehends both. Not only is mankind as a species significant, so too are individual human beings. The ‘son of man’ here refers to any individual born since Adam, indicating that God is not just concerned with the human race but with each person who makes up that race (seeing that ‘son’ is singular). In fact, God is only ‘mindful’ of man, which suggests a mere remembrance of man, but when referring to God’s relationship with the individual the psalmist uses the more intimate ‘visits’ which implies a greater interest. To ‘visit’ in this context means 'to care for and watch over'. It is a privilege that God remembers mankind as a whole; how much greater it is that He actively cares for individuals like you and me.
We may take as an example the man beside the pool of Bethesda in John chapter 5. His unimportance is highlighted by the fact that he is given no name, being merely ‘a certain man’, v. 5, who has ‘no man … to put [him] into the pool’, v. 7. He is so insignificant that, over the course of thirty-eight years, he has been unable to find anyone to help him. But Jesus ‘saw him’ and ‘knew’ him. Jesus saw a man no one else saw and, more importantly, ‘knew’ him, a word indicating intimate knowledge, hinting at the care Jesus displayed.
The implication is simple: even if you don’t feel it, you are significant. The Bible is full of ‘unimportant’ people who are important to God: the servant girl who told Naaman to visit Elisha, the woman the Lord healed of a twelve-year disease, the young virgin given the honour of being the mother of Jesus. It doesn’t matter what others think of us, nor what we think of ourselves, but what matters is what God thinks of us. And that information is found only in the Bible. Believers of all eras cling to this revelation, ‘I have loved thee with an everlasting love’, Jer. 31. 3.
Christians should always remember their humble origins and smallness as tiny drops in the vast ocean of time and space, but this should only throw into relief God’s care for them and His willingness to use them to accomplish His programme in the world. At the National Prayer Breakfast in 2016, Senate Chaplain Dr. Berry Black said this, ‘the value of an object is based on the price someone is willing to pay, and when it dawned on me that God sent His only begotten Son to die for me, no one was able to make me feel inferior again’.1 If you feel belittled, remember you are valuable to God. If you belittle yourself or another Christian, remember that you are belittling someone God deemed so valuable that He sacrificed His Son for them. And being reminded of the value God sees in us, may we be compelled, like the psalmist in verse 9, to claim Him, ‘O [Jehovah] our Lord’, to give Him glory, ‘how excellent is thy name’, and spread His name to all we meet, ‘in all the earth’.
Next time you look at the stars and, like Calvin or King David, question your significance, pause to hear heaven’s reply, ‘chosen’ by God, Eph. 1. 4, ‘loved’ by Christ, Eph. 5. 2, and ‘adopted’ into the family of heaven, Rom. 8. 15. As the children’s chorus puts it: ‘He made you someone special. You’re the only one of your kind’.