Human beings are hard to love sometimes. “What is man, that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him? For you have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and with honor.” These are the words of David in Psalm 8:4-5 about the place of man in God’s order. For all of the temporary nature of mankind and our many flaws and quirks and difficulties, God has crowned us with glory and with honor. Sometimes we forget that. This glory and honor is not limited to some privileged people or group of people, but is something we all share by being created in the image and likeness of God. A belief in our privileged place as God’s creation carries with it implications that we may often neglect, so I would like to look today at four specific implications of the dignity and honor that God has crowned us that are relevant to our lives.
A Question Of Purpose
The first implication of our being crowned with glory and honor simply by being human is that our lives have a purpose within God’s order for the universe. All of our lives have purpose and worth as part of the larger plan and design of God. God does not owe us anything, but we have responsibilities because God created us to fulfill His purposes. And that is a rather complicated matter. It is not an easy thing to recognize and to achieve one’s purposes. God created us with different gifts and abilities, and achieving our purpose here requires help as well as a certain amount of wisdom in knowing our strengths and weaknesses and seeking to develop those talents we have and counteract our weaknesses (especially through being part of larger communities).
The meaning that our place in God’s order has gives us glory and dignity but it also gives us responsibility. As Psalm 8:6-8 reads: “You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, all sheep an oxen–even the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea that pass through the paths of the seas.” Here we see that God’s design for mankind included responsibility and authority. We are stewards over creation and are responsible for governing the world effectively. We have not done a good job of this, but it our responsibility nonetheless.
The fact that we have authority that is delegated from God above puts us in a middle place in creation. We have rule over “all things” on earth, but we are subject to God’s authority over us. None of us–whether we are children or adults, kings or peasants, rulers or ruled–are in a place of unaccountability to others. We are all subjects as well as rulers by virtue of being human beings. So we inhabit a world where we both all exercise authority by virtue of the glory and honor we have as human beings and we are all subject to authority from above. So we must therefore all learn both to rule wisely as well as respect authority. We cannot avoid either the need to respect others or be responsible for our actions by virtue of God having created us as human beings in His image.
A Question Of Worth
The previous discussion, in examining the place of mankind in a position of honor and glory, gives further implications that are worthy of discussing separately. The honor and glory we have as human beings is not because of what we do, but because of what we are–beings created in God’s image. This is a blessing that even the angels do not possess, a blessing that the author of Hebrews makes plain when he quotes Psalm 2:7 and Psalm 89:27 to say: “For to which of the angels did He ever say: “You are My Son, today I have begotten you”? And again: “I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son”?” Here we see that despite being temporal and mortal that human beings have an honor and a glory that even the angels do not possess.
But our virtue of possessing this worth and honor simply by being human beings has serious consequences. It means that our worth is not dependent on our net worth–our wealth or economic position. It means that we possess this worth as unborn beings from conception until our death, whether we are healthy or frail, no matter what talents we have or struggles that we have. This means that anyone who treats human beings as worthless–whether it be a dictatorship, a society that practices abortion on demand or wages war on those that require a lot of care and resources because of economic concerns is attacking the dignity and honor of our Creator by attacking those beings created in His image.
Quite simply, because we have worth simply by being human beings, we must give that same worth to other people. This is not something we do well. It is easy for us to value people, but the worth we give is often subjective–valuing those who are of use to us, not because of what they are but because of our own selfish calculations. This is unjust and improper–the worth of human beings is objective as a result of our identity as the (potential) children of God, an identity that is not limited to any privileged elite but is present from the smallest fetus to the oldest and frailest, from the weakest to the strongest, from the least intelligent to the wisest, from the poorest to the wealthiest. All have a profound worth simply by being a human being .
A Question Of Dignity
So, why don’t we find human beings treated with dignity in most of the places of this world? Throughout history, those fortunate enough to have been born into royal families have pompously declared themselves to be “Sons of Heaven” or “Children of God” or considered themselves to be divine or semi-divine, not subject to accountability to fellow human beings and ruling over others as despots without checks and balances on their whims. Today some royal families still behave like this, closing down roads for their own visits to clubs and parties, so that their travel may not be inhibited by the concerns of the common herd. We are clearly used to leaders claiming a sense of dignity for themselves, but not giving the same dignity and respect to others as human beings and as God’s children.
A large part of this springs from a failure to see the universe as large enough. If we only look at other human beings, there would appear to be a massive difference between privileged peoples and not, that we might think that some are more worthy than others, and that some might be considered as close to animals in the mindset of others. But if we take a larger look, the gulf between mankind and God on the one hand and animals is fairly large (though many scientists, for their own reasons, like to claim the gulf is not so wide), and that makes all human beings, despite our differences, really not look all that different. And that is precisely the point. All of us are created in God’s image, and we all deserve to be treated with the dignity and honor that deserves, whether rich or poor, young or old, male or female. A look around the world will show that this is far from true.
This is especially troublesome given the way that human beings are so exploitative of others. The way we abuse and take advantage of others shows that we lack the respect for other people as being created in the image and likeness of God, with all that implies. The fact that people are slaughtered like lambs by oppressive regimes or worked like beasts of burden by landowners or factory owners suggests a failure to properly respect and regard other human beings. When the worth and value of human dignity declines, it is power and not right that guarantees the respect and honor one receives. It should not be so.
A Question Of Equality
When we are dealing with questions of human dignity there is one giant question as to who is to receive that dignity? And the simple answer is everyone. The honor and glory that we have as a result of being human is something that is equally claimed by all human beings without respect to persons. This is something we have extreme difficulty with. There are some people who may receive honor for their position, but this honor they will give to another when another one takes their offices (Acts 1:20), especially if they have proven themselves unworthy of that office. Likewise, we are to give honor to all people (1 Peter 2:17).
Let us not, therefore, engage in any of those contrivances wherein we read or hear that we should honor all and then try to justify only honoring some or few (or none). The primary reason we honor people is not because of anything they have done, but for being human beings created in the image and likeness of Our Creator and Heavenly Father, who is the father of all (Ephesians 4:6). He is the Father of all–no matter our ethnic origin, gender, or anything else about us. We ought to think about that and apply it, because do we honor all, do we respect all, do we show love and concern for all? If we do not, we are not civilized people.
The fact that we have one common Father, one Creator, one God, one Lord and Savior means that we are all on the same level playing field. We need to start acting like it. It’s not that complicated. We will be judged by how we treat the least of these. And the least is whoever we think it is. Whoever we hate and disrespect, that is who is least in our eyes–a being created in the image and likeness of God for His purposes. And the same is true for us–whoever disrespects or insults us is also subject to judgment for failing to respect one of God’s children. And no mercy will be shown to the one who shows no mercy, for by the same standard we judge others we will be judged. Small wonder most of us do not want to think too much about the inevitable judgment.