Wonderfully Made

I will give thanks unto thee / for I am fearfully and wonderfully made
Wonderful are thy works / and that my soul knoweth right well (Psalm 139:14).

If we step back and think about it, mankind represents a powerful and amazing manifestation of God’s creative genius.

In Psalm 139 David meditates on how God knows him. YHWH has thoroughly searched and known him; He knows the thoughts and the ways in which David walks, and this knowledge is far beyond David’s ability to understand (Psalm 139:1-6). David could not hide from God: God is in heaven, Sheol, the deepest part of the sea, or even the darkness, God is there and sustains him, for God sees whether it is light or dark (Psalm 139:7-12). David confessed how God formed him in his mother’s womb and knew of his ways before they took place (Psalm 139:13-16); in the midst of this observation David exclaimed how he would give thanks to God because of how he was fearfully and wonderfully made, and because of this testified to the wonderful nature of God’s works (Psalm 139:14). David would continue by praising God’s thoughts, how God would judge the wicked, considering YHWH’s enemies as his enemies and asking for them to depart from him, and opening himself up to searching by God so God would lead him in the right and good way (Psalm 139:17-24).

Psalm 139 does set forth God’s formation of a human being in the womb; David does not believe that a human being only becomes as much after birth (Psalm 139:13-16). Yet such meditations about babies in the womb are just one part of David’s greater purpose in praising God for His continual sustenance, care, and direction. In Psalm 139:14 David glorified God for the wonderfully amazing nature of mankind His creation; and yet Psalm 139 on the whole is not about mankind, or even about David, as much as it is about God’s great understanding and perception. God sees all things; we cannot hide from God. We cannot imagine that our thoughts are hidden from Him; He knows all things, and all will be laid bare and we will have to give an account (Acts 17:30-31). God is always watching, but not as a tyrant or as “Big Brother”; God knows, sees, and watches for our care and our benefit. If we associate with God in Christ we have every confidence that God has known our life and plan from beginning to end and will sustain us and see us through as long as we subject ourselves to His examination so as to depart from the ways of wickedness and follow in His right way.

And yet we do well to stop for a moment to consider how fearfully and wonderfully made we are. We inhabit a universe with many constants fine-tuned to allow for the presence of life. We live on a planet in the habitable zone of the solar system with sufficient elements to facilitate life. While many creatures on earth may have certain characteristics which prove superior to what may be found in mankind, no creature measures up to homo sapiens. No one has quite the dexterity and brainpower; coordination and language; the ability to reason and to find much more out of life than just the bare necessities of living. We walk on two legs; can run and jump; and also paint, sculpt, and design. God has made us with all of these skills; indeed, only in mankind do we find the testimony of God’s divinity in the creation (Genesis 1:26-27, Romans 1:18-20). Mankind is made in God’s image, the Three in One and One in Three, able to reason, meditate upon the nature of existence itself, appreciate aesthetics of beauty, uphold truth, and above all things seeks after relational unity with his God and with his fellow man. We are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made; we do well to praise God for His wonderful works.

Far too many people anymore deny the truths of Psalm 139:14. Yes, indeed, many deny that God is their Creator; yet far too many others deny that man is fearfully and wonderfully made, and think very little of the value of people. A lot of people find it much easier to love “humanity” than individual human beings. We hear so often that people go to “find God” in the wilderness, as if a place out in nature without any human beings around is the ultimate sanctuary. In such a view people are the biggest problem in the world, and everything would be better off without them.

God’s divine power is manifest in nature (Romans 1:18-20); we can certainly understand the benefit of a place of solitude, meditation, and reflection, which are often difficult to find in the presence of other people (e.g. Matthew 14:13). But God is not present “more” in nature than He is among people. You will search in vain to find the image of God in nature; you only find the image of God in your fellow human beings. If the world is better off without human beings, not only would that include you and me, but it also would mean that God made the most colossal blunder imaginable in creating mankind as a steward of the creation!

What if God felt that way about mankind? We would be utterly lost without hope! Thanks be to God that He loved and cared for mankind enough to continue to provide for and sustain them, as David professes throughout Psalm 139. Thanks be to God that He sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins so we could maintain hope in the resurrection (John 3:16). Thanks be to God that He proved less willing to give up on humanity than we do!

People are often difficult; they are sinners, corrupted by evil, and cause untold suffering, misery, and even environmental degradation (Hosea 4:1-4, Romans 3:23, Titus 3:3-4). In truth, so am I and so are you. There is a lot of ugliness in our own lives we would rather not acknowledge. We are who we are but by the grace of God; so it is with our fellow man.

Therefore, despite the difficulties of sin and evil, we do well to praise God for He has made us in such a fearful and wonderful way. We do well to see the image of God in our fellow man despite all of his sins, weaknesses, and shortcomings, for so God has elected to see us. We do well to recognize that God’s presence is as much among people as it is in nature or other such places, and to seek the image of God not in plants and majestic scenes but among people made in His image, even if they are grubby and dirty and laden with problems. May we uphold the dignity of humanity as made in God’s image, and in the name of Jesus treat each other accordingly!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Honoring Love

I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine (Song of Solomon 6:3a).

I am my beloved’s; And his desire is toward me (Song of Solomon 7:10).

What are we to make of the Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s (cf. Song of Solomon 1:1)?

All of the New Testament books are about Jesus and how to live in His Kingdom. The “history” books of the Old Testament tell us about the Israelites and God’s work among them, the books of prophecy present the messages of God to His people, the Psalms give voice to the one who would honor, praise, and glorify God, and Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes grapple with the realities of life, how to live wisely, and why people should serve the LORD no matter what their circumstances. Well and good; we understand why these books are in the Bible. Yet the Song of Solomon is unlike all of these.

For years many justified the Song of Solomon as Scripture, not on the basis of its literal meaning, but as an allegory: among Jews, as a love song between God and His people Israel, and among Christians, as a love song between Christ and the church. Yet such an interpretation seems quite forced: the lovers are clearly a young man and a young woman, and their descriptions of each other and their desires is the language of youthful, desirous love. While it is true that Israel is often portrayed as God’s wife (cf. Ezekiel 16:1-63, Hosea 1:1-3:5), and the church is portrayed as the Bride of Christ (cf. Ephesians 5:22-33), the metaphorical images describing those relationships are not taken as far as we see portrayed in the Song of Solomon.

The best understanding of the Song of Solomon is to understand it at its surface level: it is a song expressing the love and desire of a young man and a young woman toward each other, giving voice to lovers for each other. Love songs were common in the ancient Near Eastern world: we have many similar songs preserved from Egypt as well. For that matter, love songs have been popular throughout time: expressing love and desire for one of the opposite sex has been a primary theme for musicians and songwriters to this very day.

The presence of the Song of Solomon in Scripture demonstrates that the “secular” and “spiritual” divide which marks much of modern thought does not reflect reality. The God of the Bible remains God in terms of secular interests and matters as much as in spiritual interests and matters.

In the Song of Solomon, God honors the love and desire between the young man and the young woman. When love, desire, and sexuality are discussed in Scripture and among Christians, it is very often in negative terms, prohibiting all sorts of sexual behavior. Many people focus on the negative and have come away with the impression that romantic love and sexuality are intrinsically impure and “dirty,” and cannot imagine that such things can honor or glorify God. Such negativity is a distressing distortion of what God is trying to communicate in the Bible, for all of the sexual prohibitions and guidelines are actually meant to honor and sanctify the proper exercise of romantic love and sexuality in marriage.

So the refrain goes in the Song of Solomon: the woman declares that she belongs to her beloved, and her beloved is hers, and his desire is for her (Song of Solomon 6:3, 7:10). This is the relationship which can honor God: marriage is honorable, and its bed undefiled (Hebrews 13:4). God, in fact, made man so that he would cling to his wife and the two would become one flesh (Genesis 2:24; cf. Matthew 19:4-6). For generations, the Song of Solomon has given a voice for young men and women to express their love for one another, finding an opportunity to see their own love story in terms of the young man and young woman of the Song.

What makes the Song of Solomon more “interesting” or scandalous for people today is different from what made it distinctive in the past. In modern American culture we tend to take marrying for love for granted; in the ancient world, the decision of who would marry whom was most often left to parents trying to make family mergers that made good social and economic sense (as is done in many parts of the world to this day). Marrying for love did not happen as often; most couples would have to learn to love each other after their commitment and consummation.

The Song of Solomon has always been somewhat scandalous and a stumbling-block for some, but it need not be. God is able to glory in pure love and romance between a young man and a young woman. In fact, it is when “my beloved is mine” and “I am his/hers” that this love and romance can truly blossom. All married couples are called to find enjoyment in each other, for a man to “rejoice in the wife of his youth,” and his wife likewise rejoice in her husband, no matter what the circumstances (cf. Proverbs 5:18-19). Such lasting love honors and glorifies God who is love and who is one in relationship within Himself. Let us then understand the value of the Song of Solomon, and for those of us who are married, share in love and romance with our spouse!

Ethan R. Longhenry

I Believe! Help My Unbelief!

“And oft-times it hath cast him both into the fire and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us.”
And Jesus said unto him, “If thou canst! All things are possible to him that believeth.”
Straightway the father of the child cried out, and said, “I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:22-24).

Desperation can be a powerful driver.

The child suffered terribly from a “dumb spirit” according to Mark 9:17-22. Because of it the child would foam at the mouth, grind his teeth, and become rigid, and that would count for a good day. At other times the demon sought to compel the child to kill himself by casting himself into a fire or into the sea!

This had been going on for some time; the father had seen his son experience this “from childhood.” Perhaps the child was now a teenager or in his twenties; the text does not tell us.

We can only imagine how the father felt when he saw his son experience such suffering and misery. He was powerless to stop it; it must have caused great anguish of soul. It would not be at all surprising if the father had gone to great lengths to find someone, anyone, anything that could somehow alleviate his son’s difficulties. And yet, in all those years, nothing.

He hears that Jesus is nearby, and takes his son. Jesus had been up on the mountain; His disciples attempted to cast out the demons but proved unable (Mark 9:2-18). Yet another disappointment.

Jesus comes upon the scene upon coming down from the mountain. The father makes his plea before Him: if you can do something, please have compassion and help.

Jesus’ answer focuses on the father’s conditional statement: “if you can.” He declares all things are possible for one who believes.

And the father’s answer resounds throughout time: I believe! Help my unbelief!

On the surface, the statement seems contradictory; if he believes, unbelief should not be a problem. If he maintains “unbelief,” how can it be that he believes? If belief were only a matter of mental assent to a proposition, the statement would be contradictory: you either accept the idea that Jesus can help or you do not.

Yet faith has always been more than a matter of mentally agreeing to the truth of a proposition. Faith demands trust and confidence, and the statement makes complete sense when we understand belief as trust.

The way the man phrases his request speaks volumes. “If you can.” He has his doubts, less because of Jesus, and more because of his frequent disappointments. His son has been grievously stricken for years; it is hard to maintain hope or confidence for recovery with every passing seizure and every failed attempt at a cure.

Notice that Jesus corrects but does not upbraid the man. This is not the same situation as when the disciples request more faith (cf. Luke 17:5-6), during which time the disciples doubted how they could accomplish what Jesus was saying. In this situation Jesus finds a man who has, to a large degree, lost faith in the ability of his son to be healed. Jesus wants him to hold onto that faith; that trust is what will help to effect the cure.

The man has some trust in Jesus; he cries out, “I believe!”. But he knows exactly what Jesus is saying; he understands how his trust and confidence must be stronger. That is why he cries out, “Help my unbelief!”.

The man was justified in placing his faith in Jesus; it required much power, and the young man for a moment seemed all but dead, but the demon was cast out, and the young man was made whole (Mark 9:25-29).

This man’s example provides a great testimony for the rest of us. We all experience various forms of challenges in our lives. We might personally suffer or witness the sufferings of loved ones. We may have deficiencies, unfortunate habits, dark secrets, or other spiritual maladies which cause great despair. We may seek healing and redemption from all sorts of places and come up short. With every setback and every failed cure it is easier and easier to lose hope and faith in a cure.

It is easy to describe Jesus as the cure-all. Yes, Jesus provides the promise that all things are possible for the one who believes (Mark 9:23), but we should not try to apply this in simplistic ways. Good people who trust in Jesus still have difficulties, challenges, and forms of suffering.

Yet it remains true that we can fall into the same trap as the man and put conditionals on what God is able to do. God is always able. There are many points in our lives when we can cry out, like this man, “I believe! Help my unbelief!”. It is easy to trust in God when we feel great, things are well, and our difficulties are safely hidden away. The true mark of faith is whether we still trust in God when we are not doing well, when situations seem dire, and when our difficulties and deficiencies are exposed for all to see. Wavering trust is understandable but not ideal. We do well to remember Jesus’ encouragement and to be willing to confess the deficiencies in our trust in God.

God has promised to give all things to those who those who serve His Son, the Risen Lord, and we have confidence in this promise because He has already given us of His Son (Romans 8:32). Will we place our hope and confidence in that promise despite all the challenges we experience, all the frustrations we encounter, and all the disappointments we endure? Or will we begin to put a conditional where God has made an absolute? Let us trust in God, and be willing to confess to God the deficiencies in our trust so that we may learn to trust Him more!

Ethan R. Longhenry

What is Man?

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, The moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him but little lower than God, And crownest him with glory and honor (Psalm 8:3-5).

For generations man has looked upward toward the heavens and have marveled. The stars seem to go on forever! Not a few ancient cultures considered the moon to be divine. Many believed that the stars represented divinized ancestors. The night sky has always been a source of myths and wonder.

David also looked up into that night sky and marveled at the mighty hand of the One True God. That night sky caused him to reflect on his own existence and he is struck by his relative insignificance. He marvels that God would even give pause to consider such a little creature as man since He created such massive and distant objects.

That feeling is entirely understandable, and for many people, extremely uncomfortable. We do not like being reminded that we are insignificant and small– we like to think of ourselves as something significant, important, and meaningful, and have done so since the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:4). But all it takes is one look back up into the heavens to bring us back down to earth. We are small. We are insignificant. We do not deserve the time or the attention of the most holy Creator of the universe.

And yet, as David understands, God has considered our estate. He has granted us glory and honor even though we do not deserve it. We have been given the opportunity to rule over the earth and all that lives in it (cf. Psalm 8:6-8). We have been made a little lower than God, having the ability to think and reason and create (cf. Genesis 1:27-28).

Unfortunately, sin has devastated that relationship and has marred our ways of thinking (Isaiah 59:1-2, Romans 5:12-18). Too many are willing to arrogate for themselves the position of the “greatest in all the universe” after attempting to remove God from the equation. As opposed to realizing how small and insignificant we are, and therefore to give thanks for the opportunity to even be recognized by God, too many are willing to stand and believe that they are the masters of the present universe and refuse to humble themselves.

The creation around us, however, manifests the power of its Creator, as David confesses here and Paul in Romans 1:19-20. We have not deserved any of the blessings God has given us– life, stature, salvation, and even association with Him (cf. Romans 5:1-11, Ephesians 1:3). God has done all these things for His glory and His praise, and it is right to honor and glorify Him for His wonderful work. Let us remember who we are and praise the God who gave us life and stature!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Labor

For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, If any will not work, neither let him eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

Even though we may not always enjoy it, we recognize the value of labor and effort.  It seems that people rarely can get away without expending effort or labor. Most of us have to labor in order to make a wage to survive.  Yet even those who no longer have to labor still tend to engage in various forms of effort, for charitable purposes or toward hobbies or some such thing.  While people can spend a short amount of time doing very little, for most, that gets old and boring after awhile!

This is understandable, for human beings are designed to work.  Even before the Fall, God created man in order to work to tend the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15).  After the Fall, perpetual effort for food was part of the curse given to men (Genesis 3:17-19).  Ever since, people have recognized the necessity of labor in order to provide for the necessities of the family (2 Thessalonians 3:10, 1 Timothy 5:8).  Those who are lazy or unwilling to work earn the scorn of people in all sorts of societies (2 Thessalonians 3:7-14, Proverbs 19:15)!

Labor, therefore, has value.  Yet ever since the Tower of Babel, mankind has been attempting to make name for himself and not be scattered through his projects of labor (Genesis 11:1-4).  Man attempts to find personal meaning from their labor, and seek to believe that their labor has lasting, perpetual value.  Yet the Preacher tells us that, on our own, our labor will not last, we will not be remembered, and everything will continue as it was (Ecclesiastes 1:7-11, 3:9-10, 4:4-8).  This is not to say that labor has no value, but we should not presume that everything we do, on its own, has lasting value.  The Preacher also encourages people to find (temporary) value in their labor, and to do with all their might what their hands find to do (Ecclesiastes 3:13, 22).

If we seek to find permanent value in our labor, it must come through God in Christ.  God’s efforts and God’s purposes are the only things that last forever (Ecclesiastes 3:14-15).  When our labor is done for God’s purposes and for His Kingdom, even the seemingly trivial daily tasks can take on eternal significance (Matthew 6:33, Ephesians 3:10-11, 5:23-6:9).  Labor that is done for Christ’s purposes is never in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58)!

It is important that we labor according to God’s purposes, providing for our families, being full of works deemed good by God, and in so doing storing up treasure in Heaven (Matthew 6:19-20).  Let us work for the Master!

Ethan R. Longhenry