“What is man, that you are mindful of him?” Psalm 144:3-4
One of my eternal favorite characters is a demon who sits at a desk expounding his wisdom in letters to his nephew. The demon’s name is Screwtape. Anything Screwtape says is devilishly insightful—I could happily devote the entire blog to his musings—but regretfully I shall stay on task and limit myself here to one small quote which caught my attention.
“[The Enemy] really likes the little vermin, and sets an absurd value on the distinctness of every one of them… and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever (The Screwtape Letters, pg. 56).”
Screwtape never understood why the Enemy (God) was so infatuated with mankind (little vermin). Screwtape only knows He does, and the demons do because He does. Screwtape is by no means alone in this, for the question of man has puzzled even the wisest.
The elf Elrond in The Lord of the Rings has a curious conversation with the wizard Gandalf. Elrond asks Gandalf whom he will look to when the elves have gone. Gandalf replies, in so many words, that he will put his hope in men. To this Elrond, with a certain cynicism born of watching the ages, replies, “Men? Men are weak.”
Elrond is not wrong. Of all creatures, fantasy or otherwise, men have the greatest capacity for both weakness and strength, for smallness and greatness. This, I think, Tolkien showed well in his writings. I always thought it strange that the God figure in Middle-Earth favored not the elves, in their wisdom and strength and beauty, but he favored men. Corruptible, petty, weak-willed men. Aragorn notwithstanding, I’d rather be an elf myself.
King David asked much the same question in his psalms. In Psalm 8, David says,
“When I consider Your heavens… what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that you visit him (Psalm 8:3-4 NKJV)?” And again, in Psalm 144, “Lord, what is man, that You take knowledge of him? Or the son of man, that you are mindful of him? Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow (Psalm 144:3-4 NKJV).”
Indeed, what is man? There does not seem to be much to him. Even when man tries his own inadequacies greet him at every turn. Rather, I should say, when I try, I am confronted with my own inadequacies. Even “simple” tasks seem laughably difficult. Ultimately, in order to do something great, I have to look at myself first.
I’ve had to confront that question on a personal level. Who am I, that You are mindful of me? Why do You place such value on me? Because God undoubtedly places great value on me and my story, for if He hadn’t I wouldn’t, but He does so I can. God puts such an “absurd value” on me in my distinctness; He is like a fiancé whose sole interest in the moon lies in its ability to illuminate His bride.
This is certainly shown in the creation account in Genesis chapter 1. The stars receive an honorable mention, “He made the stars also.” But to the creation of man three entire verses are devoted, starting with “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” Nothing else in all that God had made were given this distinction, to be made in God’s image. Not even the angels, who aren’t mentioned in the creation account at all.
In Genesis chapter 2, the man Adam is given his first task, to name the creatures. The account says, “The Lord God… brought them to Adam to see what he would call them.” If God took such pleasure in watching Adam, does He take the same attention to my days, even the smallest of things? What then would result if I let Him take part in my days, the God in whose image I was made, and who is, in all likelihood, more mindful of my actions than I am?
I’ve changed my mind. As awesome as the elves are, I’d rather spend the short lifetime of a daughter of man with the Creator of the universe. “For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to seed of Abraham (Hebrews 2:16 NKJV).”
“When they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.” The more I discover about God, the more I realize what things He put into the package that is me. When I know myself better, I am more able to utilize my talents. Around every corner is a new discovery that broadens my horizons.
Screwtape, your begrudging admissions are the best. I shall be forever grateful that C.S. Lewis somehow got hold of your correspondence. Wormwood’s negligence, no doubt. And on this one point, I agree with you—God’s attention toward mankind is incomprehensible. But I’m so grateful that He does.