Viewing Human Achievement: Western Culture 4

 “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
    the whole earth is full of his glory.”
Is 6:3

Each day we are surrounded by people’s incredible achievements. We can purchase almost any food at any time of the year, we have social welfare systems that assist in times of need, medical advances previously inconceivable are now everyday practices, technology surrounds us bringing new and compelling aspects to life, magnificent buildings and engineering feats are a testimony to our ingenuity and bring a sense of awe, magnificent works of art display incredible skills, scientific advances predicting and warning of potentially catastrophic events have saved lives. The list of human achievements are too numerous to mention and this is transforming our view of the world. Many of the advances that lead to prosperity and health are improving the lives of billions. Christians have played important roles in initiating and furthering these aspects of life as they were convinced of the importance that God places on people and their well-being. They recognised they were God’s agents in improving the lives of people created in God’s image and worthy of care.

The reduced dependency on the natural elements has, for some, removed a sense of dependency on God’s active presence and raised the glory of humans. It is easier to have an exclusively humanistic view of the world. Exclusive humanism is a worldview or social imaginary that accounts for meaning and significance without any appeal to the divine or transcendence. While humanism is an affirmation of humanity and the worth of human life (something Christians can agree with), exclusive humanism believes that human flourishing can only be defined in the physical world and not in anything beyond the physical life. Religion, in general, can be seen to be an enemy of this type of flourishing as it places restraints on behaviour. To re-enforce this negative view of religion, new atheists offer a powerful story of exclusive humanism that says that in the past we believed in God, angels and fairies but now we have grown up to be adults and can bravely and intelligently face the world liberated from these myths of the past.

Most will agree that, from material and health viewpoint, we are much improved over previous generations. While we are currently experiencing a moral and spiritual decline, times of revival have occurred during times of advancing prosperity. But now, with the confluence of the influences of science, philosophy, communications, and travel we are more likely to be dismissive of God’s influence and more likely to esteem the greatness of people. But the advances we have seen in prosperity are surely the general providence of God who is using Christians and non-Christians to bestow His unmerited grace on all in the fervent desire that they will acknowledge His glory. When we experience some benefit, such as receiving a medicine that cures an illness, we can thank God that He has been working through people for generations to give us this blessing. We can use such benefits to praise and thank God and the people who have been used by God. These days our “natural” response can be the latter while missing the former. So, in our own lives and in those we are discipling, be encouraged to place the achievements of humans into the context of God’s providential care and render Him praise as well as thanking His instruments of grace, the people who have worked for our benefit. We are creating idols when our praise is directed only towards people. When we see some great piece of architecture, experienced medical healing, are awed by an engineering feat, let us acknowledge God’s providential care and encourage this perspective in those we are discipling.

Let us remind ourselves of God’s gracious hand with thankfulness:

You care for the land and water it;
    you enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water
    to provide the people with grain,
    for so you have ordained it.
Ps 65:9
Question to Ponder: This week, as we experience the providential hand of God providing for our material needs, what will trigger you to respond in thankfulness and praise?  Consider, for example, whenever you eat, when you shop, when you receive medical help, when you turn on the heater, …
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