It is one of the basic questions of life that all human beings must answer before dying, or else die a fool with a wasted life. The question can be posed in many forms: Why am I here? Why do I exist? What is my place in the universe or cosmos? Some pay no attention to the question and therefore are indeed fools when they die: “Are not the cords of their tent pulled up, so that they die without wisdom?” (Job 4:21 NIV).
Others spend their entire lives searching for the answer, but without ever attaining that certitude required to bring the peace that comes with knowing that one has lived the only life he or she will ever have upon this earth for the purpose for which it was given to him or her. This too is a fool’s folly, for they have relied upon their own human ability to reason to give them an answer that cannot be obtained in this fashion.
“That which is, is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out?” (Eccl. 7:24 RSV).
“Man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out” (Eccl. 8:17 ESV).
So, if not seeking the answer at all is foolish, and seeking it using the highest abilities possessed by human beings is futile, what hope is there for any of us to escape dying a fool because we did not know why we existed? So then the question becomes:
“Where then does wisdom come from? Where does understanding dwell? It is hidden from the eyes of every living thing, concealed even from the birds of the air. Destruction and Death say, ‘Only a rumor of it has reached our ears.’ God understands the way to it and he alone knows where it dwells” (Job 28:20-23 NIV).
If, then, we would know the answer to that fundamental question of the purpose of our own existence, and our place in the cosmos, we should not rely upon our own reasoning or our own searching. The answer is readily available to us for the asking. We simply need to ask the one who created us and he will tell us.
“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jer. 33:3 NIV).
Two of the main ways we can call upon God to speak to us are through prayer and through reading his Word. When we read his word regarding this question, two passages have particular importance.
“The Lord . . . stretches out the heavens, . . . lays the foundation of the earth, and . . . forms the spirit of man within him” (Zech. 12:1 NIV).
“For this is what the Lord says–he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited–he says: ‘I am the Lord, and there is no other'” (Is. 45:18 NIV).
Both passages progress in similar fashion, proceeding in scope from the vastness to the specific particular. They first refer to the vastness of the heavens, then narrow down the view to the earth in that vast cosmos, then focus on life on that particular planet, even narrowing down even to the inner life or spirit of the inhabitant of that planet. Why this extreme narrowing down of focus? Perhaps it is because one purpose of these passages is to answer the burning question before us: What is man’s place in the cosmos?
The comparison between these various levels of focus, from all of the cosmos down to the spirit within a man, is dramatic and profound. For all its vast size and awe-inspiring glory and majesty, the stars and galaxies of the heavens are no match for the glory of man. In fact, as Isaiah shows, they were created not to be an end in themselves but as a home and dwelling place for man. Despite their great glory, they are inferior to him. The brilliance and glory and majesty of a galaxy of billions of stars, stretching out across the tremendous distances of space is as nothing compared to one, tiny human baby. For that baby has within him or her a spirit from the Almighty God and Creator that the stars and galaxies will never have.
There is something quite unique about man that makes him different not only from the stars of heaven but even from other life forms on this one planet. That something is a spirit that is capable of relating to its Creator–a spirit that is destined by God to be with him in the heaven above the heavens of the stars.
Those who trust in Jesus, the bright and morning star (2 Ptr. 1:19) are wise, and Scripture says that they “will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever” (Dan. 12:3 NIV).
What is the place of man in the cosmos? That question was answered long ago, in Psalm eight. It is to give glory to God.
“1 O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.
3 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4 what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?
5 You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.
6 You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet:
7 all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.
9 O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”