The Heavens Show Forth the Significance of Man?

“The heavens show forth the significance of man and the firmament declares the work of man’s hands”, thus sayeth the Scriptures?

No, wait, that’s not right.

Scripture says,

“The heavens show forth the glory of God, and the firmament declares the work of his hands” (Psa 19:1).

There is a notion being bandied about by a certain group of Catholics that the Earth really needs to be at the physical center of the universe, otherwise man just isn’t “significant”. As an emotional or psychological argument this resonates with some people. But as a valid theological argument it limps badly.

By itself creation doesn’t proclaim the significance  of man. How many of us have felt incredibly small compared to the vastness of the sea, or sensed our utter insignificance before the sweeping heights of the mountains? How much more do we instinctively understand our insignificance when we ponder the enormity of a universe consisting of billions of galaxies, each containing billions of stars? Guess what? In the physical realm we really are that paltry compared to the vastness of the created order.

Is it bad that compared to the universe man ends up looking pretty insignificant? Of course not. Creation testifies to the greatness of God, not the significance of man: “since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Rom 1:20).

There is no good theological reason why our physical position in the universe must somehow validate our existential and/or theological “significance”. In fact, this whole notion can be flipped on its head. The immensity of the universe testifies to the immensity of God and our insignificance compared to Him. A theme that runs all through salvation history is that God regularly uses the weak and insignificant to shame the great and mighty. The greater our physical insignificance, the greater we may stand in awe and rejoice at the Divine condescension to become incarnate here.

That’s much better theology.

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