A Shakespearian Truth about Man

A Shakespearian Truth about Man

“What is man?” That is to ask the question, “What is mankind,” or “What is a human being?” If you begin to answer that question with unbelief and rebellion against God and His Word, there is no end to the chaos and turmoil that one’s answers will lead to. The starting place for anthropology (the study of man) is faith in the triune God of the Bible.

“What a Piece of Work is a Man”

“What a piece of work is a man.” That wonderful line from William Shakespeare through the character Hamlet draws our thoughts to the wonder of humanity. God’s amazing design of mankind is truly a marvel for us to consider as Shakespeare did. As we see from Hamlet, his reflection is upon both the immaterial and material parts of what makes a human being. “How noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving, how express and admirable in action, how like an angel in apprehension, how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals.” Man is truly a marvel of God’s glory in Creation. Our ability to think, to reason, to imagine, and our capacity for affection and complex relationships is unrivaled in the world. And our biology is equally amazing in beauty, expression, and in glorious design. To see in humanity our “god-like” qualities, or as Scripture describes us as being made in the image and likeness of God, is to begin to view ourselves rightly.

However, as Hamlet reflected on the marvel of human beings, he immediately turned to a sense of disappointment in men and women alike. Why? Because we can also say with a derogatory tone in our voice, “What a piece of work is a man.” We also marvel at the capacity of humanity to give expression to sin. Our immaterial selves are adept at thinking and imagining ways to live in defiance of our Creator. We are skilled at making a mess of our relationships and our affections are easily corrupted. Our bodies are also given over to expressions of ugliness and shame. The human body is profoundly capable of great harm, destruction, and gross immorality. So then, Shakespeare has put his finger on the truth that the Bible confirms. Man is a wonderful creature, made in the image of God with glory and a capacity for greatness, while at the same time, we are corrupted by sin to the core. We can relate with the great English playwright in marvel, but also in the words of Hamlet, “Man delights not me: no, nor woman either.” We are amazingly wonderful and horrendously terrible, all at the same time.

A Bad Tree

We are currently living through a time of great chaos and turmoil when it comes to understanding who we are as human beings. “Thanks, Captain Obvious.” But are we really that surprised? This is the fruit of a post-modern tree, and Jesus reminds us that we should expect the fruit to be in kind with the tree (Matt. 7:16-17). The seed of rebellious unbelief was sown, and what sprouted up was a tree of relativism…truth on a spectrum. It wasn’t a denial of the idea of truth, but a questioning of whether truth was knowable, objective, or absolute.

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