Remembering our Smallness

Originally published Monday, 21 August 2017.

There is nothing I enjoy more than hiking in the mountains. I love being surrounded by towering trees, the musty smell of leaves under my feet, the sound of creatures scurrying in the brush. I enjoy the labor of a hike and then being rewarded with an amazing view: the panorama of craggy mountain peaks and the sweeping valley below. It's quiet and majestic. God's handiwork on display.

We recently took a trip to Washington to see the mountains outside of Seattle. The iconic view of the mountains surrounding the city was blocked because of smoke from fires in the north. As we drove farther out of the city and into the mountains, we started to see the peaks rise before us. We hiked beautiful trails, blanketed with wild flowers. One section of the trail had a magnificent view of Mt. Ranier. We marveled at it its snow capped peak, knowing that what we saw would have been even more amazing had there not been a smoky haze in the sky. 

Such experiences in creation remind us of an important truth: we are small.

In our daily lives, it's easy to think that we are bigger than we are, that we rule our own kingdoms. The power of man seems invincible. We walk among the Babels we've constructed—every day knocking down the old to build the new and better. We develop amazing technology at a rapid pace, so impressive, we can't even lift our heads to look at creation around us. We boast of our discoveries, theories, and systems, and call others to bow down in worship. With each check mark scratched on our daily lists, we feel successful and accomplished. We look down on those who don't measure up or keep the pace or who aren't as "enlightened" as we are. Every day, we read accounts in the news of some new development or invention, some even going so far as to play the role of God in lives of others. 

And in all of it, we forget that we are dust.  

David wrote in Psalm 39: "O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah
Surely a man goes about as a shadow!" (vv. 4-6). 

Moses reflected on the brevity of life and the eternity of God: "Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night." (Psalm 90:1-4).

Indeed, like the psalmists, we need to remember that we are dust. That we are not invincible. That we are the created and not the Creator. That we do not rule and reign over all things. That we are merely stewards of creation. That we are small.

As it says in Isaiah: "Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness." (Isaiah 40:21-23).

Because we quickly forget, we need constant reminders. We need to be regular students of the Word, reading and studying to know more of our God and the splendor of his holiness. We need to get away from our carefully constructed lives and see the wonder of our Creator in the world he has made. We need to develop a right view of ourselves, as humble dependents, embracing our smallness and responding in worship to the One who rules, reigns, sustains, and determines the length of our days. The very same God who entered our smallness by taking on human flesh, "though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (Philippians 2:6-8). 

We are small. That is the truth. It is an important truth. We are dependent creatures which exist solely by the grace of our Creator. May our heart's prayer echo that of Moses: "So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom." (Psalm 90:12).