From The Pen Of: Francis Schaeffer

In his famous book, How Should We Then Live? Schaeffer traces the development of how western thought evolved starting in the Roman Empire and culminating in the modern era. Schaeffer uses the particular lens of art to trace this history. In the section called “The Renaissance”  Schaeffer is looking at the rise of humanism. He defines humanism as, “a value system rooted in the belief that man is his own measure, that man is autonomous, totally independent” (60).

Schaeffer uses a set of sculptures from one of the premier figures of the Renaissance Michelangelo to illustrate the rise of the autonomy of man in the form of humanism. Here is a work from the famous sculptor entitled Awakening Slave. It is part of a series of sculptures created between 1519-1536 that all depict “men tearing themselves out of the rock” (71).

Schaeffer commented on the strong conveyance of humanistic ideals in the following observation of the works, “Man will make himself great. Man as Man is tearing himself out of the rock. Man by himself will tear himself out of nature and free himself from it. Man will be victorious” (71).

If we are being truthful we would have to say that this impulse to be untethered, unchained and unrestricted from everything that would restrict our ability to be self-determining resides in us all. 

Certainly, in our world, secular humanism has gone further than simply to say that man can and will make himself great. It has aggressively asserted in a number of disciplines (ethics, law, morality, gender identity) that because man is so great, he no longer needs God and in fact is God himself.

An Impulse As Old As The Garden

This idea of the deification of man is as old as the garden of Eden. It was implicit in the temptation to autonomy that Satan offered to Eve in the words, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it [the forbidden fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:4b-5). The crafty serpent offered Eve a share in deity and in her lust she and Adam disobeyed.

This desire for deity which Satan dangled in front of our ancestors stems from his own desire to usurp God, sit on his throne and be the object of worship. Read the words of the prophet Isaiah concerning Satan’s cravings:

You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ (Isaiah 14:13-14)

A Christian Contrast

For the Christian there exists a sharp contrast to the rugged individualism, and self glorification advocated by humanism. We do seek our own fame. History remembering our greatness is not our goal. Rather the heart cry of the Christian is, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory” (Ps 115:1). We live for the spreading of God’s glory, not our own.

We are not trying to escape or break free from the rock. We are told to run to the rock! Hear the Psalmist, “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Ps 18:2). For the humanist rock is seen as bondage and a mechanism that prevents man from reaching his true potential. In Christianity however, the rock [God] is a refuge and a place of saftey that we seek out and run into (Pro 18:10).

The reality of having God as our rock is a tremendous source of strength and hope for us as Christians. We know that we reach the end of our rope, we still can go to God who is above it all. “Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I,  for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy” (Ps 61: 1-3).

The person living only for himself and to himself does not have this. When life overwhelms them they have no recourse, no one higher to whom they can turn. So it shouldn’t alarm us that the person living unto himself looks for every numbing agent and distraction this world can offer. And if the trouble is too great and too overwhelming death itself is sought as a means of escape. This is the sad end of far too many people but it is the logical consequence of a flawed worldview.

God Is A Rock And Our Good

God throughout the Bible sets up structures for our safety and our good in all realms of society and life. From governments, to military power, to church Elders, to fathers and husbands. All of these are there to tell us that when we trust and lean into God’s order, God’s way of doing things, we will be best served. The deception of humanistic thought is that we are better off on our own, without God and any of his ordained order. All that can result from this is chaos.

There are thousands of ways each of us seek to pull ourselves away from God. Each sin we commit is saying in a sense, “I reject you and your way God because I know better than you what is best for me!” We are all trying to tear ourselves from the rock. We must recognize and resist this with all our hearts.

Perhaps you are a man who has allowed your relationship with God to grow cold and it is hurting your family. Our maybe you are a wife who does not respect her husband. Or maybe you are a member of your local church and you spread gossip and division about the leadership. Whatever the case, repent of your sin and reaffirm that God knows best and his ways are true. Return to the rock and you will be saved!


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