A Shakespearian Truth About Man

Danny Steinmeyer

“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. And as that tree matured to bud and flower, the fruit that developed is giving expression to that root of unbelief. The rotten fruit has all the flavor of post-modernism with its confusion, contradiction, and blindness to the real-world God has made. If truth is on a spectrum, then lo and behold people live out “their truth” with the marvelous human capacity for imagination and expression of sin. Depressingly we say, “What a piece of work is a man.”

For Christians, our response must be to lay the axe at the root of this tree that is bearing rotten fruit and to cut it down with the absolute truth of God’s Word. We must chop down the tree of post-modernism at the root of unbelief, in the power of the Holy Spirit. What we need is the truth of a biblical anthropology, rooted in the lordship of Christ and the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. And really, what that means for God’s people is that we need to be first, united with Christ who is the root of a good and godly tree. When we are in Christ, we then have His Word and Spirit to lead us into all truth through the Word. What that means for God’s people is that we are led by Scripture into the truth of who we are, who we were made to be, and the fruit we were made to bear so that we might glorify our Maker. Getting the sticks, twigs, and logs out of our own eyes, we may then see clearly to confront the bad fruit and root of the culture around us with the gospel of Christ and all its truthful implications.

The Starting Place

The question made popular recently by Matt Walsh and his documentary is, “What is a woman?” In a world hellbent on bending God’s ordered design into a tangled and twisted image, that simple question has broken the minds of many. However, even those who correctly answer that a woman is an adult human female, are likely to struggle in answering an even more fundamental question, “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. Anselm of Canterbury is credited with the motto, “faith seeking understanding,” and Augustine is translated as having said, “Believe that you may understand.” Understanding comes from faith, and faith comes from God. Therefore, the starting place for all knowledge, including an understanding of mankind, is to first fear the Lord. This is the root of the problem of the bad tree. It is unbelief, it is faithlessness, it is a lack of fear of the Lord. But to be part of the good tree is to have a proper fear of the Lord. Solomon the Wise was a great student of nature and of humanity. He wrote in Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Without the fear of the Lord, we have no hope of bearing good fruit in our own lives or in correcting the world around us.

Biblical Anthropology

Once we’ve established the proper starting place of faith and the foundation of God’s Word, we are then able to study who we are from a proper perspective. We can marvel at and worship God for His creation of man in our glorious binary. We can know what it means to be a man or a woman with a purpose and mission. But we can also come to grips with our sin nature and how being made new in Christ puts us on the path of sanctification toward restoring God’s good design for humanity. God’s Word will shine the light of understanding on these things if we will come to His Word as dependent, submissive creatures, seeking His gracious illumination of the truth about who we are and who we were made to be. We have the truth. Let us study it for ourselves so that we may be well equipped to be what God created us to be, and ready to proclaim the truth to people who don’t know who or what they are.

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