The ancient Greeks saw the earth as the center of the universe and mankind as it’s pinnacle.
Protagoras, an ancient Greek philosopher once said, “Man is the measure of all things.” Gorgias, another ancient Greek philosopher is attributed with the foundations of solipsism, the belief that there are no other minds, or rational entities in the universe than myself. There is also an ancient Greek myth about a man named Narcissus who was so enraptured with his image reflecting in a pool of water that he lost his will to live and died because he would do nothing else but stare at his own beauty reflecting back at him.
Those silly Greeks, eh!
Or, maybe not so silly. Or at least, maybe it’s not just they who are silly.
I remember when I was a child I believed everyone who attended my church was made out of paper mache and after each church service someone would take them all and store them in a closet until I came back the next week. I also remember thinking that when I turned the T.V. off all of the shows would stop playing and wait for me to turn the T.V. back on again. I thought the shows were like water in a pipe that would just stop flowing until I turned the faucet back on.
I was a weird kid.
But, lately, I’ve been wondering if maybe we are all like the Greeks or a bit like me as a weird little kid.
What I mean is that the only point of view we know for certain is the one seen from our own eyes. The world constantly changes, yet when we look inside ourselves it doesn’t seem as though we have changed at all. At least that’s been my experience. While not a teenager any longer, I still feel like one and I have difficulty separating the teen version of myself from the older version of myself in any way other than by noting the external passing of time. In one sense, it seems as though I am an unchanging center of an ever-changing universe, or in other words, I am the rock upon which everyone else breaks themselves.
Now I know it sounds like I’m a self-absorbed and awful person, but I would ask you how many selfies you take? How often and how much do you post on social media? Do you ever get irritated about events not aligning with your particular set of needs and desires? I also wonder if you realize you are only one of 7,576,401,770 other people alive on the face of the earth right now? (As of Tuesday, October 24th at 11:30 am.) And, do you also realize each of those people sees the world from their own perspective as well?
Book III of the Psalms records the prayers of a people who have been exiled and isolated. They felt abandoned by God and were left to the whims of the evil, wicked nations that surrounded them. Immersed in their loss, all they could cry out to God was how painful their life had become. Even the author of the last chapter of Book III, Psalm 89, tells God how short this life is and that he would be very happy if God were to make things right so he could end this life on a high note. At least that’s how I read it.
In contrast to the conclusion of Book III, Book IV opens with a prayer from Moses exulting God’s eternal nature. What better antidote to self-centered thinking than to point out how the center of the universe and of all of human history is firmly placed in the only immovable and immutable one: God himself. Mountains, the most ancient forms on earth, were created by him, yet even they in their enduring majesty pass away with the speed of a lost dream. Comparatively then, we must recognize the brevity of a human life: normally between seventy and eighty years, if we are lucky. (My dad only made it to 69, my mom to 80, and I sit here at 52 with most of my days behind me.)
But there is even more: time itself, the constant river upon which all of human history passes like a leaf on a stream, bows under the power to God. He is the measure of all things. His is the only rational mind that matters. He is the one who can, should he desire, wipe the universe of all of humanity and put us away in a closet for a later time. Every event is present to him and does not pass without his active participation. He is the stone upon which all men fall and are broken to pieces.
A.W. Tozer once wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” But if we are honest, we must admit that often God does not enter our thought processes at all. Our thoughts are centered upon ourselves, which is why I believe Book IV opens the way it does. After Book III, full of psalms focused on the pain and plight of a people who have been cast away, Book IV opens with a reminder that we need to shift our focus to God. It may not make the pain go away, but it will put everything in the proper perspective, which may be just what we self-centered narcissist solipsists need.