One of the maladies of modern humanity is that we have been left bereft of purpose. While the western-European civilization once prescribed destiny (for better or often for worse) based on religion, class, gender, nation, or race, the fracturing and relentless self-critique of western culture has largely eroded any sense of common human purpose. People are left to make their own meaning and pursue for themselves whatever makes life most purposeful. I leave it to the reader to judge the merits and failings of this change – some will call it liberation; others, a loss. There is some truth in both points of view, but that is not my concern here.
There is a trajectory within the collected writings of the Bible which traces the bestowal, ruin, and redemption of purpose that was built into humanity from the beginning. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews highlights this trajectory in 2:5-9, where he writes:
5 For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. 6 It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him,
or the son of man, that you care for him?
7 You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned him with glory and honor,
8 putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. 9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
Up to this point the author has described the identity and role of God’s Son, and alluded to the future world which God has promised (within 1:10-14). In this passage, he begins in verse five by raising the issue of who this ‘world to come’ will be subjected to – i.e. who will rule and govern it. An answer is offered in verses 6-8 by reciting part of Psalm 8, a pre-Christian poem reflecting on the role assigned to humanity at creation (Genesis 1:26-28). Psalm 8 expresses wonder at the grandeur of the created starry heavens, and contrasts that with the relative insignificance of humanity, who are nonetheless granted high dignity and office.
There is great disparity between our humble status and our high dignity, yet our Maker has bestowed on us the purpose of governing the earth as his representative rulers. The problem, however, is clear: we don’t see this at all (verse 8c).
Those who are familiar with the grand biblical narrative will recall that humanity has not retained its original relationship with God and lost with that the ability to fulfil that role of representative rulership. The Fall (Genesis 3) has seen us lose both our original relationship and original office. When we look at humanity, we don’t see ourselves fulfilling our collective destiny. But the author of Hebrews would have us look elsewhere.
What we do see however is Jesus – he is ‘crowned with glory and honor’ (2:9); the same ‘glory and honor’ we no longer see in humanity (2:7b). God the Son as Jesus by his incarnation has stepped into our shoes, and by merit of his death has taken upon himself the role which we lost for ourselves.
When we look for the restoration of human destiny, we can see it rekindled in Jesus.
But how is it that humanity at large can participate in this redeemed human destiny? The author leaves open the hope that we will yet share in it by his words: ‘At present we do not yet see everything subject to him [humankind]’ (verse 8c). The door is open for our future inclusion. A more immediate human problem – death – is said to have been taken care of by Jesus (verse 9c), and our future inclusion in his glory and honor is hinted at in verse 10. We see elsewhere in Scripture that Jesus is forming a new order of humanity with himself as its representative Head (Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:20-23, 42-49).
Human purpose and destiny has been ruined by humanity but redeemed by and in Jesus. His people have a share in that. Its fulfilment will be worked out in full at the coming of the Kingdom of God. Meanwhile our purpose is to be on board with that Kingdom – announcing its coming and representing its promises of renewal and restoration by our actions for others. Modern society may not have a common purpose for humanity, but the Bible demonstrates a purpose that is for all people of every race and class and culture.
The gospel invites us to take up our redeemed human destiny and follow Jesus.