A Sense of Place
By Paul Borthwick
We all wonder where we belong. We spend years of our lives in search of ourselves and our place in the world. Some pursue their place by overpowering and defeating others in an effort to find their place as #1 in their profession, others lobby for positions of influence in politics or industry, while still others align themselves with material expressions of success.
As Christians, we too need to understand our place, our reason for being on this earth. Rick Warren’s immensely popular book, The Purpose Drive Life, resonated with many of us because of the way it spoke about purpose. We believe we’re here for a purpose, but we struggle to know what that purpose is. We go looking for the “personal will of God” because it assures us that we are unique, even in God’s kingdom.
In this search for our sense of place, we run the risk of either thinking too highly of ourselves or of denigrating ourselves. Neither extreme is correct. Both extremes distort our proper sense of place before God. We need to turn to the Scriptures to help us achieve a balance, what Paul calls “sober judgment” about ourselves (Romans 12:3).
For the person who feels insignificant, the Scriptures remind us of God’s concern by asserting that our very hairs are numbered (Matthew 6) and that God knows us from all time (Psalm 139). This assurance lifts us to a proper sense of place.
In our self-absorbed society, however, we often err in the other direction – we carry a lofty idea of our sense of place. We are taught to be assertive and aggressive and to look out for number one because (implicitly) the world revolves around us. The result is a prideful distorted sense of place. To come back to earth in terms of proper humility, we must look outward, not at ourselves, but towards the heavens.
The psalmist found his sense of place by contemplating the heavens. The sun and moon and stars provoked his reflective response before God: “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” Look upward and be humbled.
An amateur astronomer friend supplied me with some staggering facts about the stars and the vastness of the universe. The data provokes the same sort of amazed humility that we find in Psalm 8. Consider this:
- The speed of light is 186,000 miles per second. Thus, light can travel around the earth about seven times per second. It takes eight minutes for the sun’s light to get to earth.
- A light-year is the distance light travels in one year (almost 6 trillion miles), and that the brightest stars in our galaxy are between ten and 500 light-years away.
- The Andromeda Galaxy, one of our nearest neighbor galaxies in our “local group” is 2.2 million light years away. Other known galaxies are two to four billion light-years away.
If we add to these incredible statistics the biblical teaching that God not only created the stars and galaxies (Psalm 8:3; Job 38:31-33) but also that He calls these stars BY NAME (Isaiah 40:26), we begin to get a sense of the greatness of our God and our minuscule smallness by comparison. With the psalmist, we can only sigh in amazement: “When we consider these things, O God, who are we that You think of us and call us by name?”
In his book The Night and the Nothing, Gale Webbe equates this sense of place with the godly quality of humility. “It (humility) is born and flourishes as a by-product of the cultivated habit of looking up and away from oneself. A mountain range, the endless ocean, the sweep of stars at night – contemplation of these things often helps the viewer see his true size. In this manner, the prayer of adoration recognizes the centrality of God and the peripheral location of the adorer. This right proportion is the essence of humility.”
Right proportion – so that we understand our place in the world.