The Limitations of Man

Man on a mountain

The word of the Lord came again to me, saying, ‘Son of man, say to the leader of Tyre, “Thus says the Lord God, ‘Because your heart is lifted up and you have said, “I am a god, I sit in the seat of gods in the heart of the seas”; yet you are a man and not God, although you make your heart like the heart of God’”’” (Ezekiel 28:1-2).

Man has been made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27), but man does not share all of the attributes of God. In the passage above, the king of Tyre was condemned because he arrogantly thought of himself as being equal with God. He had certainly made great accomplishments in gaining wisdom and acquiring riches (Ezekiel 28:3-5), but God would prove to him that he was just a man: “Will you still say, ‘I am a god,’ in the presence of your slayer, though you are a man and not God, in the hands of those who wound you?” (Ezekiel 28:9).

We must recognize that as human beings, there are certain limitations that are placed upon us. Understanding this should cause us to be humble and to submit to the will of God. In this article, we are going to consider some of these limitations and see, in contrast, the greatness of God.

We Cannot Create Something from Nothing

The Bible begins with this statement: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). John explained, “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:3). In other words, everything that exists was made by God. He is our creator.

The fact that God created us should cause us to have certain attitudes. First, the psalmist expressed humility: “When I consider your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; what is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4). God is so much greater than us that it is a blessing that He would even show any concern for us. Second, we must recognize our dependence upon Him. Speaking of Jesus, the Hebrew writer said, “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3). Everything is able to be sustained by His power, not by ours. Third, we are to show gratitude: “Know that the Lord Himself is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 100:3-5). Man cannot come close to rivaling God in creating the universe and everything in it. Therefore, we must show humility, recognize our dependence upon Him, and always be grateful to Him for what He has provided.

We Cannot Change Time

God has the power to make time stand still (Joshua 10:12-14). He is even able to turn back time (Isaiah 38:7-8). We can change our clocks, but we cannot change time.

God is not bound by time as we are. Peter wrote, “With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day” (2 Peter 3:8). Time was created for man. Though God existed for eternity before He created the heavens and the earth, the first day did not exist until he made it (Genesis 1:5). Because we live within time, we must use our time wisely. Paul wrote, “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). We cannot stop or slow down time. Once it is gone, it is gone.

We Cannot Know the Future

God, in His foreknowledge, is able to know the future. In promising to make Abraham “a father of many nations,” God was “[calling] into being that which does not exist” (Romans 4:17). He said elsewhere, “Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’” (Isaiah 46:9-10). God did not just make educated guesses or predictions. He announced things that would only be knowable to Him (cf. Acts 2:23; Psalm 22:16-18; Matthew 27:35).

We might make guesses and predictions, but we cannot know the future. The wise man asked, “If no one knows what will happen, who can tell him when it will happen?” (Ecclesiastes 8:7). James reminded us: “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14). Because we cannot know the future, we must work hard while we have the opportunity now: “Sow your seed in the morning and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether morning or evening sowing will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good” (Ecclesiastes 11:6). This also means we must always be prepared for the end of our lives. Jesus described one as a “fool” because the end of his life had come and he had neglected the state of his soul in order to focus on the things of this life. We do not know how much time we have left.

We Cannot Know Everything

Related to the previous point, one of the fundamental characteristics of God is that He is omniscient or all-knowing. “Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite” (Psalm 147:5). No one is able to instruct Him or serve as His counselor because there is nothing we can teach Him that He does not know (Isaiah 40:13-14).

Our understanding is not unlimited. Even the wise have room to become wiser (Proverbs 9:9). Therefore, we must not allow our knowledge to make us arrogant (1 Corinthians 8:1). Paul wrote, “If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know” (1 Corinthians 8:2). In other words, we need to humbly recognize our limitations. We must receive the word with humility (James 1:21) and continue to grow in it (2 Peter 3:18), not remain stagnant thinking that we know enough.

We Cannot Know Someone’s Heart

Part of being omniscient is that God knows our hearts. The Hebrew writer explained: “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:12-13). God does not just see our actions or hear our words, He also knows what we think.

People often want to presume to know the hearts of others. We are tempted to judge others based upon what we think they are thinking or what we assume their intention was behind some action. Yet we cannot know this. Paul stated this truth and explained that it applied not only to our understanding of others but also of God: “For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11). Therefore, Jesus said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). This means we judge others by their fruits (Matthew 7:19-20), not by our assumptions about them.

We Cannot Escape Judgment

No man is in a position to stand in judgment against God. When Job questioned God as to why he was suffering as he was, the Lord responded: “Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Let him who reproves God answer it” (Job 40:2). Job immediately recognized his place before God and said, “Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to You? I lay my hand on my mouth. Once I have spoken, and I will not answer; even twice, and I will add nothing more” (Job 40:4-5). Even a wise and faithful man like Job was not able to judge the Lord.

However, all of us will stand before the Lord in judgment. Paul wrote, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). This is just as certain as death itself: “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Therefore, we must prepare for it. Peter described the readiness we are to have for the future judgment to take place at the end of the world: “Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness… Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless” (2 Peter 3:11, 14). We cannot avoid this day of judgment; therefore, we must be sure we are ready whenever it may come.

Conclusion

There are many other things we could have discussed regarding our limitations as human beings, but these should remind us of the need to be humble and submit to the will of God. In everything that we do, let us remember who God is and what our place is before Him.


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