only God is great

Men of low estate are but a breath, men of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath. (Ps 62.9)

I remembered this line from the Psalms the other day. Mostly it was the part that I recalled as "great men are an illusion" ("delusion" is even better, and some translations say men of high status are "a lie"). I was thinking about our accomplishments and being honored and valued by others for our contributions to the community.

Part of the "lie," I think, is that being honored or having higher status in society means only that this group of people values your abilities or accomplishments. Which is not the same as saying God approves of what you have done. Or that you or your accomplishments are truly great or important in the grand scheme of things. Actually, gaining widespread approval of people may actually be a sign that we are not pleasing God. As Jesus said once to some men of status in his society, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts; for what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God." (Lk 16.15)

But the main part of the lie seems to me to be that there are really no great men. Even the greatest of us, most highly lauded for our contributions, are quite small and insignificant when we take a wider view of things. Whatever work any of us has done to save lives or help others always seems like a drop in the bucket when we step back to gaze out on the ocean of need. Jesus once said only God is good. I'd also apply it here and say only God is great, only God's contribution is significant ultimately, only God's help is enough, only God's achievements are worth exalting.

The psalm also says lowly men are "a breath." All of us are "lighter than a breath." But this is not an insult or condemnation—unless we're trying to pass ourselves off as important or think our achievements carry weight. The advantage that the low status man has is that he probably already knows that he's a breath.

The thing that is valuable or important in God's eyes is communicating the truth of this, as Jesus did. Saying openly and honestly, "only God is good." Demonstrating by our lives that we do not trust our own abilities or work (and don't encourage others to trust them either) but depend on God completely. Like children with a great Father. And so direct the attention and honor of others not to ourselves but to God. The only one who can truly be their help, the only one they can truly rely on.