“What are men to rocks and mountains?” originally spoken by Mary Bennett in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice I’ve always interpreted this in a rather Romantic way. No, not as in lovey-dovey let’s grow old together romanticism of the 21st century, but 19th century Romanticism where idealism and nature reigned supreme and people really did look at the world around them in terms of simplicity and beauty as opposed to what they can use it for. Of course that was before industrialism stripped the world into a barren wasteland and though technology and progress certainly make life easier, I’m not entirely sure it has made our world better. But I digress.
On one level, Mary (and then in the adaptation, Elizabeth’s) spoken question is literally pointing out freedoms associated with natural beauty–anticipating Elizabeth’s upcoming trip to the lake district and the escape from the soul crushing societal expectations. On another it embodies the theme of most Romantics–the search for individual freedoms and happiness among a society that places pressure on each person to maintain a certain amount of social balance. What I find interesting is the equivocating nature of the question: comparing “men” to “nature”. Men could, in fact, just refer to Elizabeth (and all the sisters’) search for ‘suitable’ husbands to save them from social ostracisim, yet “men” embodies so much more, especially in the 19th century before feminism took political correctness to a whole new level. Reaching beyond just the surface, “men” could also be “society” or “humankind”.
What is society compared to nature?
Psalm 8 cries out in verse 3 “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”
Humankind and nature have always been intertwined, and whether you want to admit it or not, nature holds a power over humankind that we cannot (and maybe should not) tame. Verse 5 continues “You made him little lower than the heavenly beings, and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hand”. It’s a matter of order, not a matter of control.
Mark 11: 23 says, “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.”
Read those pronouns. “Yourself”, the mountain is a part of the action. “Done for them”, man didn’t do it–their faith in the One with more power than they did. Humankind isn’t in control.
Just as a ruler who respects his people will have a more effective reign, humankind must respect our role in creation. Throwing mountains into oceans for no reason isn’t respectful to anyone. We are not gods. We are not masters. We are not in control. We are only a part of the whole. And we are all created to do the same thing: praise the one who created us.
Questions to ponder:
- How is humankind and nature intertwined?
- Do I have any bad habits that need correcting to make me a better part of God’s creation?
- How can I praise God more?