Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Simple Book Review: The Measure of A Man

The Measure of A Man (1959) by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was first a pastor – man of God – only then he was an activist. Not the other way round. He was Time Magazine’s Man of the Year for 1963 and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. This book is not dry essays but lively meditations that contains the theological roots of his political and social philosophy of nonviolent activism. Basic to Dr. King’s philosophy is the belief that meditation and action are inseparable elements of life. If you want to know the motive or theological background behind his action – oh, may protesters in Malaysia today think it through before joining or supporting any cause – read this book!

The question ‘What is man?’ is one of the most important questions confronting any generation,” writes King, “The whole political, social, and economic structure of a society is largely determined by its answer to this pressing question. Indeed, the conflict which we witness in the world today between totalitarianism and democracy is at bottom a conflict over the question ‘What is man?’” There are those who look upon man as “little more than an animal.” Then there are those who would “lift man almost to the position of a god.” There are still others who would “seek to be a little more realistic about man. They would avoid the extremes of a pessimistic naturalism and optimistic humanism and seek to combine the truths of both.”

Then King turned to the Psalmist. He comes forth with an answer to ‘What is man?’ “Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and crowned him with glory and honour” (actually he quoted Psalm 8:5). First, he explained that man is a biological being with physical body. He doesn’t stop there, he also said that man is a being of spirit. “This distinguishes him from the lower animals. And so, somehow, man is in nature, and yet he is above nature; he is in time, and yet he is above time; he is in space, and yet he is above space.” But there is another principle that must go in any doctrine of man, claimed King, “It is the recognition that man is a sinner.” Because of this we have conflict with our Holy God, we misused our freedom, we go to war, we “destroy the values and the lives that God has given us”, we become selfish and ego, etc. King pleas with sinners that we may come to God who say, “Come home, I still love you.”

King then turned to the Apostle John’s vision of New Jerusalem, describing the city: “The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal” (Revelation 21:16). This is how he interpret this text: that life as it should be and life at its best is the life that is complete on all sides. And he challenges each of us to meditate upon and to accept the dimensions of a complete life – the length of life (the inward concern for one’s own welfare), the breadth of life (the outward concern for the welfare of others), and the height of life (the upward reach for God).

Rev. Martin concluded, “Love yourself, if that means rational, healthy, and moral self-interest. You are commanded to do that. That is the length of life. Love your neighbour as you love yourself. You are commanded to do that. That is the breadth of life. But never forget that there is a first and even greater commandment, ‘Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and all thy soul and all thy mind.’ This is the height of life. And when you do this you live the complete life.”  

This book is simple, but it is very meaningful and depth in wisdom. I read it twice. Now I understand deeper why Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a theologian and pastor involved in political and social nonviolent activism. This is his philosophy.


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