Thursday, November 16, 2006

Bible Doctrine (4)

[Updated 21/11/06]
Since the fall, the whole of humankind is sinful and guilty, so that everyone is subject to God's wrath and condemnation.

This week we considered what it means to be human: how did God create us, what were we like, and what are we like now? Firstly I'll look at Man as the image-bearer of God; secondly, at the effects of the Fall.

True humanity: God's image-bearers

Genesis 1:26-7:

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule
over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all
the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

What are the hallmarks of true humanity?

  • Male and female: both genders were created to work together. Eve is described as the "helper" of Adam, but this is the term used of the Holy Spirit - essential and indisposable for Adam. Man and woman were designed to be together, to both be human in its ultimate form, and to have different but complementary roles in ruling over creation.
  • Holy: we think of God as the only holy person in the universe, but are the angels also holy? We are called to "be holy, as [God is] holy" (1 Peter 1:16). Adam and Eve were holy until they fell - they were "very good", the pinnacle of creation.
  • Like God: We have been created in the likeness of God.
"Man is like God and represents God" (Grudem, p.189), which means that we are "similar but not identical" to God in many of His aspects (not all, though!). Some of these aspects are (Grudem, p.191-2):
  • Morally - our conscience tells us right from wrong, and when we act justly then we reflect God. Accordingly, we will be judged and held accountable for the moral decisions we've made.
  • Spiritually - we can "act in ways that are significant in the immaterial, spiritual realm of existence" not just the temporal world we live in. We are also immortal and will not cease to exist at bodily death. John Stott, in his commentary on Romans, suggests that "God originally had something better in mind, something less degrading and squalid than death, decay and decomposition..." (Stott, p.166) - perhaps like Jesus' transfiguration, or Enoch and Elijah's translation into Heaven.
  • Mentally - we have the ability to reason and think. This causes us to develop both personally and corporately, in fields of technology, philosophy, agriculture, science and so on.
  • Relationally - we can relate not only to God, but to each other in a way that is deeper and more significant than animals' communities: in marriage, a family, or a church. We were also created to rule over the rest of creation, and we can assert our authority on our planet and our fellow inhabitants.

What does this mean? Well, we should rejoice in our great Creator. Every time we follow God's precepts and live in a way that is like Him then we reflect His glory and show the great dignity of the human race. Remember, too, that we have a great Saviour - the ultimate image-bearer of God, God Himself as Jesus Christ, "the image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:16).

Are we just animals?

We had a brief discussion on the differences between man (the species, not the gender) and the rest of creation. Just some thoughts...

Firstly, there's no reason for animals to be stupid. God created them as "good", and they bear the same hallmarks of design that we do - albeit mostly in a physical sense. Thus we shouldn't be shocked or surprised that elephants are self-aware, that dolphins can sing or that primates understand human communication.

However - it's almost too obvious a point to make - we are so far advanced in nearly every way that it is clear from a cursory glance which species on the Earth is most dominant. While many animals have advanced techniques for catching food, building nests or finding mates, there are no philosophical porcupines. In fields such as agriculture, education, language, art, religion, philosophy, military technology and many others mankind continues to develop and advance our knowledge and ability. Termites may build amazing anthills, but they do so the same way they've always done.

How else do we differ? In the bullet points above about our likeness to God, we are also unlike animals. Moral accountability (although look at Genesis 9:5), spiritual awareness, mental agility and changing relationships with each other. We have instincts, but we can over-ride them.

Were we created ex nihilo or formed of animal stock? Interestingly, John Stott thinks the latter (p.164): it makes sense given the biological evidence of DNA likeness and so on that God 'chose' Adam as the creature to bear the divine likeness. Whether God then conferred the same likeness on other human beings in existence, or whether we are all descended from Adam and Eve is another interesting quetion. I tend to oscillate between positions on this debate.

Fallen humanity: imagining ourselves as God

Genesis 3 recounts the invasion of sin into the previously perfect world. I'm going to think very briefly about these implications.

Genesis 5:1 says that when Adam had a son (Seth), he was "in his likeness" - ie. like Adam, in sin. After that, Adam eventually died. So did Seth... so did everyone. Sin leads to death, inexorably.

We inherit two things from Adam: guilt and corruption. Guilt in the eyes of God, which would lead to punishment on its own; corruption which causes us to desire to sin. Our accountability means that punishment must be meted for sin.

Is it fair for God to punish us? Is infinite punishment for finite sins just? Are we just being punished for something we haven't done?

Romans 5 says that "sin came into the world through one man and death through sin", and through Adam's sin "many were made sinners". Adam, as our representative, sinned, and thus we all fall under condemnation. In western culture this seems unfair, yet in many cultures this is the way of things. If we think it unfair to be represented by Adam, we should also think it unfair to be represented by Christ, because God imputes righteousness to us in the same way that he imputed sin to us through Adam (Grudem, p.214).

No comments: