Saturday, August 08, 2015

Creation, Man, and God's Image

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). So begins the Bible’s description of the creation events.

Science and mathematics tell us the universe is not eternal. If it were, the laws of thermodynamics tell us all the universe’s energy would be long depleted. Even unbelieving scholars insist the universe began to exist. And if it began to exist, there must be a cause, a “cause” sufficient to explain the existence of all there is.  Christians and other theists believe God—a personal, loving, all powerful, all knowing, omnipresent being—is the only sufficient cause.

When you survey the universe in which we live, you can only stand in awe of the creativity and majesty of the Creator. It is not just the myriad of galaxies and star systems which create the sense of awe, the earth itself creates a sense of wonder and amazement.

Moses’ account of God’s creative activity pushes you to come to grips with all he made. The sun, moon, stars, and seven—or is it eight—other planets in our rather insignificant solar system draw our attention to God’s interstellar handiwork. The majestic mountains, dry deserts, and fertile plains remind us our God appreciates aesthetics. Consider the flora and the fauna on the planet—huge creatures, feral cats, devoted canines, and all manner of cattle, insects, sea life, and the smallest bacteria. God created all of it from the depths of his creative mind. And man, male and female he created them—the apex of his creative activity.

Consider, too, the fact he established the universal natural laws—gravity, inertia; even the laws of logic—and put them into place. While he maintained his power to rule over nature, he set the universe in motion governed, for the most part, according to the laws he established. Could he intervene? Of course, he is the Creator and the created is never superior to the Creator.

Think of all the universes he may have considered and could have made. A universe he created did not necessarily have to operate on the physics he established for this one. Writers of science fiction have long written about life forms based not on carbon but some other element. We see their fictional imaginations displayed in Star Trek, Star Wars, and, if you’re my age, the Man from Planet X. Frank Herbert created a completely different world in Dune and all its sequels. None of these imaginings, however, could come close to imagining the variety of possible universes inhabiting the mind of God.
But he chose to Create this universe and within this universe is the Milky Way Galaxy a hidden in that vast space (to us) is a “bright blue dot”—the planet earth.

The psalmist asked, “What is man that you are mindful of him…” (Psalm 8:4). David, the author of the psalm, continues, “You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands and you have put all things under his feet” (Psalm 8:5, 6, ESV). Obviously written after Adam’s sin, this passage reveals God still values much in the being he created. He did not wrest dominion from Adam and he still stands just a tad below the angelic beings. In other words, human beings during David’s reign still possessed something of the “image of God” (Genesis 1:27).

We all know the story! God placed Adam with Eve in a beautiful garden. They had meaningful work—they were to “dress and keep the garden” (Genesis 2:15). It was a lush and beautiful place in which to live. God expressed to Adam only one caveat or warning, “You may surely eat of every tree in the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you must not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16, 17, ESV).

Why the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Didn’t God know Adam would not obey? Wouldn’t it be better had God left that tree from the garden? Why that tree?

Those who opt for Open Theology hold God may have considered the possibility of Adam’s sin but could not know he would sin. Open theologians believe God can know only that which can be known. He may have goals for the future; goals which he can inexorably bring to pass, but he cannot know precisely how the future will unfold. This is not the place for a discussion of the philosophy of time or what omniscience means. I’m only telling you how the proponents of Open Theology see it. Open theologians believe God is giving Adam true freedom to choose, and Adam made a poor choice!

Arminians among us believe God knew beforehand Adam would choose badly but permitted him the right of truly free choice. For Arminians, Adam’s disobedience was no surprise to God because his foreknowledge informed him of Adam’s choice. Because God valued Adam’s freedom more than he valued keeping him safe, he permitted Adam to make his choice.

Reformed theologians take the view that God not only foreknew Adam’s choice, permitted Adam’s choice, but he actually ordained Adam’s choice. According to the Calvinist, God predetermined Adam’s fall long before creating Adam from the dust of the ground. The Westminster Confession of Faith, the official statement of faith/creed of most Bible- believing Calvinists, says:

God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeable ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. (Westminster Confession of Faith, 3.1)

Reformed thinkers try to get around this statement, but it is hardly clear in itself. If God ordains whatever comes to pass, then Adam sinned because God predetermined he would sin. (See my previous post.) The answer is compatibilism, which says each individual is free to do what they sincerely want to do, but God arranges things so that they want to do what they do. Did you follow that?
Let’s look at one other concern before I quit. The Bible says God created humans “in his image.” What does that mean? It obviously does not mean mankind has omnipotence, omniscience, or omnipresence. Adam did have sovereignty for God gave him “dominion over the earth.”
What does it mean to be in “the image of God?” At the very least, it means human beings are spirit beings. Humans don’t just “have a spirit,” they “are a spirit.” Humanity’s spiritual nature is not such because each person possesses a “bit of God entrapped in a case of flesh.” That’s Platonism! Not only is man spirit but he is able to communicate in words in the same way God communicates in words. In addition, and most importantly, being in the “image of God” means that human beings are capable of relationships. God, as he exists, is always in relationship. God, the Father, relates to God, the Son, and to God, the Holy Spirit. (I’m not even going to try to explain the Trinity. The nature of the Trinity is way above my pay grade. I believe it because the Bible teaches it.)

When I speak of God’s image in terms of relationship it is insufficient only to speak of relationships with other humans. Being in the image of God means having a “built in capacity for God relationship.” The “image of God” in man makes possible a relationship with God and conveys innate knowledge about God. Human beings have the capacity (form) for a relationship with God (content). The image of God in Adam was complete: he had full form and content prior to Adam’s disobedience in the garden.
What happened when Adam sinned? The Bible says, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” (Romans 5:12). Genesis three describes the result. The relationship between God and Adam fractured and God’s judgment came upon all things. Adam’s relationship and the relationships of all things became different. Adam’s disobedience affected the entire universe. Adam’s relationship with the natural world changed. Adam’s relationship with Eve changed. Adam’s relationship with God changed.
Death (separation) came upon Adam and upon all things. Death is separation! When Adam sinned, he died spiritually—he was separated from God. At the end of his life, he died physically—his spirit separated from his body.
In all ways, Adam’s sin “marred/defaced/damaged” God’s image. Adam did not lose the capacity for relationship with God (form) but he did lose the relationship (content). The potential for relationship remained but as long as Adam remained alienated from God restoration of the relationship remained in place. To illustrate the extent of damage to the relationship, God sent Adam and Eve from the garden.
There was one other effect of Adam’s sin. The “damage to the image of God” created a weakness—or tendency—which passed down to all humanity. The Apostle Paul expressed it this way, “For while we were weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). Adam’s sin left humanity weak and sickly and prone to sin. It left humanity depraved in a sense, but this is not total hereditary depravity. Humans are depraved creatures because they sin—because they sin—not because they are sinners. The Bible says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 6:27).
What does all this have to do with anything? Salvation is the full restoration of the image of God in man. This salvation is called a “new birth” and the individual “becomes a new creation.” Being “dead in trespasses and sins” does not mean the individual’s spirit is inert or without the potential to respond. It means the “spirit is separated from God” – they are not in relationship. [This truth is illustrated in Jesus’ parables of the lost boy, the lost sheep, and the lost coin. The prodigal, the sheep, and the coin are lost precisely because they were not where they were supposed to be—they were “out of relationship.”]
Reformed theologians argue that the minds of those in sin “ The statement comes from Ephesians 4:18, “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” In this passage in Ephesians Paul contrasts those who reject Christ with those who enjoy the new life in Christ. I will grant the fact those outside of Christ are in darkness, ignorance, and are lost. I insist, however, they are lost because they choose to be lost not because God so arranged their lives they want to be lost.
What is it that brings light into dark places? I remember being in the depths of Missouri’s Marvel Cave when the guides turned out the lights. The result was total darkness—darkness so thick you could feel it. One small match lit in the darkness expelled the overwhelming blackness. So it is with the Gospel and the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God. The truth of the Gospel can penetrate the blackest heart and Christ can draw them if they would only listen. Can you see Jesus looking over Jerusalem and hear his words: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34, 35, ESV)
Contrary to the Augustinians or the Calvinists who read my blog, God offers the opportunity to freely (real freedom, libertarian freedom) to make a choice. He takes no pleasure in anyone who rejects him. It is not that he can’t save them in spite of themselves; he won’t save them.

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