I’ve written about how Creation’s prime purpose is the glory of God, and how that glory was eternally planned to come through the suffering of Christ. But there’s also a sense in which the whole of creation was made for mankind, and it’s to that unfashionable idea I turn now.
There was a tendency in mediaeval theology to stress man’s wretchedness, at least this side of heaven, in the context of a rather Platonic view of the inferiority of the material world. That’s long been buried under the Renaissance ambition to make man the measure of all things, which paradoxically remains our mindset despite the prevalence of the “Copernican principle of mediocrity” that says we’re just a collection of atoms, another animal on an unimportant planet on the edge of a middling galaxy in a small corner of the Multiverse. How that’s compatible with Man as the Master of all things is obscure – maybe it’s that anyone pushing the Copernican Principle exempts himself as a rational Ego amidst this nothingness – one really is God if one is so alone!
But the real situation is summed up in my favourite quote from Blaise Pascal:
It is dangerous to make man see too clearly his equality with the beasts without showing him his greatness. It is also dangerous to make him see his greatness too clearly, apart from his vileness. It is still more dangerous to leave him in ignorance of both. Man must not think that he is on a level either with the beasts or with the angels, nor must he be ignorant of both sides of his nature; but he must know both. (Pensées, VI 418)
Psalm 8 says much the same with a due sense of wonder, and as interpreted in Hebrews 2, earths it right into what the last post said about the suffering Christ as the reason for creation:
It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified:
What is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than the angels;
you crowned him with glory and honor
and put everything under his feet.
In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
Let me unpack that a little. He’s not saying that “man” in the psalm really means “Jesus”, but that though it’s about mankind, what it describes is not what we actually see around us. Yet, he says, through the work of Jesus, it becomes true of him as our representative, and so eventually true of mankind as a whole. As he continues:
In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. He says,
I will declare your name to my brothers;
in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.
So man becomes the centre of creation through participation in Christ, “through whom and for whom everything exists”. And we learned last time that the suffering of the Son was the very basis on which he began to create.
But man was also central to creation, the Copernican Principle notwithstanding, from the beginning. The Genesis account is clearly both geocentric and anthropocentric. Not only is man the culmination of the six days, uniquely bearing God’s image and likeness and commissioned to “rule and subdue” for God, but viewing the account as a functional description (cf John H Walton) clearly shows it to be functional with respect to mankind. It’s interesting in that context to quote Colossians on the Eternal Son:
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
There is something in this about the ontological kinship between mankind and Christ that must surely go beyond God’s choosing the first intelligent species that happened to arise by evolution. Whatever its origin, it must have something to do with man’s intellectual, imaginative and spiritual capacities, to enable his calling to a unique role. Seen apart from that secret counsel of God regarding redemption, man is clearly unique amongst earth’s creatures. I discuss the role of man of bringing more and more of the natural creation into God’s sacred space, both physically and in worship, here and here.
You can see in these posts how man acts as a priest to a creation that cannot itself, being irrational, experience or offer worship except by the simple act of being what it is. In another post I’ll discuss the goodness of the material creation (even now, despite sin) and yet how it can be said to be subject to corruption and in need of redemption because of sin. That discussion will show the centrality of man to the creation’s total well-being , both now and in the future. I’ll show in a further post how man is also central to the well-being of the angelic part of creation, another realm seldom considered in “evolutionary creationism”!
At this point let me deal briefly with Eden. In the secret counsel of God, as I said in the previous post, the Fall of mankind and salvation history were “part of the plan”. And as Aslan always says, “No one is ever told what would have happened”. But just as God told Israel that they would live if they kept the law, we can suggest why God told Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree. It was to avoid Pascal’s dichotomy – fallen man is incapable of avoiding either seeing himself as a beast, or as God. Whereas Christ, the true man, knows he is God, and yet gives all the glory to his Father. He knows he is free, yet chooses to be a servant to all creation. And that pattern is what God originally intended for us – and, as we know, still intends through our redemption, accomplished even more gloriously because of our Fall.
Although one could fill the world with books about man in relation to God and creation, I’ll wind up by summarising the role of man as the creation project proceeds. In the first place, fallen man still has his God-given role as earth’s steward and priest. Both are perverted by sin, the first into exploitation, and the second into science, art and society divorced from worship. Yet to a degree the shortcomings of that image-role are now made up by Christ’s people:
…to make plain to everyone the administration of [the mystery of the unsearchable riches of Christ], which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Eph 3.9-10)
Then there will be a judgement, for one of the purposes of creation is to show God’s justice against sin – more of that later. The Church has a role in preparing that, too:
In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. (Acts 17.30-31)
Redeemed man participates in that judgement, even judging the angels (1 Corinthians 6.2-3). After that comes “a new heavens and a new earth, the home of righteousness.” In that kingdom the redeemed humanity will reign with Christ (2 Tim 2.12), and that reign will include the earth (Revelation 5.10). Now I don’t go for schemes of a temporary millennial kingdom, but rather the fulfilment, in Christ, of what was always intended for mankind – to rule and subdue the earth, his proper home. Yet if he is united with the divine Being in Christ, there is no longer any real separation between earth and heaven in the cosmic temple – the veil has been torn in two. God rules his creation through Christ his Son, and through mankind his adopted children:
The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. (Rev 22.3-5)
At that point, we may or may not have to start from scratch with the science!