Christological creation – 5: What is man?

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!

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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7 Responses to Christological creation – 5: What is man?

  1. GD GD says:

    I suppose the discussion on the creation and how it came into being may overshadow the role of humanity in this creation. I propose that BioLogos have made a fundamental error with their belief regarding evolution; in whatever guise it is seen. This subject is somewhat lengthy and I find it difficult to clearly state the case in this format (but here goes).

    The role (or purpose) of humanity is, I contend, a major point of dispute within religious circles and also within a wider discussion/conflicts between theists and atheists. This is because the subject matter impacts on who/what we think we are, and how we believe and act, in the world and amongst ourselves.

    The ‘uniqueness’ regarding humanity, is that (a) the universe is comprehensible and intelligible to us, and (b) we are empowered to modify and change ourselves and our world: (a) goes to intellect and the human spirit, and our belief that in creating everything out of nothing – God has added intelligibility as an endowed gift to humanity within His creation. Religious people generally agree with this broad statement, while atheists do not (and sometimes violently disagree). (b) is consistent with Biblical teachings and also imposes a ‘burden’ on us by the Christian faith, in that our actions are understood as either good or bad (and mankind is sinful). This imposes ethical as well as spiritual aspects; how do we reconcile God’s good creation with the good and bad that human beings choose? We may even contemplate the bizarre notion that God created both good and bad, to achieve His divine purpose – the wrong view that teleology requires good and evil?

    These matters have challenged many over the ages and I think will continue to challenge us today. We add to this the teaching that, “God lets the sun shine on the good and the bad, and God seeks that we repent from our evil ways and turn to His way.” This, when we think of a purposeful creation, makes it seem that God sits back to see how human beings unfold before Him.

    The simple response to perplexing and paradoxical notions is, “God’s ways are inscrutable”. After all, how would a thing which we consider bad to us, be either good or bad to God? We may question ourselves when we formulate our views in terms which are within our notions of good or bad – we absorb our weaknesses and limitations, throw in our anxieties, decide that if we were sufficiently powerful we may avoid our problems, and from this decide what is good and bad. Afterwards we decide what and who God is; if he is a personal god placed into our worldview to fit in with our notions. This is a ‘self-referential’ view.

    We may ‘backtrack’ and start from an acceptance of purpose and teleology in the creation; we believe that God had a good purpose in creating the Universe and everything in it from nothing. We may also decide that every act in nature fulfils this purpose – the life and death cycle, the diversity of life forms on earth, even the uniqueness of humanity (a theistic view) all fit in well with God’s purpose. Why than is humanity so fragmented between faiths, beliefs, and ethics? If humanity were simply another life-form, why do we have so many questions and disagreements? Atheists either say these questions are illusions, or the militant ones look to religion as the source of all of humanity’s ills.

    The theist can also ask, “Why did God allow good and evil to exist?” If God can do anything, why did He make this creation? What is the purpose of all of this? Is it a celestial game of good vs evil?”

    The questions would simply ‘pile up’ when we throw in a “Darwin-Dawkins” evolution into such a confused mixture. This ‘evolution’ they propose does more then try to fit so called evidence derived from empirical studies (we view a crime scene instead of discussing law and sin) – such a view commences with dogma on the nature of life and puts humanity within a specific context.

    The greatest problem that I can see is that it includes subterfuge in accepting a mixture of error, speculation, with scientific observations, regarding almost everything related to nature and humanity. This takes the ‘self-referential’ theological outlook (and ethics/morality, or the view of Law and human conduct) to a new place; it now claims scientific credibility when there is none. Countering this by referring to various ‘isms’ is a very poor response.

    BioLogos makes a clear statement: “BioLogos sees evolution as the means by which God created life, in contrast to Atheistic Evolutionism, Intelligent Design, and Creationism.”

    This states they know how God created life ….. this is not a contrast to other forms of evolution; it is a statement of fact. I am surprised they refuse to see this as equivalent to theological dogma. Most atheistic evolutionists indulge in obscurantism regarding the creation of life. BioLogos says they know how God created life – we can see how everything else, including what mankind is, and any purpose and meaning, would necessarily have to be derived from the ‘means by which God created life’.

    As I indicated, the creation points to God – evolution simply cannot and does not do this, no matter what BioLogos says. (looks like this post has survived!)

  2. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    A good summary, GD.

    I guess a more humble position would be to say, “Since there seems to be some evidence for X and Y evolutionary events or processes, and since we know by our faith that God is our Creator, then clearly God has used these events and processes within his Creation.” But not as “the means of creation” … especially when the creation of life per se has, by common consent, nothing to do with evolution.

    Another fault of an evolution-dictated view of creation is the tendency to see mankind as an epiphenomenon of evolution. God was pleased when we happened, and maybe planned the game so that “something” intelligent would arise. But that’s a far cry from the biblical view that mankind was the material goal of creation.

  3. Cal says:

    I know it’s hard to recognize that somehow God somehow planned for the Fall in as much as God is not the author of sin. And I don’t think He’s playing entrapment either.

    Is is it the inevitability of an image to be without being led by God Himself as one of the images? This is, perhaps, too much speculation.

    However, for all our considerations, I like this quote from David Fergusson, 16th century reformer: “The world was made so that Christ might be born”.

    Certainly though, it was man as he is in which He intended to be incarnate, not flipper or a dragon or whatever else a random evolving process would turn up. Evolution, as it took place, was driven by the eternal Word of God. Too bad many dismiss that.

  4. GD GD says:

    Just an additional thought Jon; the birth of Christ has caused many people who are not of the Faith many problems. An additional problem is to (I use this term for humour only) subsume this, with some type of evolutionary outlook. I think we would all agree that Christ was born of the Holy Spirit, and this does not allow for any type of Darwinian outlook or belief. I understand that Augustine (even with original and transmission of sin and so on) could deal with this, but I do not think Darwin (and his followers) can.

  5. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Cal

    Classical theism as in both Aquinas and Calvin (in most places) balances God’s foreknowledge and foreordination with both his not being the author of sin and genuine human freedom. And even if it’s tricky to justify philosophically, the fact is that Scripture maintains that balance anyway.

    I like the Fergusson quote – the Scottish Reformers knew their stuff. Your last para reminded me of Hebrews 10.5, which on the face of it would be a conversation in Eternity, but in the “light” of unguided evolution should be taken as literally spoken at the point in time when Jesus came into the world, ie “A body you have [finally] prepared for me [now you are able to tell what species to make it].”

  6. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    GD

    The BioLogos type of TE seems to be sort-of-OK with New Testament miracles, but there’s an unresolved conflict with their insistence on hard methodological naturalism elsewhere. As a result, if one gets into discussion about the Incarnation, there’s a strange mixture of faith and naturalism ending in a type of Monophysitism or Adoptionism.

    But usually they’ve cut and run before considering the implications: you’ll have noticed that “mainstream” TEs tend to steer clear of the theological discussions on BioLogos.

  7. Cal says:

    Jon,

    I’m quite aware of classical theism and while I would be a classical theist, formulaically it starts at a different place with Aquinas than with Calvin. To talk of God, abstractly, possessing these qualities divorced from speaking of Jesus first can lead to the philosopher’s god of Plato and Aristotle with Christianity sprinkled in. My comment made had more to do with thinking about method than results.

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