Categories: Apologetics & Theology
Biblical worldview: What is man?
Dr. Joel McDurmon | May 1, 2018
(American Vision) – The philosopher Blaise Pascal once reasoned that man is at the same time the most wonderful and most miserable part of creation. He is most wonderful in that he is the apex of God’s creation, and unlike all the brute beasts, is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26–27). Yet he is also weak. Only a drop or a vapor will suffice to end him. He is a nothing in comparison to the infinite universe—in its infinite greatness or infinite smallness. Yet in thought, he is able to comprehend the universe.1
With this paradoxical nature of man, we will see him in both his natural, innocent, created state and in his fallen state. This means we must consider also his potential redeemed and glorified states as well. The biblical worldview of mankind, therefore, must eventually consider all four states: creation, fall, redemption, and glorification. One theologian once said these correspond to four realities for man:
- Creation: innocent, but able to sin.
- Fall: not able not to sin.
- Redemption: able not to sin.
- Glorification: not able to sin.
In this meditation, we will look at the first of these: mankind in his original, created state.
First, man differs from God in that he is part of the creation. He is not the Creator. From this fact come both his humbleness and his greatness.
In his material composition, man does not have much of which to brag. His name, “Adam,” comes from the word for “ground.” We are told God created him from the “dust” or “ashes” from this ground (Gen. 2:7). Both of these terms are a bit more poetic than the more common word for it: “dirt.” Elsewhere, the Bible calls it “clay” (Job 4:19; 33:6; 2 Cor. 4:7).
Science confirms this humble aspect of man. According to a study reported by the Mayo Clinic, the human body, when broken down to its elemental raw materials, is worth about $4.50. This includes mostly oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon. To put it meanly, our bodies are fancy gas bags and dirt bags. According to the original report, as paltry as this pot already is, it also contains “enough sulfur to keep the fleas off a dog and enough iron for an eight-penny nail.” Further, from this perspective, most meals we eat are worth more than the flesh that eats it.2
It is no wonder the Bible so often reminds us we are dust, ashes, and clay, and to these our bodies will return (Gen. 3:19).
Yet it also tells us we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psa. 139:14). God took such lowly materials and made a body—just considering the body alone—that is of amazing design and tremendous value. Again, from a medical perspective, notbroken down, our organs, bone marrow, DNA, etc., collectively would be worth about $46 million on the open market.3 Now that’s some value-added labor! And who knows what the R&D costs would have been for that. Infinite perhaps.
From all this, we realize that everything we have is of God. We have nothing of which to boast in ourselves. We are but dust, and even that was created by God to begin with. Everything we are and have comes from him, from the least hydrogen atom to the breath of life to the highest thought. From him we have been given this extraordinary gift of immeasurable value.
Beyond the body, this becomes even truer. God took that fashioned jar of clay and breathed into it his “breath,” and this dirt-man became a “living soul” or “living creature.” The very life of the Son of God is also “light,” and he gives this light to every single person that comes into the world (John 1:4–9).
Further, man is created like God. He is not God, nor is he a god, nor a type of a god. He is, however, like God, because God created him that way (Gen. 1:26–27).
As the image and likeness of God, man—that is, “Adam”—was created both male and female (Gen. 1:27). Both man and woman bear the image of God equally. Both deserve the full respect of that dignity and all the God-given, natural rights which that entails. More on gender and sex in later lessons.
As a unique being like God, mankind is to represent God properly and to exhibit that image faithfully. He does this to a certain extent by nature. Just as we see that God in the creation narrative (Gen. 1–2) speaks, moves, names, communicates, creates, governs, improves, and rests all according to His perfect, self-ordered nature, so we see his image (Gen. 1:26–30; 2:7) engage in orderly identity, naming, communing (Gen. 2:18–25), governing (Gen. 1:28, Ps. 8:4–8), “creating,” improving, working, nurturing, keeping (Gen. 2:15), ruling, and resting (Gen. 2:2; Ex. 20:11).4
As such, mankind, male and female, was created for dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:26, 28). This is also reflected in God’s purpose for man in the Garden of Eden: “to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). More on what all that means later, but for now we simply acknowledge the facts.
The image of God in mankind appears even more pointedly in his ethical and judicial nature. That light shines through even more brightly when he or she engages in their callings according to the moral order of the Creator. We should “work and keep,” yes, but we should especially do so in a way that exemplifies selflessness, giving, humility, purpose, life, care, love, and productivity—as we see our Creator doing in creation. Again, we are speaking pre-fall here.
It is this God-given view of man—body and soul, design and purpose—in which we find our highest value. In this original, created state, mankind walked in harmony with God, in the land of Eden, and specifically in the very Garden of Eden which God planted for them (Gen. 2:8–15). Here, mankind originally lived and worked in pleasure in the very presence of God. This was life and light.
Pascal concluded that man must know himself in both his weakness and his greatness. If man exalts himself, he must be humbled by being reminded of his weakness and dependence; but if he humbles himself, he will be exalted. In this, he echoed Scripture (Prov. 29:23; Prov. 18:12; Isa. 2:11–12; Matt. 23:11–12; Luke 14:11; 1 Pet. 5:56). He seemed to consider even the instance where man thinks only on his wretchedness, in which case he must be reminded of his God-given-ness: the gift of the image of God that is in him.
The biblical worldview of man, therefore, begins with understanding him and her as God’s unique creation. Apart from him, we are less than dust and wind. With him, we see ourselves as products of design and grace. In his grace, we exist; we live, move, and have our being (Acts 17:28). We have nothing of ourselves; it is all of him. In his design, we are not mere dust, but divinely-arranged dust and divinely-breathed life. We are images of the divine, called to think his thoughts after him, to work his works after him, and to be holy as he is (Lev. 11:44; 1 Pet. 1:15–16).