Posts Tagged 'image'

What Is Man, Part 2

Man is not an animal. He was created with great care and deliberation by God in a way unlike the way He created the animals. Man is a soul, he possesses a spirit, and lives in a body. Animals have souls, too, but theirs is an “earthly soul,” which lives only as long as their body lives.

Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth? (Ecclesiastes 3:21 | TNIV)

Man’s soul is completely different because it is animated by a spirit put in him by God. Just looking at animals and people makes it obvious how different they are. Men can do things animals cannot do, no matter how “intelligent” an animal may appear to be. Their intelligence comes from their instinct, not from reason. For example, both animals and people can build homes, but only people can build great cathedrals and skyscrapers. Animals seem to chatter and communicate with each other, and sing, and even say words like the parrot, but only human beings can produce works of art and literature, write symphonies, and come up with all kinds of brilliant inventions.

Something else about the soul is that it is something only humans possess. Angels, for all their amazing powers and abilities, do not have souls. Man became a living soul, but angels are merely spirits. While it’s true that God is also a Spirit, He is different from angels. He is eternal and perfect, but angels are not necessarily eternal, since they may be judged and destroyed.

Some people wonder where the soul comes from. Genesis teaches that God breathed man’s spirit into his body, but what of his soul? Bible scholars seem to be divided on this issue. On one side, there is the group that teaches that each individual soul is an immediate creation from God. According to this theory, the individual soul does not come from our parents but was created by God. There is some Scriptural support for this view. Consider:

I will not accuse them forever, nor will I always be angry, for then they would faint away because of me—the very people I have created. (Isaiah 57:16 | TNIV)

…and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. (Ecclesiastes 12:7 | TNIV)

Moreover, we have all had parents who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! (Hebrews 12:9 | TNIV)

A prophecy: The word of the Lord concerning Israel. The Lord, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the spirit in human beings… (Zechariah 12:1 | TNIV)

On the other side, there is a group that teaches that the soul comes from our parents. They point to, among other things, the sinful nature human beings received directly from Adam. Obviously we didn’t get that from God! They also look at similarities between the personalities and temperaments of children and parents and conclude that all of those characteristics are passed from parents to offspring. They offer Scriptures like these in support of their view:

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12, 13 | TNIV)

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned… (Romans 5:12 | TNIV)

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:22 | TNIV)

So, which group gets it right? Did we get our souls from God or our parents. A good rule of thumb in trying to determine such matters is this: If the Bible isn’t dogmatic about something, then we shouldn’t be, either. In the case of the soul, it seems reasonable to view it as a co-operative venture of both God and parents. When a new life is conceived, it is the result of an act of God and human beings. Paul made a profound observation, which he passed on to the egg heads in Athens:

For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ (Acts 17:28 | TNIV)

God is ultimately in control over all aspects of our world, and nothing happens without His being involved, including how new human beings come into the world. Everything happens according to the laws He set in place.

Ultimately, though, where life comes from will always remain a mystery, at least on this side of Heaven. We’d be wise to avoid going too far in our speculations of such matters.

As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things. (Ecclesiastes 11:5 | TNIV)

What we do know for certain is that the creation of man marked God’s crowning creative achievement. Of all the marvelous, wondrous things God created – from the universe to the most delicate of flowers – man was and remains the greatest of His creative work. Of man’s creation, we read this:

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. (Genesis 1:26-27 | NIV84)

There are two important words that need to be considered. They are: “image” and “likeness.” Most Bible readers skim over those two words without giving them a second thought, but they are important and mean two very different things.

Image and likeness

The first word, “image,” comes from the Hebrew word tselem. It’s a word that has reference to statutes or models. It implies that something in man reflects something of the nature of His Creator. The second word, “likeness,” is the Hebrew word demuth, signifying a pattern or form representative of something else. It suggests that there is something like God about man. But the real interesting aspect of these words is that they suggest man, as great a creation as he is, isn’t quite finished yet; further development will take place. In other words, Adam and Eve were not created perfect, but that they were created to grow. That’s not to say there was something imperfect about their creation, but their “perfection” was like the perfection of a seed, rather than the plant it would eventually become.

As God created each sex, there is complete equality between men and women. In the Creation account, neither sex is given prominence of the other. This makes complete sense since both men and women have been created in God’s image. Interestingly enough, in our “re-creation,” that equality, which was destroyed by sin, is restored.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28 | TNIV)

It goes without saying, however, that the Bible teaches a natural distinction between the sexes; each sex has certain functions and responsibilities carried out by men and women (see Genesis 2:18 – 25).

In spite of the greatness of man; in spite of how much like God he is, he is not God and can never be God. Man will always be dependent upon His Creator; that is how it should be. Our Lord once said this:

For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. (John 5:26 | NIV84)

That’s total dependency. We have eternal life only as long as Christ’s life is in us.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” (John 15:1 – 6 | TNIV)

Since God is a Spirit, He does not possess a body, therefore the image of God in man doesn’t refer to a physical resemblance. God’s image in man involves a natural and moral image.

Natural image

Human beings possess something animals do not, but God does: a personality. This includes things like sensibility, will, intellect, and things like that. Human beings, like their Creator, are able to build civilizations, think deep thoughts, and engage with one another on in intellectual and emotional level. Our ability to think and reason and come to conclusions based on all available information are things we have in common with God.

Moral image

God created man to be a free moral agent. Unlike animals that operate on base instincts, man is able to exercise the power of self-determination. It is that part of man that makes it possible for him to have fellowship with God and to communicate with Him.

The moral likeness between man and his Creator is obvious when it comes to something is deep and profound as love.

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8 | TNIV)

God is love. He doesn’t just love; He IS love – it’s part of His essential nature. This is something we get from God – the ability to love. We first love God, and while it is a commandment, it is also the natural response to His great love towards us.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5 | TNIV)

We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19 | TNIV)

And this also enables us to love others.

This moral likeness to our Creator also gives man the ability to act righteously and justly. It helps us to distinguish between good and bad. When Adam and Eve were created, they were created with genuine holiness of heart. They had a true inclination toward God, but sin ruined that and now man inclines away from God, not toward Him. But the moral likeness is still there in man, so man, even without God, can still do good, helpful things, but unfortunately, those things can also be turned into something evil.

But through the work of Christ in man, that moral image is restored.

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22 – 24 | TNIV)

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