Archives For The Image of God

The Uniqueness of Man

Mark Beuving —  September 29, 2014 — 2 Comments

Julian HuxleyI recently read a very old article because I was intrigued by the title: “The Uniqueness of Man” by Julian Huxley. Huxley (1887–1975) was an evolutionary biologist who received many awards for many things and headed many prestigious societies. He even came from a famous family—his father was a respected writer, his grandfather was pals with Charles Darwin, and his brother was the Aldous Huxley who wrote Brave New World.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about humanity—who we are, what our purpose is, and why we matter—these are all questions I’ve been contemplating. So when I happened upon this outdated article (originally published in 1941) by such an interesting figure, I was drawn in.

According to Huxley, humanity is unique because we are “the culmination of that process of organic evolution which has been proceeding on this planet for over a thousand million years.” We are the accidental product of chance, the unintentionally personal mistake of an impersonal universe. Do human beings have dignity? There is no dignity in our origins, but Huxley sees dignity in our current standing: “After Darwin, man could no longer avoid considering himself as an animal; but he is beginning to see himself as a very peculiar and in many ways a unique animal.”

Huxley spells out some of the features that make humanity unique. We are unique because we have developed the ability to think conceptually, we have learned to draw upon the learning of previous generations, we have learned to domesticate the animal kingdom, we have developed great diversity within the human race, and a few other features. Primarily, humanity is unique because of our unparalleled capacity for gaining and processing knowledge.

In Christian theology, humanity is significant because God made humanity in his image (Gen. 1:26–28). And Huxley agrees that humanity is unique, but this uniqueness is not theological; it is biological: “Biology thus reinstates man in a position analogous to that conferred on him as Lord of Creation by theology. There are, however, differences, and differences of some importance for our general outlook.”

Vitruvian ManWhere does this leave us? According to Huxley, “the goal of the evolutionary maze…is not a central chamber, but a road which will lead definitely onwards.” Evolution leads to progress. But there’s no specific goal (how could an impersonal process have a goal?)—we’re simply headed onward, whatever that might entail. All we can be sure of is that changes will continue to happen.

Yet humanity’s uniqueness will play a major role in where we go from here. For Huxley, we have wasted too much time by failing to embrace our unique status. Instead of taking our proper seat at the pinnacle of the universe, we have instead “projected personality into the cosmic scheme.” Instead of valuing our own greatness, we have turned aside and attributed greatness that is duly ours to a non-existent God, we have attributed a personal will to the impersonal forces and matter that alone govern this world.

Huxley’s solution is to take the evolutionary bull by the horns: “progress has hitherto been a rare and fitful byproduct of evolution. Man has the possibility of making it the main feature of his own future evolution, and of guiding its course in relation to a deliberate aim.” In other words, our accidentally achieved greatness has granted us the capacity to choose where we go from here.

Huxley waxes eloquent as he closes the article:

“Let us not put off our responsibilities onto the shoulders of mythical gods or philosophical absolutes, but shoulder them in the hopefulness of tempered pride.”

It’s significant that Huxley was a member of the British Eugenics Society, whose goal was to encourage reproduction amongst people with more desirable genetic traits and discourage reproduction amongst people with undesirable genetic traits. Huxley advocated taking the next phase of evolution upon our own shoulders: the impersonal universe has placed us on the throne, let’s recreate this world according to our ideals.

To be clear, Julian Huxley’s article is now 73 years old and should not be taken as a cutting edge statement on anything. What I find fascinating about it, however, is the acknowledgement that humanity is unique. In the naturalist, Darwinist scheme, humanity is simply the biggest accident in an infinite string of accidents. We’re not meant to be here. No one invited us. No one fashioned us. We simply showed up—uninvited, unannounced, unwelcome. Yet Huxley, like Darwin before him, still saw humanity as significant. Unique. Dignified.

You will have to be the judge of whether or not we should be proud of our significance as presented by Julian Huxley. But there is a point of continuity between Huxley and the Christian tradition: humanity matters. We are unique. Yet, as Huxley said, there are differences, “and differences of some importance for our general outlook.”

Michelangelo - God and Man

Biblically speaking, we matter in the universe because we matter to God. He crafted us in his image, “crowned us with glory and honor” (Ps. 8:5), and gave us a mission to fulfill. God further dignified the human race by taking on flesh and blood, becoming fully human. Our significance will carry on when he raises our bodies from the grave to reign forever over the recreated earth.

We may well ask with David, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” But we do indeed recognize our significance. And unlike Darwin and Huxley, we acknowledge that our significance comes not in spite of our origins, but precisely because of them.

In a sense, only God creates. Only God can “stand” in the “middle” of complete nothingness and call as-yet-non-existent things into being. We call this creation ex nihilo: “out of nothing.”

So we can truly look at every aspect of our world and say, “God made this.” But as every parent knows, it gets more complicated when your children start asking, “Did God make cars?” “Did he make your computer?” My fumbling answers to these questions have gone something like, “Well, yes. He created the metal that the car is made out of, and he created the minds of the people who put the car together.”

Only this week have I begun to realize the true genius of God in this respect. It was John Frame who helped me think this through as he wrote about human choices: How is that we go through life making decisions based on our desires, and yet the Bible is still able to insist that God ordains all that comes to pass? It’s an old question, and I wasn’t expecting any fresh insight.

But Frame began talking about “our participation in God’s creativity.” He says,

“Our choices among possible alternatives image the choices that God himself has made in eternity, and they serve as the means by which God actualizes and rejects possibilities in history.”[1]

When we go about creating in God’s world, we are making choices, and in doing so we are acting like God, following his image, which he placed within us. But it’s bigger than us simply making choices. It’s that as we create in this world, God is creating. He is working through us to create. Our acts of creation are both ours and his—we are making the creative decisions, and in doing so we are playing out God’s perfect eternal plan.

The Creation of Adam

All of this is guaranteed to hurt your brain if you try to comprehend it entirely, and the mere raising of this topic sends people scurrying for their copies of Attacking Arminians or Countering Calvinists. (If those aren’t books yet, they should be.)

But this is why Paul is able to thank God for the Philippians’ partnership in ministry. The Philippians chose to work together with Paul; Paul saw their involvement as the working out of God’s plan. This is why Joseph was able to point to the same event (being sold into slavery) as both the evil intention of his brothers and the good plan of God (Gen. 50:20).

Now let me cut the urge to argue short: I’m not interested here in settling the fee will vs. predestination debate. What I find fascinating here are the implications for human creativity. Ultimately, we create because God made us in his image.

“Much about the divine image is mysterious, because God himself is mysterious. But among other things, there does seem to be something in us analogous to God’s creativity…”[2]

Dorothy Sayers looked at the context of the “image of God” passage in Genesis 1:26 and says that the only thing we know about God leading up to this is that he is the Creator. All he’s done in Genesis 1:1–25 is create. So when God sets out to make a being “like himself,” he seems to be creating another creator. Sayers identifies this as at least a part of what the image of God means.

Here’s why it matters. God has a plan for history. God formed this world with his words and his fingers, and he has not stopped speaking, he has not stopped shaping. Everything—everything!—from the largest imperial expansion to the slightest shifting of the smallest grain of dust is seen by God, known by God, captured in the interest and attention of God.

And as we step out into this world to create, to shape, to dream, God is stepping out to shape the world through us. When Steve Jobs created the iPhone, God was shaping his world through Jobs. (The same goes for whoever invented the Android, everyone calm down.) When I hug my daughters, God is wrapping his arms around them. When I work, play, sing, sleep, and eat, God is working out his plan for this world. My choices (at least, so my experience tells me), his plan.

(As an aside, let me just acknowledge that this gets much darker when we ask where God is in the evil moments. For example, where is God when an innocent man is wrongly accused, beaten, and murdered? But according to the Bible, God is still working out his plan in those types of events: Acts 2:23, 4:27–28.)

So be assured, God is still working in this world. And he is all of the time working through us. We are his image-bearers, his mini-creators, his world-shapers. Let’s be careful to shape his world in ways that fit his mission and highlight his glory. And let’s be confident that in all of it, God’s plan is being worked out, drawing ever closer to its good and glorious culmination. God has never taken his hands off of his world. He continues to work in it in deeply mysterious and incomprehensible ways. And he also continues to work in our creative decisions, shaping his world through our hands and feet and mouths.

 

 

[1] John Frame, Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2013) 837.

[2] Ibid., 836.

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the seriesTwo Things No One Can Deny

Yesterday I wrote about the existence of the external world. This is something that every person has to wrestle with. We can’t deny the existence and the form of the world around us, though some have tried. Even those who deny the external world are still forced to live within it. This unflinching reality is an absolute that all people must take into account. They can believe what they want, but they still have to account for the world’s existence and form.

Vitruvian ManIn this post I will explore a second reality that no one can deny—a concept that Francis Schaeffer referred to as the “mannishness” of man. As ridiculous as that phrasing sounds, all Schaeffer was saying is that human beings are unique. We know we are. There’s something special about us, and we have to wrestle with what makes us special and why we can’t shake the feeling that we are somehow qualitatively different than the rest of the natural world.

As an example, take the human personality. What exactly is a personality? Why do we each have one? Why are we able to relate to one another in a personal way? If this world were nothing more than the product of time plus chance, then there would be absolutely no way to account for the existence of personality. There is simply no way to get something personal out of something impersonal. It doesn’t matter how much time you give it or how creative you believe chance to be.

Nor can personality be accounted for in a pantheistic worldview. If God is everything and everything is God, then God is ultimately impersonal. We may well believe that everything is connected, that we are all part of the “infinite everything,” but if we choose to believe this we are forfeiting any hope of explaining human personality. The best we can do here is believe that personality is an illusion that must be overcome.

Unless our worldview adequately explains the personality of mankind—his ability to relate personally with other personal beings, his ability to love, to show compassion, his moral motions, his will, etc.—then our worldview does not fit the world that exists.

From a Darwinian perspective, it has been said that personality can be accounted for in terms of survival of the fittest. People developed emotions because they saw that this would help them survive and master the other creatures. But this is a stretch. It is not at all clear that the first person to develop emotions would have an evolutionary advantage. In fact, if you developed compassion in a world in which no one else felt compassion, you would be at a huge disadvantage. If you developed the ability to love, but no other being on earth possessed the ability to love you in return, you would be digging yourself a whole. Personality simply cannot be accounted for in a Darwinian framework.

The Christian worldview, on the other hand, offers a satisfying explanation of the unique nature of humanity. This world began with a personal God, and this personal God created personal beings according to his image. Man is a created being like everything else in creation. But the Bible is clear that man is unique in that he alone is made in God’s image. This explains the indefinable qualities of human beings, and it perfectly explains the existence of personality.

As I said in yesterday’s post, this undeniable “mannishness” of man is on our side, working on our behalf in the minds of those we are reaching out to. We want them to see the world as it truly is. They can choose to believe in a non-Christian worldview, but they still have to live in the world that God made. This means that at every turn they are living in a world that was formed by the God of the Bible, and they find in themselves and in the people around them an undeniable quality that cannot be explained apart from the personal God who exists and lovingly formed them. They will attempt to suppress this truth (see Romans 1), but it will continue to fight its way into their consciousness, like a thorn in the brain that points them always to the Truth.

 

People watching is fascinating because each person is uniquely crafted by God and people bear the image of God. This is true of every person, whether they have been redeemed or not. While it’s true that sin taints every aspect of our existence and therefore causes us to resemble God less and less, humanity still bears the fingerprints of its Creator. Try as he might, man simply cannot re-create himself entirely—his very existence points to the God who formed him. And although after the fall man does not resemble God the way he should, he still bears the image of God (James 3:9).

But there is a side to humanity that makes people watching an incredibly God-honoring activity. When God breaks into a person’s life, the results are absolutely unbelievable.

When God reaches into the core of our being, removes the heart of stone, gives us a living, beating heart, and puts his very Spirit inside of us (see Ezek. 36:25-27), something beautiful is bound to break free in our lives. Something about us is going to look a little different.

"The Conversion of Saint Paul" by Luca Giordano

When a man sets out on a journey to kill those who follow Jesus, is confronted with the blinding light of Jesus in all his glory, and then persistently sacrifices every fiber of his being to see the message of Jesus embraced in every part of the world, it is a beautiful thing (see the book of Acts). When a spiritually dead person comes alive and begins to do the things that God has created her to do, we can’t help but take notice (see Eph. 2:1-10).

Most of the people around us exhibit what Paul calls “the works of the flesh” (see Gal. 5:19-21). Look around. How much envy, sensuality, division, rivalry, and sexual immorality do you see?

By contrast, God has placed his Spirit inside of his people. And the Spirit works in us to produce things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (see Gal. 5:22-23). These aren’t things that people can muster up by sheer will power. These are fruits of the Spirit.

So sit back and people watch. When you see a brother or sister in Christ exhibiting goodness, being supernaturally patient, or rejoicing in a difficult situation, you are seeing a clear example of God at work in the life of a once-broken human heart. When God’s unrelenting redemption enters the picture, people watching takes on a depth of beauty that we could never anticipate.

The simple fact is that people point to God. Sometimes this is in spite of their best efforts. In denying God’s existence with their words, atheists are making use of the brains, vocal cords, and rational thought process that have been crafted by the very God they are denying. Their message is therefore dissonant and ultimately retains its witness to the God who formed them.

But sometimes people point us to God more directly. Very often, the beauty and truth that finds its ultimate source in God himself breaks out in the lives of his people. So watch away. There is something unique about human beings (see Gen. 1-2, Ps. 8, or Heb. 2). People watching can help us see God in a way that we would never pick up from reading a book. Or reading a blog.

 

I love staring at people. I don’t even know how to say it in a less creepy way. People are just plain fascinating.

I first got a taste for people watching when I was dating my wife. She studied kids in college. Seriously. She was a child development major. So every date we ever went on involved some degree of observation. She would sit there, wide-eyed, mouth slightly agape, and just take it all in. I didn’t understand her preoccupation. Now I see that she was on to something.

You never know what people are going to do. What makes a cool person cool? Or an awkward person awkward? Or a funny person funny? Why do so many people fall in line with social norms? And why do a few people seem to be oblivious to these norms? Why do these select few do things in a way that no one else would think to do it? How can people be so alike and yet so different?

There is a theological reason why people are so fascinating. People are actually hand-crafted by the Creator (Psalm 139:13-16). So when we look at another human being, we are actually looking at a work of art more intricate than anything a human artist could ever imagine. A human being is a staggering feat of engineering, chemistry, physics, aesthetics, etc.

As amazing as that is, it doesn’t take into account the soul. The most incredible thing about human beings is that we are actually made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26). There is a lot of debate about what exactly that “image” is (our personality? our ability to reason? our will? our stewardship? some kind of physical resemblance?), but the point is that in some important respect, we are made to resemble God.

Those two things are all the justification we’ll ever need to stare at people. Everyone you see has been hand-crafted by God and bears God’s image. Unbelievable. Walk into a museum and you can stare at Van Gogh’s artwork. Walk into a coffee shop and you can stare at God’s.

Of course, sin ensures that people do not resemble God and His craftsmanship as nearly as they should. Sin can even have an aesthetic affect on us. Yet the image of God still remains even after the fall (see James 3:9).

So stare away. In a sense, staring at people is a way of staring at God. We always have to be cautious of sin—sin pervades our hearts and turns admiration of God and His handiwork into idolatry, jealousy, slander, and lust. But people are still fascinating. They deserve to be watched. So don’t be creepy, but watch what people do and admire them for God’s sake.

In the next post, I will discuss another important aspect of people watching: the unbelievable beauty that comes out of a person’s life when the Spirit does His work.

 

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