Qu. 6. Did God then create man so wicked and perverse?
A. By no means; but God created man good and after his own image, in true righteousness and holiness, that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love him and live with him in eternal happiness to glorify and praise him.
Qu. 7. Whence then proceeds this depravity of human nature?
A. From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise; hence our nature is become so corrupt, that we are all conceived and born in sin.
Qu. 8. Are we then so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of doing any good and inclined to all evil?
A.Indeed we are; except we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.
The text as it is found in our psalter of this third Lord’s Day gives a good translation of the original German. The English version made in the name and by the direction of the German Reformed Church, to which we referred before, differs from ours in a few minor details. The most important of these is, perhaps, the insertion of “that is” in the answer to the sixth question between “his own image” and “in true righteousness and holiness.” This is in accord with the original German text: Nein: sondern Gott hat den Menschen gut and nach seinen Ebenbild ersehaffen, das ist, in wahrhaftiger Gerechtigkeit und Heiligkeit.” And the insertion is not without significance as it serves to express clearly and definitely that, according to the Heidelberg Catechism, the image of God consisted in the original integrity of man’s nature. We may also note that the German text of question eight is very emphatic on total depravity: “Sind wir aber dermassen verderbt, das wir ganz and gar untuehtig sind zu einigem Guten und geneigt zu allem Rosen?” This the English version authorized by the Synod of the German Reformed Church of the United States mentioned above renders rather weakly: “But are we so depraved that we are wholly unapt to any good, and prone to all evil?”
As to the contents of this third Lord’s Day, it first traces the origin of the depravity of our human nature; and, secondly, it describes the extent or degree of that depravity. The contents, therefore, are very important. Many fundamental questions are implied in this Lord’s Day, which ought to be discussed rather thoroughly and answered as clearly and definitely as possible. A line drawn in the wrong direction at this point is bound to have a disastrous effect upon the entire system of doctrine. And it is, therefore, expedient for the preacher that expounds the truth implied in this chapter of the Catechism, to take his time and proceed carefully. Rather than to scan the surface of the doctrine, he can better devote two or three sermons to a discussion of its contents.
Our instructor introduces the subject matter here by a bold question: “Did God then create man so wicked and perverse?” I say bold, because it broaches the problem of sin and evil with relation to God, the problem of the theodicy. Or rather, the question introduces one aspect of this problem. How can there be evil in the world in view of the truth that God is God, and that He is good? God is surely sovereign. To attribute independent existence to the forces of sin and evil is to deny that sovereignty of God. He is the Almighty, and He certainly could have created a world, in which sin had no place and could not find entrance. And not only is He the almighty Creator of all things, “who of nothing made heaven and earth”, who calls the things that are not as if they were, but He is also the sole and supreme Governor, without Whose will nothing ever happens, and Who, therefore, could surely have prevented evil to make inroads into His creation. But this is not all. God is not only the absolute Sovereign, Who hath done whatsoever hath pleased Him, but He is also just and wise and good. He is a light and there is no darkness in Him. Evil cannot dwell with Him. He is too pure of eyes than to behold evil. How, then, can the presence of evil be explained? Such is the general problem of the theodicy, i.e. of the justification of God in connection with the fact of sin and evil in the world.
And various answers have been given to this question. Some have tried to solve the problem by postulating a separate source of sin and evil, next to God, the Creator and Ruler of the Universe. The material from which this world is formed is inherently evil; hence, when God created the world it was inevitable that evil should express and reveal itself. However, God is combating the forces of iniquity and death, and will surely overcome them in the end. Or, sin has its ultimate origin and explanation in the sovereign, free will of the moral creatures, angels and men. When God created a moral being, it was inevitable that He should leave the destiny of the world to a large extent in his hands. Whether he should remain in his state of integrity in which he was created or choose against God, righteousness and truth and thus introduce evil into God’s handiwork, was entirely contingent upon the sovereign choice of his will. God had nothing to do with it, neither did He control it. And thus the ultimate source of all the evil, sin and suffering and death, is the devil. This dualistic solution of the problem is really no solution at all. Rather does it remove the difficulty and destroy the problem by denying the sovereignty of the Most High in relation to the forces of darkness. Others, realizing that the existence of evil cannot very well be entirely separated from the will and sovereignty of God, have tried to go a step further, rather carefully feeling their way, and explain that evil is in the world by God’s permissive will. They dare not say that God willed the entrance of evil into His creation, for it seems to them that this would be tantamount to making God the author of sin, which they justly abhor. On the other hand, they try to maintain God’s sovereignty as far as possible, realizing that independent existence cannot be ascribed to the powers of darkness and death. And they flatter themselves that they have found an answer which is satisfactory in the view expressed by the term “God’s permissive will.” However, it should be apparent at once, that this conception fails to maintain the sovereignty of God, while it does not succeed to avoid what is, from their viewpoint, the error of making God the author of sin. For, on the one hand, the term “permission” presupposes that there is a power outside of the one who permits, that can operate independently from the latter. With application to the subject under discussion, it means that there was some power of evil that had energy to work apart from God and outside of Him. The operation of this power God might have prevented, but He chose not to do so; instead He permitted that power to do its evil work. In so far, then, the view expressed by the term “permissive will” is dualistic, denies the sovereignty of God. On the other hand, it does not succeed in explaining how God can be said to have no responsibility for the presence of evil in the world. If a child is on the verge of drowning, and I have but to put out my hand and grab it in order to save it, but I choose not to do this, but permit it to drown, am I not virtually as responsible for the child’s death, as if I had actually thrown it into the water? If I know that down the track along which a train is speeding there is a washout and a bridge was destroyed, and I have the opportunity to flash a danger signal to the engineer, but I choose not to do so, but permit the train to rush to its certain doom, am I not responsible for the crash and its results? And if God could have prevented the entrance of evil into the world through the restraining of the pride of the devil and the preservation of Adam in first paradise (as, no doubt, it must be granted that He could have done), but He willed to permit it, does this “permissive will” theory explain how God is not the author of sin any more than the view that God willed it? It ought to be evident to all that it does not.
Now, strictly speaking, the Catechism does not introduce this problem in all its implications; it refers to only one aspect of it: is God the Creator of evil? It is, therefore, not necessary to go into the problem here. But we wish to make a few remarks about it, nevertheless. First of all, it ought to be emphasized that we cannot and may not and need not call God before the bar of our human judgment in order to determine whether He can be justified in His work or not. We cannot, for He is God, the Holy One of Israel, the incomparable One: by whom or what shall we liken God, or what standard of judgment could we possibly apply to Him? He is absolute goodness in Himself. We may not, for He alone is Judge of heaven and earth, and to call Him before the tribunal of our human judgment would be the height of presumption: “who art thou, O man, that answerest against God?” And we need not, for God justifies Himself. He justifies Himself in the cross of Jesus Christ, in the consciences of His people through faith, and in the consciences of all men; and He will justify Himself, i.e. He will dearly reveal that He is the absolute Sovereign and at the same time absolutely righteous and just, in the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God. Hence, we do not have to solve the problem. The only question that remains for us to answer is: what does God reveal of Himself with respect to His relation of sin and evil in the world? And then, two truths seem to be very clear in the Scriptures: that God is strictly sovereign also in relation to sin and suffering; and that He rules in righteousness and judges in equity, that He is a light and there is no darkness in Him at all. This is not the place to quote texts in proof of these two statements; but they can easily be furnished. God hates sin, yet it is here, not by His permission, but according to the will of His sovereign counsel and by His own providence. And it must serve His purpose. Sin and evil always have been and always will be strictly subject to Him. Also with regard to it, He hath done whatsoever he hath pleased. So that we understand the Scriptures to teach us this: Without ever becoming the author of sin and evil, and without ever taking pleasure in iniquity, yea, so, that He always hates sin and judges it to condemnation, God has nevertheless willed that sin should enter into the world to serve His own holy purpose.
And this is in full agreement with the teaching of our Catechism in as far as it broaches this question: “Did God then create man so wicked and perverse? By no means; but God created man good and after His own image, in true righteousness and holiness, that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love Him and live with Him in eternal happiness to glorify and praise Him.” Bold though the question may be, it follows here naturally enough. The last answer in the preceding Lord’s Day stated that we are “so wicked and perverse” that we are wholly contrary to the law of God, so that, while it demands that we love God above all and our neighbor as ourselves, we hate Him and one another. And the Catechism had stated that this hatred of God and of our neighbor is not a matter of a sinful deed only, nor does it arise from a sinful habit we have formed, but that it arises from the perversity and wickedness of our nature. We are by nature prone to hate God and the neighbor! But we did not make our own nature! How, then, is it so corrupt? What was more natural than to put the question in this form: “Did God create man so wicked and perverse?”
And the answer is an emphatic denial: “by no means.” And this is followed by a statement concerning man’s original state as he came from the hand of his Creator: “God created man good and after his own image.” He created man good. In this connection this means: without corruption and sin; and, positively, so that man could reach the purpose of his existence in relation to Cod and to all things. And this goodness of man in the state of his original integrity consisted in this that he was made after the image of God. The question is: what does this mean? What is implied in the image of God?
The general meaning of the phrase “image of God” is dear enough. It signifies that man was so created that there was a creaturely likeness of God in him, that there was a reflection of the perfections of God in man. Thus we must understand the statement of Scripture in Gen. 1:26: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” About the interpretation that would read this text as if it intended to make a distinction between “image” and “likeness” in such a way that “image” refers to the body while “likeness” refers to the soul of man, we need not say much. This distinction is rather arbitrary. It is much more natural to understand that “likeness” is meant as a further definition of “image,” so that the text means: “let us make man in our image in such a way that the image is also a likeness.” AH images are not likenesses. There are images that only represent the objects for which they stand. Thus, for instance, the images of the cherubim in the holy of holies were representative images, but not necessarily meant to be likenesses of spiritual beings. But man is so made in the image of God, that the image is also a likeness, so that his very nature reflects some of God’s own perfections. There is a creaturely likeness of God in man.
Of more importance, however, is the question: just what belongs to this image of God in man? And this question is not always answered in the same way. Augustine, too, made a distinction between “image” and “likeness” and explained that the former consisted especially in the knowledge of the truth, while the latter implied the love of virtue. Later, during the time of Scholasticism, the image was explained as referring to mere natural attributes of the soul, such as reason and knowledge, intellect and will; while likeness was a spiritual, ethical concept including, righteousness and holiness and true spiritual knowledge of God. This led later to the Roman Catholic distinction between man as he is naturally good, and man with the additional gift of the likeness of God, according to which he is able to seek the higher, spiritual things of God. Man, therefore, can lose the image of God and still be naturally good, although he is no longer able to perform spiritual works. Others identified image and likeness, and taught that the image of God included both natural endowments, such as man’s rational and moral nature, his conscience and will, his freedom and “immortality,” and man’s original righteousness and holiness, his conformity to the will of God. Some even went to the extreme, especially among the Greek theologians, of letting the image of God consist exclusively in the natural gifts of his rational and moral nature. Remonstrants and Socinians identified the image of God in man with the dominion God gave him over all the earthly creation. The Reformers, it seems, were inclined to limit the image of God to man’s original integrity, his true knowledge of God, righteousness and holiness. Especially Lutheran theologians are very explicit on this point. They deny that the “rational soul” of man as such is part of the image of God. And they argue that man’s reason and will as such cannot be lost, while plainly, according to the Bible, man lost the image of God, whence it follows that the former cannot belong to that image that was lost. It is sometimes suggested that Calvin included more in the image of God than what belonged to Adam’s original rectitude, because he speaks of the image as being nearly wiped out after the fall: “prope deIeta.” But this is, to say the least, very doubtful. For, in his Institutes, Book I, cap. XV, par. 4 he writes as follows: “However, it appears that no complete definition is as yet given of that image, unless it be set forth more clearly in which faculties man excels by which he must be considered a mirror of the glory of God. Now this can be known better from no other source than from the restoration of the corrupt nature. (Id vero non aliunde melius quam ex reparatiorie corruptae naturae cognosci potest).” And later in the same paragraph Calvin refers to the contents of this restored image by quoting from Col. 8:10 and Eph. 4:24, and he explains: “Whence it appears what Paul comprehends chiefly under the image of God. In the first place he mentions knowledge (Priore loco agnitionem ponit), and further true righteousness and holiness (alter o autem sinceram iustitiam et sanctitatem); whence we gather that in the beginning the image of God was conspicuous by the light of the mind, the rectitude of the heart and the soundness of all the parts (unde colligimus initio in luce mentis, in cordis rectitudine, partiumque omnium sanitate conspicuam fuisse Dei imaginem.) ” And as concerns the “prope deleta” (well-nigh wiped out), the phrase occurs in the following sentence: “since then the image of God consists in the original excellency of the human nature (integra naturae humanae praestantia), which shone forth in Adam before the fall, afterwards however is so corrupted and nearly wiped out, (vitiata et prope deleta), that in the ruins there is nothing left than what is confused, mutilated and infected by filth (ut nihil ex ruina nisi eonfusum, mutilum, labeque infectum supersit)” etc. Calvin may have taught that the image of God was not entirely wiped out through the fall, but he certainly tells us here in the strongest language that what is left is nothing but miserable ruins and corruption. And that also man’s body and his rational soul as such belongs to this image cannot be found in the Institutes.
Later Reformed theologians, however, made a distinction, that has found a way into the Reformed Churches through preaching and instruction, and is rather generally accepted as belonging to Reformed doctrine. I am referring, of course, to the distinction between the image of God in a wider and in a narrower sense. To the former then belong man’s rationality and morality and immortality; to the latter his true knowledge of God, righteousness and holiness; the former implies all that distinguishes man from the lower animals, the latter is his original state of righteousness. The latter was lost through the fall; the former, however, was retained. Man still possesses the image of God in a wider sense, though he no more possesses his original integrity.
How is to be judged of this distinction?