September 1, 1979
In my last letter to you we began a discussion of the nature of man. We proceeded from what Scripture teaches us in Genesis 2:7: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” We talked, in that letter, about what Scripture meant when it described man’s creation as being from the dust of the ground.
There are a couple more remarks which I want to make about that expression before we go on to the other aspect of man’s creation — that God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.
You recall that I remarked about man’s creation from the dust of the ground that this meant that man was created a part of this earthly creation. He was, like the birds and fish and animals, of the earth, earthy. But you must remember — and this is an important point — that man was of the earth earthy. The whole man was created as a part of this earthly creation.
I am not sure exactly how much emphasis I ought to give to this idea; but it seems to me that this is often misunderstood. The Scriptures teach that man is created with both body and soul. Perhaps in some future article we can discuss this more in detail — as far, at least, as the meaning of these terms is concerned. But it seems to me that sometimes we have the notion that man is related to this earthly creation because he has a body. His soul, so we like to think, is not of this earth, but is other-worldly. His body makes him a part of this present creation while his soul makes him a creature who does not fit in this world. His soul makes him heavenly and is a part of him which transcends the earthy.
But this is not true granted now that man is indeed created with a body and a soul, the fact remains that he, both with body and soul, is part of this earthly creation. If I may put it that way, even his soul is earthly. He is, with his whole nature, created only for this world.
This ought really not to surprise us. After all, even animals have souls. We noticed this already in our last letter when we found that Genesis 1 speaks of the animals as living souls. And this, truth is found in many different places in Scripture. To quote but one text, Leviticus 24:18reads: ‘”And he that killeth a beast shall make it good; beast for beast.” Here the expression, “beast for beast” is really “soul for soul.”
In general, then, the difference between man and animals is not that men have souls while animals do not; the difference is rather that men have different kinds of souls than animals. And the difference consists especially in this that men have minds and wills. Men can think and desire; animals cannot — at least in the high sense of the word in which men can do this. But the point that needs to be made is that even this soul of man is related to the earth. If man were created only from the dust of the ground he could never know anything else but this present world. All his thoughts and desires would be limited to this creation. He is, with body and soul, a part of this world and this world only.
It is this truth which makes the additional statement ofGen. 2:7 so important: “and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” This is the other aspect to his creation. He is a creature who is more than merely of the earth earthy. He has another side to his existence which is explained by this part of the text.
What is this other aspect to his creation? Man is created in such a way that he stands in a relationship to God. And this relationship to God governs the whole of his life. He has a spiritual dimension in his existence which no other creature can possibly have. He, of all God’s creatures, stands in a moral and ethical relation to God.
This is a marvelous aspect to his creation the importance o f which ought never to be underestimated. After all, God is transcendent above all His creation. He is high and lifted up. He is enthroned in the highest heavens. He makes the heavens His throne and the earth His footstool.. He dwells in a light unto which no man can approach. There is a chasm between God and man so great and deep that it can never be bridged by man or by his best efforts. Yet, God has created man in such a way that man can stand in a relationship to Him.
This is true by virtue of man’s creation. He was created in such a way that this is possible. He was formed by God so that he possessed a nature which enables man to live all his life over against God. This stems from the fact that God created him the way He did.
This relationship, as such, also embraces the whole of man’s nature. It is not true that man stands in a relation td the creation because he has a body, and in a relation to God because he has a soul. Just as man is related to the earth with both body and soul so also man is related to God with the whole of his nature — body and soul. We must be careful of all attempts to chop man into pieces. He is created as one living soul. And as such he stands over against God with body and soul just as he stands in this creation, related to it, dependent upon it, connected with it, in body and soul.
From a purely formal point of view, man stands in this relation to God whether he be saint or sinner. Nothing can alter that relationship. Man was created in such a way that he lived in a relationship of friendship with God. He was, God’s covenant friend. He was servant of God in the midst of the creation. He loved his God with all his heart and mind and soul and strength. And indeed, this was the very purpose of his creation. But when man fell, although he became the enemy of God, the truth of man’s relationship to God remained. It is true that man now is a rebel. He hates God with all his heart and mind and soul and strength. He transgresses God’s law. He does all he can to destroy God. But the fact that he stands yet in a relation to God is notaltered in the least. He cannot escape that relation, for he is created in such a way that this relation remains even into all eternity be it in heaven or in hell.
There are several things about that relation. Because man has a mind he is created with the ability to knowGod. He never loses this either. Even though, according to Romans 1:18 he holds the truth in unrighteousness (suppresses the truth would be more accurately the idea), he can, after all, suppress the truth only because he possesses it to begin with. God makes Himself known. We often fail to see the wonder of this. And, indeed, it is possible only because God Himself reveals Himself. That knowledge of God is possible only because God makes Himself known. But the fact remains that it is true. Every man knows God.
If at this point we may interject a very practical remark, it is worth pointing out that this is emphatically the case. Heresy, false doctrine, unbelief, idol worship, distortion of the truth, are not born out of ignorance of God — as is so often asserted. All corruptions of the truth — whether within Christendom where the truth of Scripture is known or in pagan lands where God is made known only through creation — are the direct fruit of man’s efforts to change the glory of the incorruptible God into an image like unto corruptible man. Every distortion is willful, deliberate, done expressly to destroy God’s glory.
That this has practical implications for dealing with sin goes almost without saying. It is exactly because of this that each man stands accountable and responsible for his own conduct. He cannot and may not blame others for what he does. He must give answer for his own acts. He may not and cannot shove the blame for what he does on others. If this were always remembered it would make considerable difference in the “treatment” of those who have mental and emotional problems.
But be that as it may, and we can return to that at some future time, man also stands in relation to God as a willing creature. He may not desire God as Adam did in Paradise and as the Psalmist did when he sang: “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.” But he still stands with his will overagainst God. Only, as a sinner, he stands opposed to God. His will is the opposite of God’s will. He actively seeks God’s overthrow and destruction.
But the same is true of his body. He stands with his body in relation to God also. And he does this by using all the members of his body to sin. His mouth curses. His feet are swift to shed blood. His hands are dirty with the filth of wickedness. His eyes covetously look for and search out evil. It is exactly because this is true that Paul admonishes the Roman Christians “not to yield your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin.” Romans 6:13.
Because man is created as a creature who stands in a moral and ethical relationship to God, man is a creature who stands before the solemn obligation to love God. Nothing can ever alter that. That requirement never changes. And because he must love God he will have to give account to God for the whole of his life. He will have to answer to God whether he loved God with his heart. He will have to answer to God whether he loved God with his mind — and with his soul — and even with his strength. If he did he will be blessed for he will then have fulfilled the purpose of his creation. But if he did not he will have to suffer the fury of an angry God who will not permit the creature to deny the very reason for his creation but will surely punish every man who sins against Him.
This is the kind of creature man is. He is created in a marvelous way. No wonder the Psalmist sings: “Behold I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” He stands in this world related to it, inescapably a part of it. But he stands also in relation to God. The highest of all God’s creatures, the king of creation under God, image bearer of the Most High — man, the crown of God’s work.
With this man you have to do as a pastor and shepherd of those who are God’s sheep.