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The Living Soul of Man

August 22nd, 2014

Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

Genesis 2:7

The psalmist asked God, “What is man that Thou art mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4), and this is the question we seek to answer in this study.

In some ways human life is just as all other life – the word translated “soul” in the King James – “man became a living soul” (nephesh in Hebrew) – was used also for the animals that God created (Gen. 1:20-24 and 2:19). And in Genesis 2:19 even the animals are called “living creatures” or “living souls.” Our body chemistry is similar to the animals – our senses, our nutritional needs, the gestation cycle of infants, the general human life span, etc. – all of these are not very different from the rest of creation.

The secret to understanding the significance and purpose of human life is found in the original intention of God – that we would be made in His image and would be given responsibility to subdue and rule over the earth, and to multiply and subdue the earth (Genesis 1:26-28). In this image we also have the remarkable ability to communicate with our Creator, to know Him, to have a relationship with Him. This also is one of the purposes for which God made us – not just to work and procreate, but to know Him. When God breathed into the nostrils of Adam the breath of life, Adam was animated to fulfill the purposes for which He had been created. From the moment of his creation and while still in his innocence Adam was divinely enabled to do these things – to know his Creator, to rule over creation, and to multiply.

That the main purpose of humanity is to know God there can be no question, as this is repeatedly the emphasis of Scripture. The divinely inspired psalmist wrote: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25). Christ said, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Adam’s and Eve’s (or Eve’s and then Adam’s) temptation was to substitute something for God – to replace knowing Him with trying to satiate the unsatiable lusts of the human soul, to elevate ourselves in His place (pride), to try and unseat the One above all, and even if it was to only unseat Him in their hearts, it was rebellion against God all the same – spiritual high treason.

The Apostle Paul, as the Spirit enabled him, understood and wrote about the nature of Adam being passed down to us, as we are his offspring. In 1 Corinthians 15:45-49, he compared Adam, “the man of dust,” with Christ, “the second man.” Just as we in our natural bodies have inherited biologically the physical nature of Adam – from dust we came and to dust we return – in Christ we who believe have received His image. God has not left us unredeemed. He did not turn His back on us in utter rejection, and in Christ reverses the Adamic curse.

Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

We have not only inherited from Adam our biological nature; we have also inherited from him our spiritual nature. Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” These words of Paul are sometimes considered the most difficult theology of the entire New Testament, but I believe the meaning of Paul (or more appropriately of the Spirit) is clear enough, and we can understand them easily if we will let the words stand in their simplicity. He means to say that it is common knowledge that all men and women sin, that this character flaw is found in the entire race. Some sin without having ever known the teachings of God’s Word or the standards of God’s Law, but those who have been properly taught still sin in that they do not obey it perfectly. And it is all because every last human being is descended from Adam and his spiritual nature, along with his biological nature, is passed along to us.

But in Christ is our redemption possible, and we who believe have the promise of bearing His glorious image after death – “we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He truly is” (1 John 3:2). And we have the promise of bearing His spiritual image while we live – “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom. 8:29).

Another trait of human life as it was created and revealed in the original plan of God – we have the capacity to learn and grow and change, and in this we are different from God – this is the limits of bearing His image. God is forever and always the same – from eternity to eternity – “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8). We have the promise of fullness of knowledge in heaven – “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor 13:12). – but here on earth we learn and grow. To fulfill the purposes of our existence require that we be redeemed by Christ, that we are brought back into fellowship with Him in a salvation or conversion experience. But from that point on we grow. We grow in our relationship with God. We grow in understanding and fulfilling our obligations toward the creation. We grow in understanding and in fulfilling our obligations to one another as well, to pass on blessings to the next generations.

Why is God mindful of humanity? Why does He care about you? Because He has not given up His original hopes and plans for creation. He desires that you know Him, and this is possible through Jesus Christ. He desires that you grow in this knowledge and in this relationship, and that you bless those around you, even the created order itself. And the amazing and plain truth is that our hearts know these matters, that no human being is truly fulfilled until they have given themselves to these purposes. We are made to make a difference, and in Christ we can do exactly that.

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The Lonely Man

August 21st, 2014

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

Genesis 2:18

We men are funny creatures, often spurning the very provisions God sends to meet the needs of our hearts. We too often choose our loneliness by shutting ourselves off from others, withdrawing into our own cave of isolation, and shutting out those who would help and comfort us. Let’s look at what this story tells us about ourselves, about human contact, and about intimacy.

Here Adam began his life alone, and initially he knew no other possible reality was available. To the other animals God did not need to make such a point – they were and remain creatures of instinct, and not of a cognitive process. But we people think, but our minds are not perfectly tuned instruments and often our thoughts run counter to logic, even against our own best interests. But in the beginning it was not so. Adam in his innocence thought clearly and here we read of the first learned realization of Adam – actually the first learning moment for the entire human race: among all that God had created there was no suitable companion for him.

God caused Adam to sleep, and there is a picture in this of God’s independent activity to provide for our needs. While we sleep He works, and when we are hopelessly unable to help ourselves, God steps into the picture to provide for us, His creation, what we need. We see the loving Creator heart of God in this act, and the first picture of the Redeemer heart of God as well. Not only, we learn, does he love us in our innocence, not only is He moved to meet innocent needs of innocent people, but His love extends to us when we are guilty, and He is the Provider of the means of our salvation as well.

God created woman, and He blessed them both, male and female, and gave them to one another. Women are normally more sociable than men, and they as a gender need very little convincing that they need others. Men, on the other hand, are on the whole much more isolated and withdrawn, but the need is still there deeply embedded within us. God answers the need for loneliness with His presence, but also with the gift of marriage and family.

In our day and age a phenomenon has developed in Western societies that is unseen in history, that a new stage of life has begun in the last sixty years that human society has done without in all the previous millennia. Prior to the mid-way point through the Twentieth Century the vast majority of people left the home of their mother and father and entered into marriage. Very few adults lived by themselves, less than 10%, and those were mostly widows and widowers. But since the 1950’s onward a new stage of life has begun in the West, the stage of being a single adult, living alone. In 1950 9% of American households were people living alone. By 1970 it was 17%, and by 2012 that had become 28%. One in seven Americans live alone, and 50% of adults are unmarried.  Statistics are very similar for Western Europe.

What this means is that we are facing an epidemic of loneliness in coming years. We have lived alone and we will die alone. And as computer technology has increased more and more people are losing or failing to develop personal people skills necessary for intimacy and fulfillment. We choose digital means of communication rather than live ones. We humans are made first for God, but second for one another. Prior to this point in time, the vast majority of people went from their family of origin into marriage, from their parents to their marriage relationship, but now our society has invented a period of independence, and even idealized it, as a time when drinking, partying, and brief and meaningless sexual encounters are supposed to be the “best days” of our lives. And some have even chosen artificial, impersonal, digitalized means of sexual experience over true and meaningful intimacy with one special life-long mate.

God met the need of loneliness not with the gift of community only, not with the chance of brief sexual encounters with virtual strangers, not with the possibility of seeing others in good relationships, and not with fame and adulating crowds, but He met this need through marriage and family.

There have always been single adults among us – and we should remember that our Lord was a single adult – and to some God gives the gift of celibacy. Matthew 19:10-12 provides the Lord’s teaching on the matter. It is not everyone’s gift, or even the majority of people. But singleness alone is not a curse, neither need it be unhealthy. Yet even those with the gift of celibacy need community, friendships, and human intimacy. We are not made to be alone – not even alone with God.

Our greatest need as a race is intimacy with God, to know Him and to experience Him, but in this experience He also brings us into intimacy with others. It is interesting that in John 14:23 Christ spoke to the individual’s experience and said that He and the Father with make their home in the individual (“make our home in him” – it is singular in the Greek), so there is a personal, individual experience and relationship we need with God through Christ. But in the next breath Christ also spoke of the community when He said in the plural, “Peace I leave with you (plural)” (John 14:27), and there are experiences we have with God through Christ that we need the community of believers to experience.

This is our great need today – to be in intimate relationship with others, to have a close group of trusted and loving friends, to have those who respect us and love us, and to share our love and respect with them as well. All life is empty and unfulfilling until we have resolved these two matters: our relationship with God through Christ and our relationship with our fellow human beings, especially our spouse, family, and closest friends. Nothing is a suitable substitute for these.

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