04. Genesis 1-2 part 4

I. A. 2. b) continued

But the image of God comes in a particular context: dust. We were created out of the dust of the earth and that dust is as much a part of who we are as the image of God is. What does it mean to be dust then? First it is a matter of humility. We are chemical and it should be no matter for surprise that the most important part of us – our thinking and our feeling and our hoping, and even our sexuality – are basically matters of chemical reactions. This does not lessen the significance of what we think or feel; God who can create the whole universe out of nothing at all can just as well endow a complex chemical reaction with the transcendental ability to love and think.

It is a trick of our culture to make us believe that if our thoughts and emotions are chemical in nature then they are not “real”. Modern science has it all backwards: the scientists have been trying to understand complex biological phenomena in terms of the basic laws of physics, reducing them to their most basic components, perfectly properly, but with the sometimes tacit assumption that the significance of the complexity disappears when you can understand its pieces. The reductionist approach does not require such an assumption, but it seems to have become reductionist orthodoxy that for the truly human and complex behavior to have real meaning it must consist in nothing simpler (religion, ironically, gave them that assumption) and that once we have shown it to be merely chemical in nature then it is merely mechanical and whatever was distinctively human disappears. The molecules are the little levers and wheels and we are just machines, you see, like fancy organic computers or robots.

But the Bible has the opposite perspective, that the glory of God is to take the most humble of things and make them into something that is more significant than their parts. “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” is true only if God is behind the organization of the parts and makes them by His Word into something greater. We are machines, yes, but we are machines fashioned by God Himself into something beyond our own imagining.

Perhaps we tricked ourselves when we adopted a belief in a dichotomy between the material and the spiritual. We have become accustomed to thinking that we must insist on some super-natural dimension to human personality in order to justify it as significant, in order to defend the belief in the image of God in us; somehow we have come to think that if we are simply genes and complex chemical interactions then spirituality is  invalid. We have somehow been fooled into believing that spirit cannot be “merely” natural and that the natural cannot be spiritual.

God’s viewpoint on our make-up would appear to be quite different. He chose to make us of dust and it is His good will that we be dust, that we be dust that thinks and feels and loves, dust that knows Him and knows Him truly, dust which is capable of love for God and its fellow dust. It is the glory of God that He can take such humble material and make it the bearer of His glory. We need not defend our belief in the super-natural dignity of human beings by inventing the soul as a super-natural component to our being. We believe in the super-natural dignity of human beings because God gives us super-natural dignity, and He gives it to us by entering into covenant with us, not by making us out of some particularly dignified stuff or even out of super-natural stuff.

Some think, when “[God] breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being”, that this is the creation of the soul of the man. It is possible, of course, but not necessary. In Genesis 7:15, for example, all the creatures that boarded the ark are described as having the breath of life in themselves. It would seem then that either we allow the possibility that all the creatures have souls, or that this passage does not necessarily refer to the creation of a soul as a super-natural component to our identity. In thinking about the nature of spiritual reality it is important to understand that there is no threat to a fully biblical understanding from either alternative. It is not necessary to a Christian understanding of the nature of man to maintain the existence of a super-natural component; and it is no threat to our uniqueness as the image of God if the other mere animals have souls as well.

Ultimately a biblical view is that the spiritual is the same as the material. God is the only uncreated thing, so the human soul, if it is anything at all, is a created thing. The existence and nature of the soul is a topic on which there is very little information given. However one thing should be said now more plainly than I have said it above: talk about the “super-natural” has at least one major logical problem: we cannot give the term a logically consistent meaning. First we cannot mean that the super-natural is not part of the creation. If so, then is God not the Creator of all things? Or if we are suggesting that the super-natural is created but not part of our creation, then have we gained anything? Would another creation be less subject to being analyzed into its component parts and laws than this one? Is such a thing possible or even conceivable? On the other hand, we cannot mean that the super-natural is part of the creation, for then isn’t it just “natural”? Our categories of thought need some serious work here, and I can’t help but feel that the natural/super-natural distinction is not very worthwhile except for the relatively unimportant use of distinguishing our created order from another one. Jonathan Edwards, an somewhat neglected theologian, made a similar point 250 years ago, I believe.

But there is a more important insight to be gained from our creation out of dust. It is God’s will that we be susceptible to chemical influences. We were created to be vulnerable to chemicals, and it is part of the nature God chose to create in us that we are stimulated by caffeine, intoxicated by alcohol, and altered in various ways by the various kinds of drugs available to us. It is not true that our susceptibility to chemical influences is something that is shameful and unspiritual; we were designed that way. It is true that in our present circumstances, in the corrupted state we live in, that our own natures are a real danger to us. However, although there are drugs that are unbelievably powerful and dangerous and damaging to society, it is not a biblical idea that the root of the problem is in the drugs themselves, nor is it in our susceptibility to them.

The problem of our nature is not outside of us, but inside of us. We cannot blame our difficulty with drugs on the drugs; there is nothing wrong with them. It is our own natures, our sinful and fallen condition, that is the problem. It is a serious theological error that Christians have made: we have pushed the issue of sin onto the creation rather than taking responsibility for it ourselves. We see the issue of sin as one of avoiding the evil temptations of an evil and fallen creation all around us. We spend our time dealing with corruption “out there” in demon rum or whatever, missing that the demon doesn’t possess the rum – he possesses us. It is our own fallenness where the real problem lies. We waste so much time fighting the wrong enemy.

There is one other aspect of the meaning of the image of God that is critical to how we understand the revelation. When the first man was called “Adam”, a word that means merely “man”, it was to indicate in part that he was representative of the human race as a whole. This is a theme that Paul expanded on greatly in the book of Romans, and it is a concept that applies as well to the meaning of the image of God. Who or what is the bearer of the image of God? We read “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness”; but it is not the individual man, Adam, that is referred to here; it is the human race as a whole that is the focus, for both male and female are included to make it clear that the image of God is not an individual.

The bearer of the image of God, the bearer of the Covenant, is humanity and not primarily the individuals within humanity. I can say, as an individual, that I am myself in the image of God; each of us individually are in the image of God. But what this means is that I am in the image of God just as I am in the human race. I am a member of the image of God. When the Christ did come to begin restoring the full image of God to us, what He created was a collective entity called the Body of Christ. You and I are truly in the image of God because you and I are contained in the image of God. You and I are truly in the image of God, but we cannot bear it alone. Only together, only in all of us together, is the image of God truly manifested.

It is difficult to emphasize enough how radically the ancient biblical idea of man’s origin differs from the other ancient mythologies. Many ancient mythologies have us created out of mud, but there the comparisons end. The most ancient non-biblical mythology is the Sumerian one, in which humanity was created as the slaves of the gods. The biblical view, from its very foundation, exalts the nature of the human race, and exalts God’s view of, and purpose for, humanity. There is nothing else in the ancient world that makes our status even close to the exalted status that the biblical view gives us.

2 Comments on “04. Genesis 1-2 part 4”

  1. godanalytics Says:

    I also find this very interesting. O.k., so the part about how we are chemical makeup and that this means that other chemicals affect us or interact with our makeup, and that our very sexuality is a chemical response. This has been a recent question of mine. How does our chemical makeup, and our acceptance of the fact that we are “dust”…how does this affect our morality? and our ability to say “yes” or “no” to certain “laws” out of “love” for God. I recently had an experience where I realized that while taking a particular drug (birth control), it basically took away my positive chemical response to sex, meaning that while on that substance I was less likely to have an affair because I had absolutely no desire to go outside of my marriage (or inside it for that matter) in order to be sexually satisfied. So, for those who have a strong physical inclination toward satisfying their chemical need for sex, are they released from the moral responsibility of not being able to control their urges? Since we make concessions for those who spend time “depressed” and can’t seem to snap out of it, can we not also make concessions for those whose physical sex drive, drives them outside certain moral guidelines? I don’t know. I’m sure my reasoning has a lot of holes in it, because I haven’t really studied the Bible that much, just have mostly heard other people’s interpretation of it in church.


  2. This deserves a response of its own beside the one I tried to give in 07. The peculiar thing about being human is that we are chemical and simultaneously designed to live on a higher level than the chemical. How that is possible, I don’t know. Something was done to us in our creation than made us different from animals. Somehow God thought of a way to make chemicals complex enough that their nature became capable of doing things no chemical could ever do. It is usually called the soul, and as I said I am not very clear on what that means, whether it is a matter of sufficient complexity of design or an added component that is not ordinary chemicals I don’t know. We are hybrids, still flesh but also spirit. Whatever it means exactly, I think there is a component of us that is meant to stand above the chemical level and respond directly to God as well as to our chemical nature, even respond in such a way that goes against our own chemical needs. This seems to me to be the definition of freedom: not that we can choose to do what we want to do – even dogs can do that – but that we can finally choose to do what we do not want.
    Having an ungovernable sex drive, or being clinically depressed, or being an alcoholic – these are all essentially the same thing as being diabetic or having a heart condition, except they are far more likely to hurt the people around us. I don’t think responsibility is the best way to approach the problem; the question is not: are we still responsible for what we choose, and therefore liable to judgment? The question is: are we still enslaved to our chemical needs and therefore in need of grace? The way I read the whole purpose of everything that God did in the Bible, and especially when He appeared in person, was not to punish sinners but to free slaves.
    Sorry, I get carried away. You do ask good questions. Keep on asking and don’t give up.


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