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WHAT IS MAN?

 

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.

Psalms 8: 3-6, King James Version

 

MAN WAS MADE TO MAKE. By his artefacts he expresses the intelligent means which brought him about. Were we to reverse engineer him as a whole – not merely as a bag of bones or chemical reactions – we would arrive at a creator. But even then we’d come up short. No essay on the existence and nature of man is complete without recourse to revelation. If the Christian faith has any value it must rest on several fundamental assumptions of the Bible narrative:

First, that man is not now as he was intended to be; that he has declined into imperfection – moral and physical. He is a dying creation. He fell down, not up.

 

Second, that this state of affairs necessitated salvation – a Saviour.

 

Third, there is offered a hope of a resurrection from death.

 

Each one of these elements – corroborated by Jesus and expounded upon in exquisite detail by the Apostle Paul and other Biblical writers – is a necessary brick in the intellectual structure which forms the Christian faith. Of course, one could eliminate the impediment entirely by discounting all ideas of a maker, of faith, of the narrative of Scripture – to claim that Jesus et al, did not exist, as many do – the scorched earth approach. But the collective Christian psyche is too deeply entrenched, too intricate, too complex, to be distilled into a mere competition of assertions as to whether God does or does not exist.

 

It would be very nice if things were different than they are. The Christian might wish away the evidence of homologues – those anatomical similarities between himself and lower animals. And it would be less bothersome for the sceptic if certain aspects of nature didn’t look as though they were designed.

 

But that would be too easy.

 

Thoughtful Believing

Faith and Reason are compatriots. However, in certain critical areas Reason must serve as a lesser handmaid to Faith. Indeed, it is not feasible to separate Faith from Reason, as if everything Faith attaches itself to is un-Reasonable. And, contrary to the shallow conclusions of many sceptics, Reason does operate within Scripture. Indeed, it would be impossible to interpret many aspects of Scripture without the application of it. Without the benefit of Reason – an objective understanding gained from analysis of reality, the nature of things – Faith would become, as it so often has, a bizarre concatenation of impractical notions, leading to closed, sectarian minds.

 

By Reason we can conclude that God does and must exist, but by itself it cannot give us a complete picture of Him – it can’t tell us about His character, plans, purposes. The actions of Nature are contradictory, being by turns friendly and hostile. And as for life after death, Reason alone can have nothing to say on that score. The process of resurrection is not reasonable in the ordinary, everyday sense of the term and the doctrine is an offspring of revelation.

 

It’s probably fair to say that Reason is more often than not Biblical, but that the Biblical is often not Reasonable. Jesus walking on water, for example. And one only has to consider the doctrine of the Trinity to encounter turbulent waters in which neither side can navigate with ease.

 

As for the mechanics of the universe, the Scriptures are mostly silent, and deductions reached by astronomers and scientists at large are both illuminating and appropriate. But even here, unlike the observation by David in Psalm 8, all the evidence is made by sceptics to fit a preconception. Adventures into space by NASA, the ESA, and other national agencies are designed to garner evidence for the general idea that man is the product of mindless forces. As for Evolution: inasmuch as it touches – however incompletely – on the nature and constitution of man, it cannot have the last word where it contradicts revelation.

 

 Law and Order

The physical world is a product of law and order. Precognition and analysis confirms it. In its more obvious manifestations – the routine rising and setting of the sun, the precession of the universe – and its less obvious and microscopic manifestations, as in the form, structure, and activity of atomic and subatomic particles, and so forth. The order of the seen is the product of the order and harmony of its discrete manifestations down to the microscopic. Certainly the simplest form of life could not exist without law and order. Even less so the highly complex blend of mind and matter which exists in Man. His physical construction, with symmetry in its whole and individual members, and the placement of its parts – eyes, ears, nose, etc. – gives the lie to a gradual evolution in a ‘wild west’ of competing forces. For if the finished product is an orderly whole, the process of its construction must have been orderly. And as order implies both absolute practicality – that is, the relation of one part to another is necessary for its existence as a complete thing; and subjective – that is, it appeals to our faculty of Reason and our need for convenience – an orderly progression in anything requires the impetus of orderly Mind, either to plan it and set it in motion along predetermined lines governed by laws – as in the maintenance of the universe – or to supervise it and check and adjust it to an orderly completion. Without orderly Mind nothing can be created or brought to a finish (the end in view).

 

Man instinctively sees the world through a mathematical framework. The impulse to straighten a crooked picture frame, to park the car equally between two white lines, to line up slippers or shoes in regimental fashion – this derives from an innate recognition of symmetry. And yet Nature on its observable surface does not present itself this way. Lakes are not naturally formed in the shape of a rectangle, nor do trees arrange themselves in rows, evenly spaced. Endowed with a mind in the image of the Mind that created him, Man is unique – a part of the wider world, and yet separate from it. That is why it is a mistake, increasingly common today, to equate the behaviour of human beings with that of animals. This ‘levelling out’ of the human species is required by Evolution – not merely to explain how he came about, but to nullify his uniqueness, along with his morality, religious beliefs, sense of destiny, and so on.

 

A Retreat from Certainty

In the final analysis, the fact that humankind is here, that things are the way they are – none of this is ‘reasonable’. This sort of Reason was not present at the instant that Nothing became Something. And contrary to the assertions of atheism, thinking human beings are what Reason would expect to find in a creation turned out by such a God as we find in Scripture.

 

The means and methods of an inscrutable Creator cannot be readily discovered by observation, any more than we should expect all mathematics or physics to be simple. Like Moses, seeing the promised land from afar but never owning one square yard of it, we may have to reconcile ourselves to a lifetime of dissatisfaction on some of these questions. But we must not yield to discouragement or despair. In his reiteration and application of Psalms 8, the Apostle Paul comments that we do not ‘yet’ see all things subjected to man (Hebrews 2: 8). That three-letter word holds a universe of inference, confirming at one and the same time man’s fall from perfection and kingship over the earth, and reminding us that the final, illuminating and corrective chapter in the revelation of God awaits completion.[fn]

 

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Notes

 

[fn] Alternative renderings of Hebrews 2: 8:

‘Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him’ (New International Version, UK edition).

‘. . . but, at present, we do not see that all things have actually been placed under him’ (Emphatic Diaglott, Wilson).

‘But now not yet do we see to him the all things subjected’ (The Emphasized Bible, Rotherham).

 

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