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The biblical narrative begins unapologetically with an introduction to the Author of all that exists, with these words:
First this: God…[i]
The first words of the New Testament Gospel of John expand on this theme:
The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
God present to the Word.
The Word was God,
in readiness for God from day one.
Everything was created through him;
nothing—not one thing!
came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life–Light blazed out of the darkness;
the darkness couldn’t put it out.[ii]
As hard as it might be to wrap your mind around, there was a time before time and space, before the so–called Big Bang, before there was anything but God himself. Douglas Hamp wrote:
Before anything was, before the blackness of space, before the void, there was the King, the Almighty, the Self–Existent, the One who was, and is and is to come. He existed in and of his own domain. God wasn’t “anywhere” because there was no “where.” There was only God. Nevertheless, He created from nothing a space, a domain outside of Himself that was not. This expanse, dimension, He called shamaim (or heavens). He filled this domain with substance, material called eretz (earth). We can think of the heavens like a water bottle filled with water (eretz). Imagine God by Himself, of Himself, bringing forth from Himself a dimension, a void, filled with only eretz also called tehom (the depth) which had not been before.[iii]
It is interesting to note that photons, the constituents of visible and invisible light, are the single most abundant particles in the cosmos. How appropriate! Later on in the New Testament, we read a sweeping declaration about God the Son:
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.[iv]
It could be said that God is the “cosmic stick–um” that holds the cosmos together—all with light, the most basic energy, which, as Einstein noted, is interchangeable with matter.
Every page of scripture pulses with life. The life of God himself—not as a thing but as a multidimensional person, with intellect, will, and emotion, who is deeply involved in every aspect of what he has made. And, from the start, we are confronted with a profound mystery that is critical to our understanding of the very nature of this transcendent being, namely, the Trinity. The earliest hint of the notion of a plurality within the singularity of the Godhead occurs in the very first chapter of the book of Genesis:
God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them
reflecting our nature
so they can be responsible for the fish in the sea,
the birds in the air, the cattle,
and, yes, Earth itself,
and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.”
God created human beings;
he created them godlike,
Reflecting God’s nature.
He created them male and female.[v]
In his book, Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem explained the Trinity this way:
- God is three persons.
- Each person is fully God.
- There is one God.
God is one yet is expressed in three distinct persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. This is where everything began—with God, in God, by God, and for God. He has always existed as a relational community of three, bonded in love and characterized by unbridled joy. In his book, Sacred Romance, John Eldredge wrote:
The story that is the Sacred Romance begins not with God alone, the Author at his desk, but God in relationship, intimacy beyond our wildest imagination, heroic intimacy. The Trinity is at the center of the universe; perfect relationship is the heart of all reality…Our story begins with the hero in love. As Buechner reminds us, “God does not need the creation in order to have something to love, because within Himself love happens.” And yet what kind of love? There are selfish forms of love, relationships that create closed systems, impenetrable to outsiders. Real love creates a generous openness…the best things are meant to be shared…And so it is with God.[vi]
He is good!
In, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis, Susan and Lucy ask Mr. and Mrs. Beaver to tell them about Aslan, the lion who is the Christ figure in the story. They ask if Aslan is a man, and Mr. Beaver replies:
Aslan a man? Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the woods and the son of the great Emperor–beyond–the Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about being safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”[vii]
That conversation is loaded. Please don’t miss the last line: “’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” He wants our all—that makes him dangerous to our self–centered ambitions. But he’s good—he wants the absolute best for us. In his book The Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer addressed the goodness, openness, and willingness of God to welcome us into his life. But to respond, we must turn off the din, quiet our hearts, and, above all, listen for his still, small voice:
The Voice of God is a friendly Voice. No one need fear to listen to it unless he has already made up his mind to resist it. Whoever will listen will hear the speaking Heaven. This is definitely not the hour when men take kindly to an exhortation to listen, for listening is not today a part of popular religion. We are at the opposite end of the pole. Religion has accepted the monstrous heresy that noise, size, activity and bluster make a man dear to God. But we may take heart. To a people caught in the tempest of the last great conflict God says, “Be still, and know that I am God,” and still He says it, as if He means to tell us that our strength and safety lie not in noise but in silence.[viii]
And although it could be argued that this all–powerful, all–sufficient being needed nothing, he displays breathtaking generosity from the very start. This God of the Bible seems only to have found one thing he simply could not do—contain himself. He simply had to share who he was (and is) and what he had (and has) or burst! Meister Eckhart rejoiced:
Do you want to know what goes on in the heart of the Trinity?
I will tell you.
In the heart of the Trinity the Father laughs and gives birth to the Son.
The Son laughs back at the Father and gives birth to the Spirit,
The whole Trinity laughs and gives birth to us.
When God laughs at the soul and the soul laughs back at God, the persons of the Trinity are begotten.
When the Father laughs at the Son and the Son laughs back at the Father, that laughter gives pleasure,
that pleasure gives joy, that joy gives love, and that is the Holy Spirit.
…created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see.[ix]
So why take the risk?
But, you might ask, If God knows everything, past, present, and future, he would know that angels and men alike could (and would) rebel against him and bring him great pain. So why bother to create them in the first place? Why not just keep heaven to himself without going through the trouble of sharing it with others? Although such thinking seems rational—indeed, even sensible—scripture reveals a counterintuitive principle that makes God’s universe tick like a heartbeat: love. C. S. Lewis shed light on this enigma:
God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that he may love and perfect them. He creates the universe already foreseeing—or should we say, “seeing”? there are no tenses in God—the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up. If I may dare the biological image, God is a “host” who deliberately creates his own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and “take advantage of” Him. Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.[x]
At the center of the universe, we discover a heavily invested creator, a risk–taker, a giver, a long–suffering and patient parent who is desperate for the company his children (us!). A dad who withholds judgment in the face of continuous rejection and who is stirred to deep emotion when one of his own returns to him. Later in the scriptures, the words and stories of Jesus Christ exhibit his heavenly father’s limitless benevolence. We need look no further than the story of the prodigal son:
Then he said, “There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, “Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.” So the father divided the property between them. It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any.
That brought him to his senses. He said, “All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’” He got right up and went home to his father.
When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: “Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.”
But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, “Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain–fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!” And they began to have a wonderful time.
All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, “Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.”
The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!”
His father said, “Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!”[xi]
Here then is the heart of the Creator–God revealed in the father of this story. And note carefully that there is indeed great pain and grief—on both sides—in such relationships, but God is willing to take the chance, despite the risks, in anticipation of the far weightier prize of experiencing perfect reciprocal love. Contrasting this God–love [literally, agape] with our more down–to–earth versions of what passes for the real thing, C. S. Lewis wrote, in his book The Four Loves:
True love is a very risky business. There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.
I believe that the most lawless and inordinate loves are less contrary to God’s will than a self–invited and Self–protective love–less–ness. It is like hiding the talent in a napkin and for much the same reason. “I knew thee that thou wert a hard man.” Christ did not teach and suffer that we might become, even in the natural loves, more careful of our own happiness. If a man is not uncalculating towards the earthly beloveds whom he has seen, he is none the more likely to be so towards God whom he has not. We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armor. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it.[xii]
Millions of love songs, books, movies, and stage plays center around a single subject—the most talked about, sought after “treasure” of all—true love. It’s in our bones. We need love. Without it, we die—figuratively and literally. And the saddest subject of all, from the blues to Country & Western music, is unrequited love—love that is one–sided and destined never to be returned by the other party. Who isn’t brought to tears when a spurned lover bares his or her soul, opening up their heart and becoming completely vulnerable, only to be summarily rejected, ignored, and abandoned. Nothing else in the universe comes close to such tragedy. Listen now to these words, and try to feel them in this light:
I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, “Here am I, here am I.” All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations—a people who continually provoke me to my very face.[xiii]
And how about this:
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.[xiv]
These tender words, uttered first by the God of the Old Testament and then by the God–Man of the New Testament, reflect a broken–hearted parent calling to his estranged children to return to his family home under the protection of a benevolent father. This is God’s heart and the motivation behind his salvation toward man—love that pursues, pleads, and willingly exposes itself to great personal risk.
The order of creation
The order of creation began with what we refer to as the heavens. These include: the atmospheric heavens, which run from ground level to the outer limits of earth’s atmosphere; the planetary heavens, which extend to the outer reaches of the universe; and the highest heavens, which are the supernatural and invisible home of God and his angels. God created the highest heavens first.
And then came the invisible realm of the supernatural, which is every bit as mysterious, extensive, and determinative as the natural realm. This includes angels, archangels, principalities, and powers which are either opposed to God’s purposes or at his side in defense of the kingdom of heaven. We are told that someday, all opposition to God’s will be vanquished and dismissed from his presence. But, for now, hostile powers are still active and relatively free to carry out their mischief.
Psalm 103 tells of the supernatural forces on God’s side, so to speak:
The Lord has established His throne in the heavens,
And His sovereignty rules over all.
Bless the Lord, you His angels,
Mighty in strength, who perform His word,
Obeying the voice of His word!
Bless the Lord, all you His hosts,
You who serve Him, doing His will.
Bless the Lord, all you works of His,
In all places of His dominion.[xv]
And on the other side of the supernatural spectrum are the darker, more sinister forces:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.[xvi]
Remember the movie series, “The Matrix,” mentioned in Chapter 2? Like this series, the Bible depicts a multidimensional reality in which the visible spectrum is but a part of a much more pervasive spiritual realm. In the Bible, this spiritual realm is inhabited by angels, demons, principalities, and powers that dwarf in scale and number that which we see with our eyes. It is in this invisible domain that cosmic battles between good and evil are continuously being played out—with the hearts and minds of human beings hanging in the balance.
Sadly, as in the movie, few humans choose to believe in this unseen dimension and play out their lives according to the simulated reality set forth by the evil powers—thus missing the whole point of their existence. We are built to be in relationship, first with our God and then with each other, giving our lives purpose and ultimate significance.
Now we turn to a deeply instructive passage concerning the very nature of God.
Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.
God spoke: “Light!”
And light appeared.
God saw that light was good
and separated light from dark.
God named the light Day,
he named the dark Night.
It was evening, it was morning—
It is perfectly natural for the God of beauty, order, and purpose to react this way as we find him brooding, dissatisfied, and displeased in the face of the “nothingness, emptiness, and blackness” that lay before him. He orders up light first so that the disorder and chaos of primordial earth could be exposed to his gaze. Only he had the enormous power to transform this wild untamed scene, and he did so by introducing order, beauty, and function.
It is a fundamental principle of nature that darkness and confusion—whether in the physical, moral, intellectual, or spiritual realms—must flee in God’s presence. This gives new meaning to the Apostle John’s assertion, ”This, in essence, is the message we heard from Christ and are passing on to you: God is light, pure light; there’s not a trace of darkness in him.”[xviii] There are no shifting shadows, capricious moods, or unpredictable outbursts—contrary to so many of the so–called “gods” of ancient Greece or Rome.
A Wikipedia article on the subject of light says, “In physics, the term light sometimes refers to electromagnetic radiation of any wavelength, whether visible or not. In this sense, gamma rays, X–rays, microwaves and radio waves are also light. Like all types of light, visible light is emitted and absorbed in tiny ‘packets’ called photons, and exhibits properties of both waves and particles.” Light is fundamental to the very composition of the universe as posited by Einstein’s basic equation E=mc2. In fact, it could be said that light and matter are interchangeable—matter is just “slowed down light” and light is just “sped up matter.”
God declared the light “good,” and then he embarked on another of his most defining characteristics—separating things—separating day from night, good from evil, light from darkness, dry land from sea. In this, there is no relativistic gray, with its accompanying disorientation. With God, there are absolute rights and wrongs, things that are good and things that are evil. There are sons of light and sons of darkness—those who have embraced God’s revelation of himself and who have chosen to side with him, and those who choose darkness and remain in unbelief. There will be those sons of light who will live in the place where “never again will there be any night. No one will need lamplight or sunlight. The shining of God, the Master, is all the light anyone needs. And they will rule with him age after age after age.”[xix] But then there will be those sons of darkness who are “wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever.”[xx]
In observing the way God transformed the physical earth from a dark, chaotic, and purposeless mass, we can learn much about the way he transforms a man or woman spiritually in salvation. The person who is living their life independently of God can be compared to the dark and formless earth, devoid of true purpose. God begins the salvation process by supernaturally revealing to the person their spiritually “lost” condition [“Let there be light”], while at the same time revealing his infinite mercy, graciousness, and compassion as expressed in the gospel of his son Jesus Christ. As the person responds, God calls them out of the darkness of their former life and into the light of his divine presence. This is salvation. Then, once saved, the person is progressively called upon to separate from those old worldly practices that work against their new life in union with Christ. This is sanctification. Someone has said that salvation is “getting the man out of the world” and sanctification is “getting the world out of the man.”
It all started with war in heaven
Nowhere is the contrast between darkness and light more evident than in the story of the original “original sin,” which was committed by angelic powers in the highest heavens long ago, eons before the creation of mankind. In God’s original creation, the glory of the Lord God was everywhere, with everything operating in perfect harmony, until…
It is hard to picture trouble in heaven. Heaven is supposed to be, well, heavenly. And it was—at first. But then, one of God’s greatest and most powerful angels got it in his head that he could do a better job than God at running the universe. It didn’t end well for him.
In the process of this rebellion and subsequent angelic war, the heavens were stained by sin and in need of eventual cleansing. This constitutes the original “original sin.” It was committed not by man but by angels in heaven who took an ill–advised stand against the sovereignty of God over his created order. Two passages of scripture describe the tumultuous scene:
How you have fallen from heaven,
O star of the morning, son of the dawn!
You have been cut down to the earth,
You who have weakened the nations!
But you said in your heart,
“I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly
In the recesses of the north.
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.”
Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol,
To the recesses of the pit.
Those who see you will gaze at you,
They will ponder over you, saying,
“Is this the man who made the earth tremble,
Who shook kingdoms,
Who made the world like a wilderness
And overthrew its cities,
Who did not allow his prisoners to go home?”
All the kings of the nations lie in glory,
Each in his own tomb.
But you have been cast out of your tomb
Like a rejected branch,
Clothed with the slain who are pierced with a sword,
Who go down to the stones of the pit
Like a trampled corpse.[xxi]
You had everything going for you.
You were in Eden, God’s garden.
You were dressed in splendor,
your robe studded with jewels:
Carnelian, peridot, and moonstone,
beryl, onyx, and jasper,
Sapphire, turquoise, and emerald,
all in settings of engraved gold.
A robe was prepared for you
the same day you were created.
You were the anointed cherub.
I placed you on the mountain of God.
You strolled in magnificence
among the stones of fire.
From the day of your creation
you were sheer perfection…
and then imperfection—evil!—was detected in you.
In much buying and selling
you turned violent, you sinned!
I threw you, disgraced, off the mountain of God.
I threw you out—you, the anointed angel–cherub.
No more strolling among the gems of fire for you!
Your beauty went to your head.
You corrupted wisdom
by using it to get worldly fame.[xxii]
The great war between “I am” and “I will”
The continued refrain—“I will!”—in Lucifer’s declarations speaks volumes. The underlying heart attitude of Lucifer [later known as Satan] is exposed, as he proudly claims, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” Such self–exalting blither had never been heard in heaven before. Every created being knew his place relative to the Creator—until this critical moment.
Now contrast this with the Almighty’s self–disclosure in an interesting exchange between Moses and God, during the initial stages of Moses’s appointment as leader of the Jewish people who, at the time, were captives and slaves in Egypt:
Then Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the People of Israel and I tell them, ‘The God of your fathers sent me to you’; and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ What do I tell them?”
God said to Moses, “I–AM–WHO–I–AM. Tell the People of Israel, ‘I–AM sent me to you.’”
God continued with Moses: “This is what you’re to say to the Israelites: ‘God, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob sent me to you.’ This has always been my name, and this is how I always will be known.”[xxiii]
God does not call himself, “I was” or “I will be”—he calls himself “I AM!” He is saying that he dwells outside of space and time, that he is uncreated and therefore timeless. He just is. Every other creature, including Lucifer, is a contingent being and is therefore limited to time and space. As it was with Lucifer, so it is with us today. The basic issue is the same: Who is the God of my life going to be—myself or I AM? If I choose myself, I am echoing, “I will!” If, alternatively, I choose the great “I AM,” I am saying, “Thy will be done!” As C. S. Lewis put it so effectively, in The Great Divorce:
There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “Thy will be done.” All that are in hell choose the latter. Without that self–choice there could be no hell. No soul that seriously and consciously desires joy will ever miss it.
We humans are so familiar with the phrase “I will” that it hardly seems exceptional. How often we say, I will go shopping, I will go to college, I will get a better job, and more. We’re used to asserting our dominion over our daily lives—it’s our right. But angels, especially Lucifer, congregated around the throne of Almighty God. They had been in his company, heard his voice, worshiped and served him for eons. It was “above their pay grade” to formulate plans of their own, especially plans to usurp God’s authority. The outcome of this attempted mutiny, driven by arrogance, pride, and blind ambition, was eminently predictable.
John Eldredge wrote:
Believing that he should have center stage, Satan draws a multitude of angels into battle against the throne of God:
Arms on armor clashing brayed
Horrible discord; dire was the noise
Of conflict; overhead the dismal hiss
Of fiery darts in flaming volleys flew
So under fiery cope together rushed
Both battles main with ruinous assault
And indistinguishable rage. All heaven
Resounded; and, had earth been then, all earth
Had to her center shook.
Deeds of eternal fame were done,
But infinite; for wide was spread
That war, and various; sometimes on firm ground
A standing fight; then, soaring on main wing
Tormented all the air; and all air seemed then
Conflicting fire. Long time in even scale
The battle hung, till Satan
No equal, ranging through the dire attack
Of fighting seraphim confused, at length
Saw where the sword of Michael smote, and felled
Squadrons at once; with huge two–handed sway.
At the approach of Satan, the great archangel Michael “from his warlike toil surceased,” turning to confront the betrayer of their heaven:
Author of evil, unknown till thy revolt…
How hast thou disturbed
Heaven’s blessed peace, and unto Nature brought
Misery, uncreated till the crime
Of thy rebellion. How hast thou instilled
Thy malice into thousands, once upright
And faithful, now proved false…
Heaven casts thee out.
Satan mounted his rebellion through the power of one idea: God doesn’t have a good heart.[xxiv]
Anyone who has felt the sting of betrayal knows how it breaks your trust when you realize that someone you love can knowingly hurt you so much. You allowed them into your inner circle, entrusted them with your deepest secrets, became vulnerable, and let your guard down. Imagine how God must have felt.
Satan was summarily cast down to the earth, along with one–third of the angels who sided with him. The next time we encounter his slimy trail, it leads into the Garden of Eden, the dwelling place of God’s newly created human beings, Adam and Eve. In heaven, Satan was not a dust–eating reptile but “dressed in splendor, [in a] robe studded with jewels: carnelian, peridotite, and moonstone, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, turquoise, and emerald, all in settings of engraved gold.” He would have been breathtaking to behold and irresistibly persuasive. He was furious at his expulsion from heaven and bent on revenge. The trouble was that he couldn’t get at God directly, so who better to attack than God’s freshly minted little “images” so innocently wandering their home in the Garden? If you can’t get to the parent, go for the kids.
The all–too–familiar story has been imaginatively illustrated throughout the ages in art, architecture, and literature, in cathedrals and museums across the globe. As the book of Genesis points out, after initially creating the heavens and the earth, God carefully assembled a precisely balanced living environment on our unique planet Earth that is purpose–built for his crowning achievement—a new species of being: mankind.
That brings us to how Satan’s rebellion came to directly affect us all. With everything made ready, the book of Genesis records:
God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them
reflecting our nature
So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea,
the birds in the air, the cattle,
And, yes, Earth itself,
and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.”
God created human beings;
he created them godlike,
Reflecting God’s nature.
He created them male and female.
God blessed them:
“Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!
Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air,
for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”[xxv]
And the greatest risk God took in creating man in the first place was, in some ways, the least obvious. Although his other living creatures, particularly animals, have some semblance of a free will, they are largely controlled by built–in instincts which, like pre–programmed ROM chips in a computer, determine how they behave in almost any situation. Not so with humans. God imparted an independent spirit into this, his most unique creation. And this independent spirit makes humans capable of freely choosing between good and evil, without the restraints of overriding “instinctual circuitry” like the animals. This also makes man dangerous, indeed lethal, to himself and to others. But that did not catch God by surprise. And knowing the likelihood of mankind exercising its free will and choosing evil, God was fully prepared with the means to remedy the situation and to save his creatures from themselves. The remedy is known as salvation, and yes, mankind needs it badly—individually and corporately.
In his book In the Eye of the Storm, Max Lucado tenderly depicted God’s supreme act of creation in a piece entitled “The Choice”:
He placed one scoop of clay upon another until a form lay lifeless on the ground.
All of the Garden’s inhabitants paused to witness the event. Hawks hovered. Giraffes stretched. Trees bowed. Butterflies paused on petals and watched.
“You will love me, nature,” God said. “I made you that way. You will obey me, universe. For you were designed to do so. You will reflect my glory, skies, for that is how you were created. But this one will be like me. This one will be able to choose.”
All were silent as the Creator reached into himself and removed something yet unseen. A seed. “It’s called ‘choice.’ The seed of choice.”
Creation stood in silence and gazed upon the lifeless form.
An angel spoke, “But what if he…”
“What if he chooses not to love?” the Creator finished. “Come, I will show you.”
Unbound by today, God and the angel walked into the realm of tomorrow.
“There, see the fruit of the seed of choice, both the sweet and the bitter.”
The angel gasped at what he saw. Spontaneous love. Voluntary devotion. Chosen tenderness. Never had he seen anything like these. He felt the love of the Adams. He heard the joy of Eve and her daughters. He saw the food and the burdens shared. He absorbed the kindness and marveled at the warmth.
“Heaven has never seen such beauty, my Lord. Truly, this is your greatest creation.”
“Ah, but you’ve only seen the sweet. Now witness the bitter.”
A stench enveloped the pair. The angel turned in horror and proclaimed, “What is it?”
The Creator spoke only one word: “Selfishness.”
The angel stood speechless as they passed through centuries of repugnance. Never had he seen such filth. Rotten hearts. Ruptured promises. Forgotten loyalties. Children of the creation wandering blindly in lonely labyrinths.
“This is the result of choice?” the angel asked.
“They will forget you?”
“They will reject you?”
“They will never come back?”
“Some will. Most won’t.”
“What will it take to make them listen?”
The Creator walked on in time, further and further into the future, until he stood by a tree. A tree that would be fashioned into a cradle. Even then he could smell the hay that would surround him.
With another step into the future, he paused before another tree. It stood alone, a stubborn ruler of a bald hill. The trunk was thick, and the wood was strong. Soon it would be cut. Soon it would be trimmed. Soon it would be mounted on the stony brow of another hill. And soon he would be hung on it.
He felt the wood rub against a back he did not yet wear.
“Will you go down there?” the angel asked.
“Is there no other way?”
“There is not.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier to not plant the seed? Wouldn’t it be easier to not give the choice?”
“It would,” the Creator spoke slowly. “But to remove the choice is to remove the love.”
He looked around the hill and foresaw a scene. Three figures hung on three crosses. Arms spread. Heads fallen forward. They moaned with the wind.
Men clad in soldiers’ garb sat on the ground near the trio. They played games in the dirt and laughed.
Men clad in religion stood off to one side. They smiled. Arrogant, cocky. They had protected God, they thought, by killing this false one.
Women clad in sorrow huddled at the foot of the hill. Speechless. Faces tear streaked. Eyes downward. One put her arm around another and tried to lead her away. She wouldn’t leave. “I will stay,” she said softly. “I will stay.”
All heaven stood to fight. All nature rose to rescue. All eternity poised to protect. But the Creator gave no command.
“It must be done…,” he said, and withdrew.
But as he stepped back in time, he heard the cry that he would someday scream: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) He wrenched at tomorrow’s agony.
The angel spoke again. “It would be less painful…”
The Creator interrupted softly. “But it wouldn’t be love.”
They stepped into the Garden again. The Maker looked earnestly at the clay creation. A monsoon of love swelled up within him. He had died for the creation before he had made him. God’s form bent over the sculptured face and breathed. Dust stirred on the lips of the new one. The chest rose, cracking the red mud. The cheeks fleshened. A finger moved. And an eye opened.
But more incredible than the moving of the flesh was the stirring of the spirit. Those who could see the unseen gasped.
Perhaps it was the wind who said it first. Perhaps what the star saw that moment is what has made it blink ever since. Maybe it was left to an angel to whisper it:
“It looks like … it appears so much like … it is him!”
The angel wasn’t speaking of the face, the features, or the body. He was looking inside—at the soul.
“It’s eternal!” gasped another.
Within the man, God had placed a divine seed. A seed of his self. The God of might had created earth’s mightiest. The Creator had created, not a creature, but another creator. And the One who had chosen to love had created one who could love in return.[xxvi]
In God’s Image
Ways in which we bear God’s image
When God said, “Let us make man in our image,” heaven must have shuddered. A brand–new species, sharing the attributes of God himself, was being announced. Never had such a momentous act of creation occurred. As if to emphasize the cosmic implications of this revelation, we read that “he created them godlike, reflecting God’s nature.” Wow. So, what exactly did God mean by image? A somewhat contentious exchange between Jesus and his hecklers, the Pharisees (who, as we’ve mentioned, were the religious leaders of the time), brought out the plain meaning of the word in Jesus’s day:
“Show me the coin used for the poll–tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”[xxvii]
The word likeness means a close physical approximation of the actual person’s (namely, Caesar’s) face on the coin. And the word inscription means that Caesar’s face was physically stamped or inscribed on the coin’s metal substrate. Such a coin was implicitly backed by the full faith and authority of Caesar’s godlike status and therefore was recognized as legal tender throughout the Roman empire. To deface or counterfeit Rome’s coinage was a capital offense.
Other key passages which make use of the term “image” include:
He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.[xxviii]
So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life–giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.[xxix]
Jesus was the perfect image of the invisible God. He said himself, “You’ve been with me all this time, Philip, and you still don’t understand? To see me is to see the Father. So how can you ask, ‘Where is the Father?’ Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you aren’t mere words. I don’t just make them up on my own. The Father who resides in me crafts each word into a divine act. Believe me: I am in my Father and my Father is in me.”[xxx]
Similarly, we humans have been cast in God’s image and likeness, despite being marred by sin these hundreds of generations later. As we shall see, we still resemble our creator.
Born to relate and communicate directly with God
God is a consummate relator and communicator, as demonstrated throughout scripture. He is after all, the Trinitarian Godhead expressed in community as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit living in perfect internal harmony, relating and communicating within himself in perfect love.
Man was created to live in continuous direct relationship with God. To make this possible, God initially equipped man with the necessary spiritual faculties, namely a spirit. Those faculties were first imparted at creation: “God formed Man out of dirt from the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life. The Man came alive—a living soul!”[xxxi]
Think of a radio or television receiver that is required to pick up and decode invisible radio signals. Without a suitably configured tuner, those invisible high–frequency signals will simply be undetectable by our natural faculties. That “breath of life” from God consisted of a spirit capable of communicating with God, who is spirit. When Adam and Eve sinned, their spirits remained functionally alive, but they had lost the ability to directly “pick up God’s spiritual signals.” They had lost touch with him spiritually—their “tuners” were broken. From then on, God would initiate and sustain communications with mankind through external sources, namely, “the law and the prophets” (that is, the scriptures). In those scriptures, looking forward many centuries, Ezekiel the prophet, speaking to the Jews of Israel, announced a dramatic transformation that God himself would perform on the faithful remnant of his people in “the last days”:
“For here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to take you out of these countries, gather you from all over, and bring you back to your own land. I’ll pour pure water over you and scrub you clean. I’ll give you a new heart, put a new spirit in you. I’ll remove the stone heart from your body and replace it with a heart that’s God–willed, not self–willed. I’ll put my Spirit in you and make it possible for you to do what I tell you and live by my commands. You’ll once again live in the land I gave your ancestors. You’ll be my people! I’ll be your God!”[xxxii]
This promise to Israel was also to the world. Anyone who was willing could ask for and receive God’s salvation, described in the above verses as being washed spiritually clean, having our hard hearts removed and replaced with one that is tender toward God and man. And we’d be given a new spirit—the Holy Spirit. God promised to essentially write his law on our new hearts so that we would be internally guided by “a voice” that is perfectly in tune with God’s own heart. Here is how the prophet Isaiah describes the blessings of such an intimate fellowship with God:
Oh yes, people of Zion, citizens of Jerusalem, your time of tears is over. Cry for help and you’ll find it’s grace and more grace. The moment he hears, he’ll answer. Just as the Master kept you alive during the hard times, he’ll keep your teacher alive and present among you. Your teacher will be right there, local and on the job, urging you on whenever you wander left or right: “This is the right road. Walk down this road.” You’ll scrap your expensive and fashionable god–images. You’ll throw them in the trash as so much garbage, saying, “Good riddance!”[xxxiii]
Many centuries later, Jesus Christ spelled out how any man, not just those who were Jewish, could connect with God directly by receiving that new spirit, the Holy Spirit, through being born again. It was only through that spiritual rebirth that man could be restored to intimate, direct communion with God. Here is how Jesus describes the process:
“But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.”[xxxiv]
The Spirit is the connecting principle between man and God:
For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.[xxxv]
In his book, The Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer wrote:
Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshippers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become “unity” conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship. Social religion is perfected when private religion is purified. The body becomes stronger as its members become healthier. The whole Church of God gains when the members that compose it begin to seek a better and higher life.[xxxvi]
At the center of God’s ingenious restoration plan for man is the church—not the buildings, rituals, and ceremonies, but the “mystical body of Christ,” made up of all believers who have received the Holy Spirit. And like Tozer’s tuning fork illustration, these myriads of followers of Jesus will be perfectly in harmony with God and with each other in spirit. That is what heaven is all about:
I looked again. I heard a company of Angels around the Throne, the Animals, and the Elders—ten thousand times ten thousand their number, thousand after thousand after thousand in full song:
The slain Lamb is worthy!
Take the power, the wealth, the wisdom, the strength!
Take the honor, the glory, the blessing!
Then I heard every creature in Heaven and earth, in underworld and sea, join in, all voices in all places, singing:
To the One on the Throne! To the Lamb!
The blessing, the honor, the glory, the strength,
For age after age after age.
The Four Animals called out, “Oh, Yes!” The Elders fell to their knees and worshiped.[xxxvii]
Now of course, this calls out the misconception that we are an extension of the animal kingdom and somehow able to “know” ourselves or one another the way God knows us. To illustrate, there is just so much that my cat and I can “know” about each other, however affectionate our relationship. She is a cat, I am a man, we are not of the same species. To communicate with and understand each other to the fullest, we would need to share the same nature.
Furthermore, scripture says that having the Spirit of God is the truest mark of a Christian. Absent the indwelling Spirit of God, man is still “in the flesh” and therefore incapable of connecting with or pleasing God—or of reaching heaven:
And those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.[xxxviii]
As we mentioned earlier, Gordon Dalbey observed in No Small Snakes:
The truth….so well hidden by our many material comforts….is that this physical, material world is not our home. We do not originate here, nor do we end up here. On earth we’re just “sojourners,” as the psalmist wrote, (Ps. 119.19 NRSV), or “foreigners and refugees” (Heb. 11:13). So “as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord’s home” (2 Cor. 5:6). We are creatures of a God who “is Spirit” as John wrote, and only by the power of his spirit can people worship him as he really is” (John 4:24).
As creatures of a spiritual God, we are primarily not bodies who occasionally enter or glimpse the world of the spirit. First and foremost, we’re spirits who have been commissioned out of the spirit realm to take on bodies. Because we are fundamentally spiritual creatures, spiritual power will always be attractive, engaging, even fascinating to us, because it reminds us of our true home beyond this world. We’re homesick for God. Our hearts long to reconnect with our authentic spiritual home in Him (2 Cor. 5:1–7).[xxxix]
Born to reveal and reflect the qualities of the Giver of Life
The Giver of Life is at least spirit (immeasurable and unfathomable), love (compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth), light (in whom there is “no darkness at all,” holy and righteous, perfect in every detail, having nothing to do with sin), eternal (with no beginning or end, unchanging, the same today and forever), a person (who feels, thinks, loves, and forgives), righteous (who demands that all sin be punished, but provides redemption for those who ask).
Much like a mirror reflects the person in front of it, we were created to faithfully reflect the presence of God in our lives. In the end, it’s not about us at all—it’s about him. The Apostle Paul writes:
Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you. It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful. If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives.[xl]
The trouble is that most us are out of position with respect to God, which renders us incapable of reflecting God’s image, even for a moment. Like physical mirrors, most of us are “pointed” in the direction of our fellow–man, giving glory to others and accepting it from them, in exchange. In his book, Renovation of the Heart, Willard correctly labeled this self–idolatry:
Thus self–idolatry rearranges the entire spiritual and moral landscape. It sees the whole universe with different eyes. If it is not abortion that is at the center, it something else; but the fundamental pride of putting oneself at the center of the universe is the hinge upon which the entire world of the ruined self turns…the surest source of destruction to men is to obey themselves. Yet self–obedience seems the only reasonable path for nearly everyone: So blindly do we all rush in the direction of self–love, that everyone thinks he has a good reason for exalting himself and despising all others in comparison…Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words capture the scene: “Whereas the primal relationship of man to man is a giving one, in the state of sin it is purely demanding. Every man exists in a state of complete voluntary isolation; each man lives his own life, instead of all living the same God–life.” Well of course. Each man is a God unto himself.[xli]
But God designed us to position our lives in such a way as to reflect glory to him and to thus fulfill our ultimate destinies. We tend to fixate on our fellow–man (think People Magazine, National Enquirer, or American Idol), which leads to the dreary dead end of self–absorption. In ancient Israel, God’s people repeatedly engaged in worshipping the “gods” of their neighbors, going to the extent of forming physical idols with their own hands, as the Bible records:
Our God is in heaven
doing whatever he wants to do.
Their gods are metal and wood,
handmade in a basement shop:
Carved mouths that can’t talk,
painted eyes that can’t see,
Tin ears that can’t hear,
molded noses that can’t smell,
Hands that can’t grasp, feet that can’t walk or run,
throats that never utter a sound.
Those who make them have become just like them,
have become just like the gods they trust.[xlii]
Note the awful end to making anything but God our object of worship: “Those who make them have become just like them, have become just like the gods they trust.” We become like what we focus upon, what we dream about, what we obsess over. If we worship money, we become like money—lifeless and cold. If we worship power and position, we become cruel, self–seeking, and narcissistic. If we worship sex and pleasure, we turn others and ourselves into objects.
Pascal believed that “there is a God–shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.” To attempt to fill that vacuum with anything other than God is to invite an ever–deepening emptiness, while ignoring the needs of our primal nature to connect with our authentic spiritual “roots.”
God is calling us upward, to his kingdom—and to embrace his exciting prospects for our lives. The adventure begins when we become a living, breathing temple of the Holy Spirit through spiritual rebirth and then, in cooperation with the Spirit, take our place in the firmament bringing glory to God: “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.”[xliii]
Originally created without an inherent tendency to sin: ‘Be holy’
God is holy, that is, he is perfect in every detail. On the one hand, he has nothing to do with sin; and on the other, he is continually taking it into account in his dealing with man. God completely understands our present spiritual condition, but he sees ahead to that day when he will make us holy, just as he is holy—not through our efforts, but through his miraculous salvation plan. Man was created to reveal the qualities of his creator, the highest of which is God’s holiness. The Apostle Peter writes:
The prophets who told us this was coming asked a lot of questions about this gift of life God was preparing. The Messiah’s Spirit let them in on some of it—that the Messiah would experience suffering, followed by glory. They clamored to know who and when. All they were told was that they were serving you, you who by orders from heaven have now heard for yourselves—through the Holy Spirit—the Message of those prophecies fulfilled. Do you realize how fortunate you are? Angels would have given anything to be in on this!
So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now. As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, “I am holy; you be holy.”[xliv]
No matter how hard I might try, I can never stop my cat from killing mice. I suppose I could appeal to her “higher instincts” and try to explain that mice have a right to live, that they have families, that they deserve to live. But a cat has no sense of right and wrong, no innate “equipment” with which to understand moral codes at all. That equipment would be an internal arbiter to guide them—a conscience, which is normally associated with an immaterial spirit. They don’t have that conscience, which answers to a set of moral absolutes that appear to be imposed from the outside, from on high. That brings us to another great distinction between humans and animals. In his book, What’s So Great about Christianity, Dinesh D’Souza wrote:
For religious people conscience is the divine taskmaster within us—what John Henry Newman once termed “the connecting principle between the creature and the creator”—but secular people don’t have to believe this in order to recognize that they too, have an impartial spectator they can turn to. This impartial spectator frequently directs us to act against our inclination and self–interest. “Yes, I know that you feel for this woman, but remember that you have a wife and children.” Conscience can be an enemy of love, and a real spoilsport to boot, but conscience is what enables man to rise above being a prisoner of his inclinations. Conscience enables us to go beyond what feels good and to do what is right.[xlv]
God never asks us to do anything that he doesn’t equip us to do. That call to holiness would be impossible, apart from God’s divine intervention in sending us the Holy Spirit, who is facilitator for holy living. Our job is simply to ask. Jesus says:
“Here’s what I’m saying:
“Ask and you’ll get;
Seek and you’ll find;
Knock and the door will open.
“Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This is not a cat–and–mouse, hide–and–seek game we’re in. If your little boy asks for a serving of fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? If your little girl asks for an egg, do you trick her with a spider? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing—you’re at least decent to your own children. And don’t you think the Father who conceived you in love will give the Holy Spirit when you ask him?”[xlvi]
Spiritual beings—God literally breathed his own life into us
God is spirit, although fully capable of taking material forms, the most obvious of which was in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Scripture puts it this way:
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.[xlvii]
Not limited by material forms, God transcends space and time. Every born–again believer in Christ receives a resurrection body that is likewise capable of transcending material limitations.
As God breathed his very life into Adam, dust met deity, converting inert lifeless matter into a vibrant, alive, eternal extension of God himself. Earth met heaven, and the angels marveled.
God formed Man out of dirt from the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life. The Man came alive—a living soul![xlviii]
We’re not talking about the kind of life that animals and plants have. Of course, animals have a body and some sort of immaterial soul that gives them a sense of self. Animals are conscious and respond to “fight or flight” situations accordingly. Custance wrote that “animals are fully aware of what is going on around them and able to make decisions based on that awareness. But they do not stop and think about themselves. Man alone is able to think about his thinking—to consider himself as though his self were another.”
That uniquely human capacity for abstract thinking accounts for the incredible creativity, powers of discernment, and ability to conceive and build complex tools and machines that have characterized mankind’s history from the very start. No such powers exist in the animal kingdom.
My cat continuously receives information through her highly tuned senses, and she reacts accordingly. So do humans. The difference lies in how far that information can be taken by each species. The cat forms instinctual memories that inform her choices to avoid certain situations and to pursue others. So do humans. For the cat, though, that’s as far as it goes. For humans, the adventure of learning is just beginning. Let me illustrate. My cat spends a lot of time in our garage. She knows that the garage door goes up and down without warning and that this regularly presents her with a terrifying decision—run under it before it closes, or play it safe and remain at a distance. She never seems to understand when it’s safe and when it isn’t safe to pass under that door.
A human processes the same information but can take it infinitely further. Humans take inputs, such as what is happening around them, and then can easily extrapolate the meaning of those inputs. For instance, if the door is going up, it is safe to run under it. If the door is coming down, time is of the essence and you need to get under it before it presents a danger to life and limb. An inquisitive human might observe someone who has a remote control in their hand and will notice that the door goes up and down as an intentional act on the part of the operator. They may ask how it works. As they look at the remote control and see a button, they notice that, when the button is pushed, it somehow signals the door mechanism to go up and down. Further still, they might look at the mechanism and see that there is an electric motor that is connected to an electrical source that turns a screw that lifts the door, and so on. You get the idea. Drill down as far as you like, and you see that the human being has the innate capacity to understand what things mean, along with the ability to imagine how to improve the process, invent a new mechanism, start a business to penetrate the garage door market, make a fortune, and retire to a life of ease in Barbados. Try that with a cat!
Pursue pleasure, and avoid pain. Animals possess these two basic drives. For that matter, so does man. But man also has a third driving impulse—one that is foreign to animals—the drive to do what is right. D’Souza wrote:
Humans have not only a rational but also a moral capacity. In his “Descent of Man,” Darwin admitted that “of all the differences between man and the lower animals, the moral sense or conscience is the most important.” Morality speaks to us in a different voice, not what we do but what we ought to do. Frequently morality presses on us to act against our evident self–interest. It urges us not to tell lies even when they benefit us or to help people even when they are strangers to us.[xlix]
That “breath of life” revealed in Genesis 2 involves an entirely different dimension of existence, an immaterial spiritual life that reflects qualities of the life of God himself and that goes on for eternity. When a person has been born again, this restored life [from the Greek, zoe, which means comes from and is sustained by God’s self–existent life] cannot be faked, imitated, or conjured up. It is either of God or it is not, and only similar spirits can discern the presence of the “real McCoy.” The Apostle Paul explains:
The unspiritual self, just as it is by nature, can’t receive the gifts of God’s Spirit. There’s no capacity for them. They seem like so much silliness. Spirit can be known only by spirit—God’s Spirit and our spirits in open communion. Spiritually alive, we have access to everything God’s Spirit is doing, and can’t be judged by unspiritual critics. Isaiah’s question, “Is there anyone around who knows God’s Spirit, anyone who knows what he is doing?” has been answered: Christ knows, and we have Christ’s Spirit.[l]
Eternal spirits—we will spend eternity somewhere
God is eternal—the “uncaused cause” that brought the universe into being with his word. He has always existed outside time, space, and the material realm. Everywhere in scripture, God is revealed to be a spiritual being who is not subject to physical law. In fact, he is the originator of all laws which govern the universe. He is the one we discover waiting for us as we trace our universe’s chain of causation backward to before time and space existed. Psalm 90 declares:
God, it seems you’ve been our home forever; long before the mountains were born,
Long before you brought earth itself to birth, from “once upon a time” to “kingdom come” you are God.[li]
The Kalam cosmologic argument states that everything that has come into existence has a cause. The universe has come into existence [at the “big bang,” some 13.8 billion years ago], therefore the universe has a cause. The only exception to this unbroken law of cause and effect is God.
As reflectors of God’s image, we are spiritual beings who are also eternal. As author Dallas Willard pointed out, we are “creative will temporarily inhabiting a physical body.” We are “never–ceasing spiritual beings” who will never go out of existence. Our spirits are essentially un–bodily personal power that are eternal by nature. But, because we have all inherited a sin nature from our original parents, our spirits are incapable of connecting directly with God. That is why we need a “nature transplant,” through spiritual rebirth—so that we can reconnect with God. That new nature comes from God, is based on the life of Christ himself, and equips us for an eternity in heaven. The Apostle Paul writes:
This is the testimony in essence: God gave us eternal life; the life is in his Son. So, whoever has the Son, has life; whoever rejects the Son, rejects life. My purpose in writing is simply this: that you who believe in God’s Son will know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you have eternal life, the reality and not the illusion.[lii]
The stakes in this matter are high. There are eternal consequences for not being on God’s side when, in the future, the great day of judgment arrives:
I saw a Great White Throne and the One Enthroned. Nothing could stand before or against the Presence, nothing in Heaven, nothing on earth. And then I saw all the dead, great and small, standing there—before the Throne! And books were opened. Then another book was opened: the Book of Life. The dead were judged by what was written in the books, by the way they had lived. Sea released its dead, Death and Hell turned in their dead. Each man and woman was judged by the way he or she had lived. Then Death and Hell were hurled into Lake Fire. This is the second death—Lake Fire. Anyone whose name was not found inscribed in the Book of Life was hurled into Lake Fire.[liii]
Individual personalities—God is not a ‘force’ or ‘thing,’ and neither are we
God is not a force or a thing. He is a person. Throughout scripture, God repeatedly exhibits the three essential constituents of personhood—namely, intellect, will, and emotion. He is connected to his creation—he didn’t just wind it all up and walk away. Time and again, God demonstrated his personal interest in people and his intense compassion for their suffering. God literally held us in the palm of his hands at creation, when he formed Adam lovingly [literally, yasar], as a potter would his clay.
Nowhere was God’s connectedness to his creation more evident than in the life of Christ:
When Jesus saw her sobbing and the Jews with her sobbing, a deep anger welled up within him. He said, “Where did you put him?” “Master, come and see,” they said. Now Jesus wept.[liv]
“Jerusalem! Jerusalem! Murderer of prophets! Killer of the ones who brought you God’s news! How often I’ve ached to embrace your children, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you wouldn’t let me. And now you’re so desolate, nothing but a ghost town. What is there left to say? Only this: I’m out of here soon. The next time you see me you’ll say, ‘Oh, God has blessed him! He’s come, bringing God’s rule!’”[lv]
In many Old Testament passages, God reacted to mankind’s rejection of his central place in their lives very personally, just like you and I might, if our children treated us this way. For instance:
God saw that human evil was out of control. People thought evil, imagined evil—evil, evil, evil from morning to night. God was sorry that he had made the human race in the first place; it broke his heart. God said, “I’ll get rid of my ruined creation, make a clean sweep: people, animals, snakes and bugs, birds—the works. I’m sorry I made them.”[lvi]
God spoke to Moses: “You’re about to die and be buried with your ancestors. You’ll no sooner be in the grave than this people will be up and whoring after the foreign gods of this country that they are entering. They will abandon me and violate my Covenant that I’ve made with them. I’ll get angry, oh so angry! I’ll walk off and leave them on their own, won’t so much as look back at them. Then many calamities and disasters will devastate them because they are defenseless. They’ll say, ‘Isn’t it because our God wasn’t here that all this evil has come upon us?’ But I’ll stay out of their lives, keep looking the other way because of all their evil: they took up with other gods!”[lvii]
These emotions uniquely characterize a person—not an animal, force, or thing. To suggest otherwise is blasphemy.
Free will—uniquely capable of choosing for or against God
As our discussion of the uncaused cause pointed out, God possesses total freedom without limits. This is no more obvious than in his taking the total initiative to create the universe exactly how and when he chose. Science agrees that the universe was “born” 13.8 billion years ago in a blinding flash. Prior to that precise “moment” there had been no such thing as time, space, or matter. The cataclysmic transition from one condition to the other indicates intentionality—and not just a random accident. It also indicates intelligence in that the big bang resulted in the creation of something (an exquisitely orderly, law–abiding, expanding miracle) rather than nothing (by far the more likely outcome, in terms of physics). In an almost comical exchange between God and the ancient biblical character Job, God reminds his dear friend that it was he and not Job who brought all of this into being:
”Why do you confuse the issue?
Why do you talk without knowing what you’re talking about?
Pull yourself together, Job!
Up on your feet! Stand tall!
I have some questions for you,
and I want some straight answers.
Where were you when I created the earth?
Tell me, since you know so much!
Who decided on its size? Certainly you’ll know that!
Who came up with the blueprints and measurements?
How was its foundation poured,
and who set the cornerstone,
While the morning stars sang in chorus
and all the angels shouted praise?
And who took charge of the ocean
when it gushed forth like a baby from the womb?
That was me! I wrapped it in soft clouds,
and tucked it in safely at night.
Then I made a playpen for it,
a strong playpen so it couldn’t run loose,
And said, ‘Stay here, this is your place.
Your wild tantrums are confined to this place.’”[lviii]
Does any of the above dialog suggest randomness, natural selection, or capriciousness? Again, another passage demonstrating God’s perfectly free will, exercising total sovereignty over his creation:
the God who created the cosmos, stretched out the skies,
laid out the earth and all that grows from it,
Who breathes life into earth’s people,
makes them alive with his own life:
“I am God. I have called you to live right and well.
I have taken responsibility for you, kept you safe.
I have set you among my people to bind them to me,
and provided you as a lighthouse to the nations,
To make a start at bringing people into the open, into light:
opening blind eyes,
releasing prisoners from dungeons,
emptying the dark prisons.
I am God. That’s my name.
I don’t franchise my glory,
don’t endorse the no–god idols.
Take note: The earlier predictions of judgment have been fulfilled.
I’m announcing the new salvation work.
Before it bursts on the scene,
I’m telling you all about it.”[lix]
From the very moment of his creation, God reminded man that with great privilege (that of bearing God’s very own image) comes great responsibility. He was unambiguous about the consequences of exercising that free will against him:
God commanded the Man, “You can eat from any tree in the garden, except from the Tree–of–Knowledge–of–Good–and–Evil. Don’t eat from it. The moment you eat from that tree, you’re dead.”[lx]
Later on in the book of Genesis, very early in mankind’s earthly history, we observe the free will of man again being exercised in rebellion and hard–headed self–expression:
As far as God was concerned, the Earth had become a sewer; there was violence everywhere. God took one look and saw how bad it was, everyone corrupt and corrupting—life itself corrupt to the core.[lxi]
And again, after God had tenderly and personally chosen a people for himself—a people who were supposed to be an earthly expression of God’s own righteous character, we see those same people “prostituting themselves” by following other so–called gods:
“Yet you have forsaken Me and served other gods; therefore, I will no longer deliver you. Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress.” The sons of Israel said to the Lord, “We have sinned, do to us whatever seems good to You; only please deliver us this day.”[lxii]
Since time began, the free will of man has been the root cause of some of history’s finest hours. But, far more often, it has been the cause of unspeakable atrocities. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis summed it up brilliantly:
All that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—[is] the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.[lxiii]
Have you ever wondered why God didn’t just wipe out evil from the universe? Or just remove it as soon as it appeared? This idea might seem appealing until one considers the unintended consequences of such a universe. Scripture makes the rather disarming claim that God is love:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.[lxiv]
In the original Greek language, the word used for love in this passage is agape. The definition of agape is selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love—the highest of the four types of love encountered in scripture. At the heart of agape love is choice. And choice needs to make room for legitimate alternatives between good and evil. Take away the evil, and the choice goes away, too. This explains why God allows evil to continue in the world—otherwise man’s free will would not be authentically free at all. The alternative is to create a race of robots programmed to do exactly as they are told. Remember the Stepford Wives from the infamous movie?[lxv]
In the field of drug and alcohol recovery, there is a particularly dirty word: accountability. Addicts will do anything to avoid it. We are all like that, to some extent. As was pointed out, God extended great privilege to man, but with it he attached moral responsibility to the human birth “package”—something completely foreign to the animal kingdom—to serve as a kind of stabilizing keel, like that of a sailboat. It is that haunting sense of being attached to something primal “below the water” that we tend to run from, ignore, redefine, or anesthetize. In his book, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, Eric Metaxas wrote:
Bonhoeffer examined and dismissed a number of approaches to dealing with evil. “Reasonable people,” he said, think that “with a little reason, they can pull back together a structure that has come apart at the joints.” Then there are the ethical “fanatics” who “believe that they can face the power of evil with the purity of their will and their principles.” Men of “conscience” become overwhelmed because the “countless respectable and seductive disguises and masks in which evil approaches them make their conscience anxious and unsure until they finally content themselves with an assuaged conscience instead of a good conscience.” They must “deceive their own conscience in order not to despair.” Finally, there are some who retreat to a “private virtuousness. Such people neither steal, nor murder, nor commit adultery, but do good according to their abilities. but… they must close their eyes and ears to the injustice around them. Only at the cost of self–deception can they keep their private blamelessness clean from the stains of responsible action in the world. In all that they do, what they fail to do will not let them rest.”[lxvi]
We humans are a distinctly privileged species, but regrettably our forebears squandered the opportunity to exercise those freedoms to glorify God and instead chose to glorify themselves. The devastating consequences of their choices are still rippling down through human history, added to by the consequences of our own choices. Fortunately for all, God saw this coming and, in his infinite wisdom, has provided a sure salvation—if we’ll receive it as the free–gift that it is.
The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy states:
The problem of consciousness is arguably the most central issue in current philosophy of mind and is also importantly related to major traditional topics in metaphysics, such as the possibility of immortality and the belief in free will.
The Bible opens with the words, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” It is difficult to imagine a being so alive, so aware, so intentional as to create such an infinitely complex, orderly, magnificent universe. He is the origin and definition of consciousness and, to be so, it would be impossible for him to be limited to the material realm. He is spirit and is simultaneously fully self–aware and aware of everything that exists. The theological notions of omnipresence and omniscience are derived from these facts. In a touching passage, King David of Israel pours out his heart to God, as he comes to realize God’s total command of all creation and, in particular, of David’s life and deepest secrets:
God, investigate my life;
get all the facts firsthand.
I’m an open book to you;
even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
I’m never out of your sight.
You know everything I’m going to say
before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and you’re there,
then up ahead and you’re there, too—
your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful—
I can’t take it all in!
Is there any place I can go to avoid your Spirit?
to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
you’re already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
At night I’m immersed in the light!”
It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;
night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.[lxvii]
The French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes, also known as the Father of Modern Philosophy, after deep reflection, made the statement, “Cogito ergo sum” (“I think therefore I am”), as a means of proving philosophically that he actually exists.
The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes:
Perhaps the most commonly used contemporary notion of a conscious mental state is captured by Thomas Nagel’s famous “what it is like” sense (Nagel 1974). When I am in a conscious mental state, there is something it is like for me to be in that state from the subjective or first–person point of view.
The kind of thinking that Descartes and Nagel had in mind is encountered only in human beings. This why the Bible refers to man as triune, a reflection of the Godhead:
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.[lxviii]
We learn that the body is the seat of world–consciousness through our five senses, the soul is the seat of self–consciousness primarily through our mind, and the spirit is the seat of God–consciousness. It is that third component that makes all the difference between man and the animals.
Loving—the way that God loves us
In the original Greek language of the New Testament, four words are translated into English as love:
- Φιλἐω (Phileō) The kind of companionship or bond that exists between people who are not necessarily related by blood, but who share a brotherly affection. The city of Philadelphia is named for brotherly love. This type of love often exists between soldiers who have been in combat together. Phileo love often dissolves once the common cause goes away.
- Ἀγάπη or Ἀγαπάω (Agapē or Agapaō) The noblest of all loves, agape is focused entirely upon delivering the highest good for others, regardless of whether they are deserving. It is heartfelt charity that comes from God, and is characterized by his gracious attitude in the face of widespread rejection at the hands of his own wayward human children. This kind of love never gives up, and remains faithful to the end.
- Στοργή (Storgē) This kind of love is best expressed in the natural affection found among family members. While often warm and giving, storge can degenerate into entitlement and codependence given the right conditions.
- Εροσ (Eros) Based in the emotions, Eros is highly conditional and requires reciprocation to remain active. We get our word “erotic” from eros, emphasizing its physical, material, self–focused nature. Eros is highly unstable and can easily degenerate into anger and resentment if the giver’s needs are not met.
Humans and, to some degree, animals are perfectly capable of exhibiting phileo, storgē, and eros types of love at times. But it is the second kind of love on our list, agapē, that characterizes God’s own love—the kind of love which he has for us and which he promises to pour into us, if we’ll allow him to make us into new creatures through spiritual rebirth.
My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.[lxix]
To pick on my cat again, she “loves” me I’m sure—if I feed her and take care of her. Animals are capable of a kind of love that has at its heart a bargain: you look after my physical needs, and I’ll display affection and cuddle with you. Although satisfying at some level, it hardly ranks with the kind of love that characterizes God’s self–sacrificing love toward mankind, and this is reflected, however hazily, in the behavior of some humans in extreme situations. Consider the spectacularly courageous acts of those brave first–responders on 9/11 as the World Trade Center buildings spewed smoke and fire and shuddered in their death throes. While every sentient human was running away from those buildings, firemen and policemen were streaming toward them—knowing the risks and pressing on, regardless. We are reminded of the words of Jesus in this regard:
“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you.”[lxx]
One could ask, if we are evolved through random selection and survival of the fittest, what is the survival value of giving your life in the service of others? How many times in war, disasters, and mayhem do we see humans act against their own self–interest, contrary to evolution’s insistent “laws.” The only rational explanation of this lies outside the mere natural in something supernatural—a reflection of glorious “roots” that differ drastically from every other created species.
God, brilliant Lord,
yours is a household name.
Nursing infants gurgle choruses about you;
toddlers shout the songs
That drown out enemy talk,
and silence atheist babble.
I look up at your macro–skies, dark and enormous,
your handmade sky–jewelry,
Moon and stars mounted in their settings.
Then I look at my micro–self and wonder,
Why do you bother with us?
Why take a second look our way?
Yet we’ve so narrowly missed being gods,
bright with Eden’s dawn light.
You put us in charge of your handcrafted world,
repeated to us your Genesis–charge,
Made us lords of sheep and cattle,
even animals out in the wild,
Birds flying and fish swimming,
whales singing in the ocean deeps.
God, brilliant Lord,
your name echoes around the world.[lxxi]
Born to rule—commissioned by God
The Judeo–Christian worldview holds that God is sovereign over all of creation. The New Testament book of Colossians asserts that Jesus Christ is equally sovereign as the second person of the trinity. Speaking of God the Son, the creator of all things, this passage affirms his total dominion over everything:
We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.[lxxii]
But what is not so well–known is the extent to which God appointed man to take dominion and to rule over the earth and its inhabitants. The book of Genesis speaks unequivocally of man’s original authority:
God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them
reflecting our nature
So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea,
the birds in the air, the cattle,
And, yes, Earth itself,
and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.”
God created human beings;
he created them godlike,
Reflecting God’s nature.
He created them male and female.
God blessed them:
“Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!
Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air,
for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”[lxxiii]
The dignity, authority, and rank that original man had in God’s kingdom were among his most majestic privileges as he reflected God’s very own image to the angels in heaven above and on earth below.
How sad to learn of Adam’s rebellion and his subsequent surrendering of those God–conferred privileges to the serpent—that ancient enemy of God. Yes, Adam was to go on and reproduce after the fall but not to spread the good things that he had been given by God. Instead, the self–invited evil was unavoidably passed along to his progeny in the form of a fallen nature that was spring–loaded against God’s will.
Had Adam remained faithful to God, the whole of creation would have been blessed, man would have held his position as God’s highest creation, and evil would not reign supreme anywhere in the world. But anyone with a newspaper knows that this is not how human history has played out. Evil seems to have emerged as master of the field. But don’t you believe it. God had a plan from the start. Even though man is subject to weakness, failure, and suffering, a new day is dawning, and God’s “spitting images” will emerge victorious after all. Writing in the book of Romans, Paul declares:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.[lxxiv]
Not to worry. God is still on his throne, and he will prevail. Those who choose to side with God in this life will reap an eternal harvest in the next:
Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.[lxxv]
To have authority and, simultaneously, to be under authority
A fascinating exchange between Jesus Christ and a Roman Centurion teaches an invaluable lesson about the sometimes–contradictory nature of human authority:
As Jesus entered the village of Capernaum, a Roman captain came up in a panic and said, “Master, my servant is sick. He can’t walk. He’s in terrible pain.” Jesus said, “I’ll come and heal him.” “Oh, no,” said the captain. “I don’t want to put you to all that trouble. Just give the order and my servant will be fine. I’m a man who takes orders and gives orders. I tell one soldier, ‘Go,’ and he goes; to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
Taken aback, Jesus said, “I’ve yet to come across this kind of simple trust in Israel, the very people who are supposed to know all about God and how he works. This man is the vanguard of many outsiders who will soon be coming from all directions—streaming in from the east, pouring in from the west, sitting down at God’s kingdom banquet alongside Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then those who grew up ‘in the faith’ but had no faith will find themselves out in the cold, outsiders to grace and wondering what happened.” Then Jesus turned to the captain and said, “Go. What you believed could happen has happened.” At that moment his servant became well.[lxxvi]
Jesus wasn’t given to outbursts of enthusiastic appreciation for the people of his [or any other] day. These were brutal, unheroic times, and he was no doubt accustomed to the failure of even his closest followers to show true courage, wisdom, or heartfelt obedience. Yet this Roman commander, a Gentile, demonstrated more faithfulness toward God than anyone Jesus had encountered, even among his own people. The centurion was rewarded with a restored servant, and Jesus witnessed a rare display of God–glorifying heroism.
The centurion pointed out that he held authority over his one hundred men because–and only because—he himself was under the authority of Caesar. To have authority downward is only possible when one is subject to authority upward. The centurion had obviously observed Jesus for some time. He could see that Jesus was not some Wild West preacher with an agenda of his own. He would have sensed that Jesus was acting on orders from above, that he regularly reported in to his superior (God the Father), and that he would never think of doing anything apart from the Father’s will. In other words, Jesus was clearly under authority. And it was from that subservient position that Jesus could exercise his God–given authority over the disease which afflicted the centurion’s servant by healing him. To the centurion, this notion of an orderly chain of command was basic “Soldiering 101,” and therefore he had absolutely no doubt that Jesus, properly positioned under God’s authority, could do anything he set his mind to. The rest, as they say, was history.
Going back to the very beginning of human history, Adam and Eve were given an important commission over their world and everything in it:
God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”[lxxvii]
As Dallas Willard pointed out, a kingdom is defined as that which lies within the range of a king’s effective will. There are earthly kings who enjoy authority and power over their kingdoms, and the range of their effective wills typically extends to the borders of their “state.” For the rest of us—we who are not kings, per se—the range of our effective wills extends no further than our own footprints. We exercise “rule” over our bodies, as best we can, and not much more. It wasn’t always like that.
In the Genesis passage quoted above, God declared that the entire earth was Adam and Eve’s kingdom, under the supreme authority of God himself. They were authorized to move out into the world, procreate, and take possession of the earth, with one critical caveat—that they exercise their God–given authority under the authority of God. It is here that everything went terribly wrong, when Adam and Eve fell prey to the corrosive and ultimately death–dealing message of the serpent. When they chose to go their own way, eating from the prohibited tree, they unknowingly surrendered their divinely appointed authority over the earth to God’s archenemy. Regrettably, the serpent has ruled the earth and its kingdoms ever since.
Because of their rebellion, what remained of Adam and Eve’s respective “kingdoms” was suddenly and irrevocably truncated down to their own physical bodies and nothing more—Satan now had control of the rest. The same is true of Adam and Eve’s children—down through the generations, all the way to you and me. But God had a plan to make this right. When Jesus entered human history, he exercised his divine authority and initiated the process of taking back the earth and its kingdoms from Satan. His followers, collectively known as the church, have a role to play in this cosmic drama. Looking ahead to the end of the story, the book of Revelation records the final scenes:
War broke out in Heaven. Michael and his Angels fought the Dragon. The Dragon and his Angels fought back, but were no match for Michael. They were cleared out of Heaven, not a sign of them left. The great Dragon—ancient Serpent, the one called Devil and Satan, the one who led the whole earth astray—thrown out, and all his Angels thrown out with him, thrown down to earth. Then I heard a strong voice out of Heaven saying,
Salvation and power are established!
Kingdom of our God, authority of his Messiah!
The Accuser of our brothers and sisters thrown out,
who accused them day and night before God.
They defeated him through the blood of the Lamb
and the bold word of their witness.
They weren’t in love with themselves;
they were willing to die for Christ.
So rejoice, O Heavens, and all who live there,
but doom to earth and sea,
For the Devil’s come down on you with both feet;
he’s had a great fall;
He’s wild and raging with anger;
he hasn’t much time and he knows it.[lxxviii]
So how can I position myself to be on the right side of this cosmic battle between good and evil and to know that I am on the winning side? To illustrate, in ancient days, when a more powerful king wanted to conquer a lesser kingdom, he would send an emissary to the “target king” with a chilling message: he had two choices, either submit his kingdom to the more powerful one, or face a lopsided war which would likely end with his death and the death of his officials, followed by the enslavement of his people—not a tantalizing prospect. When the emissary approached the king, he would acquaint him with the not–inconsiderable benefits of submitting rather than fighting and suggest that he take it up with his officials forthwith. The results were usually predictable.
In a similar but far less combative way, you and I are being offered membership in a kingdom—the kingdom of God, as represented by God’s personal emissary, Jesus Christ. The Apostle Luke records this in Acts 1:
I wrote on everything that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he said good–bye to the apostles, the ones he had chosen through the Holy Spirit, and was taken up to heaven. After his death, he presented himself alive to them in many different settings over a period of forty days. In face–to–face meetings, he talked to them about things concerning the kingdom of God.”[lxxix]
Jesus was offering membership in his kingdom to anyone willing, from the least to the greatest, and, in the process, they would find themselves participating in an ongoing creative adventure under the guidance of a loving, compassionate, and generous king. They would get to “go into business” with the Trinitarian godhead and share in the continuing unfolding of his plans for the universe. The benefits of this human–divine union are incalculable—from the unlimited resources of the creator of the universe to the blessings of his approval, love, and protection. Are you willing to submit your little “kingdom” to God’s lordship? Do you honestly think you can do better by going it alone? God’s generous offer has a “use by” date. There will come a time when every one of us will be called to account. Did I humble myself and voluntarily place myself under the authority of King Jesus, or did I choose instead to cling to the fleeting vestiges of a miniscule personal kingdom. Looking ahead to that final day of reckoning, the Apostle Paul writes:
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.
Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.[lxxx]
So why don’t we see more of mankind’s majestic heritage in people today?
So why is mankind’s royal heritage—that of being created in the image of God—not always obvious in people around us today? Sure, we know that, even in his fallen state, man at times displays powers and capacities that are head and shoulders above any of God’s other creatures. Man is capable of astonishing acts of heroism, bravery, and generosity, often acting against any evident survival value. But he is also capable of a level of cruelty, cowardice, selfishness, and disregard for the benefit of others that is unrivalled even in the animal kingdom.
Something is wrong with this picture, and it boils down to that thing called sin. While our original created “image” was a faithful reflection of God’s own character and nature, sin twisted and distorted that image into something bordering on sinister. Like being trapped in a permanent hall of mirrors, we can only make out a vague shadow of what we might have been. Looking at others doesn’t help because they too are similarly flawed fellow humans. The Apostle Paul puts it this way:
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.[lxxxi]
The Epistle of John looks out further into the future, when God will reveal redeemed mankind as an entirely new species of man:
See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason, the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.[lxxxii]
For now, we live with the reality of being suspended between our God–given potential for greatness and the diminished capacity of our sinful nature. That is all going to change in the not–so–distant future. As the scripture reminds us, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.”[lxxxiii] We can’t wait!
God loved what he had made
Finally, returning to the story of our origins in Genesis 1, after creating his masterwork, God expresses deep satisfaction and prepares to take a day off:
God looked over everything he had made;
it was so good, so very good!
It was evening, it was morning—
So what did God mean when he said, “It was good, so very good”? On the macro level, the purpose for the existence of the physical universe is set forth as follows:
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth.[lxxxv]
Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.[lxxxvi]
Similarly, on the micro level, the purpose of mankind is also to reflect and bring glory to its creator:
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all–surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.[lxxxvii]
Everything that has ever been created or ever will be created exists for a singular purpose: to reflect the glory of God. Truth be told, the universe isn’t about us—it’s about him. All creation is infused with God’s glory and is aglow with his presence. Like a mirror, all creation is intended to reflect him. Think of our moon. It is nothing more than a dead, dark rock. But as it reflects the rays of the sun, it projects its brilliant light onto an otherwise benighted earth.
And as we, his creatures, take our proper place in his universe, we discover the reason for our own existence and therefore the fulfillment of our deepest longings: to take part in a cause greater than ourselves, an everlasting adventure.
This gives new meaning to God’s triumphant declaration, “God looked over everything he had made; it was so good, so very good!” Everything was serving its intended purpose. That is, until the serpent approached God’s freshly minted little images. That sad story follows.
Notes: Chapter 6. The origin of everything
[i] Genesis 1:1 The Message (MSG)
[ii] John 1:1–5 MSG
[iii] “The Angelic Domain: Created Before Genesis 1:1 or After?” DouglasHampcom. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Aug. 2015.
[iv] Colossians 1:15–17 New International Version (NIV)
[v] Genesis 1:26–28 MSG
[vi] Curtis, Brent, and John Eldredge. The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997. Print.
[vii] “Jesus Isn’t Safe – a Lesson from the Chronicles of Narnia.” Restoration Church: Yakima, WA. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 July 2015.
[viii] A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, 1948)
[ix] Genesis 1:1 MSG
[x] Lewis, C. S. The Four Loves. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1960. Print.
[xi] Luke 15:11–32 MSG
[xii] Lewis, C. S. “Charity.” The Four Loves. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1960. N. pag. Print.
[xiii] Isaiah 65:1–3 NIV
[xiv] Matthew 23:37–38 NIV
[xv] Psalm 103:19–22 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
[xvi] Ephesians 6:12 NASB
[xvii] Genesis 1:2–5 MSG
[xviii] 1 John 1:5 MSG
[xix] Revelation 22:4,5 MSG
[xx] Jude 13 NASB
[xxi] Isaiah 14:12–19 NASB
[xxii] Ezekiel 28:11–18 MSG
[xxiii] Exodus 3:13–15 MSG
[xxiv] Curtis, Brent, and John Eldredge. The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997. Print.
[xxv] Genesis 1:26–28 MSG
[xxvi] Lucado, Max. In the Eye of the Storm. Dallas: Word, 1991. Print.
[xxvii] Matthew 22:19–21 NASB
[xxviii] Colossians 1:15–16 NASB
[xxix] 1 Corinthians 15:45–49 NASB
[xxx] John 14:9–11 MSG
[xxxi] Genesis 2:6–7 MSG
[xxxii] Ezekiel 36:24–28 MSG
[xxxiii] Isaiah 30:19–22 MSG
[xxxiv] John 16:13–15 NASB
[xxxv] 1 Corinthians 2:11–13 NASB
[xxxvi] A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, 1948)
[xxxvii] Revelation 5:11–14 MSG
[xxxviii] Romans 8:8–10 NASB
[xxxix] Dalbey, Gordon. No Small Snakes: A Journey into Spiritual Warfare. Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 2008. Print.
[xl] 2 Corinthians 4:5–7 MSG
[xli] Willard, Dallas. “Radical Evil in the Ruined Soul.” Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002. N. pag. Print.
[xlii] Psalm 115:3–8 MSG
[xliii] Psalm 19:1 NASB
[xliv] 1 Peter 1:10–13 MSG
[xlv] D’Souza, Dinesh. “The Imperial ‘I’: When the self becomes the arbiter of morality.” What’s So Great about Christianity. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2007. N. pag. Print.
[xlvi] Luke 11:9–13 MSG
[xlvii] Philippians 2:5–8 MSG
[xlviii] Genesis 2:6–7 MSG
[xlix] D’Souza, Dinesh. “Paley Was Right: Evolution and The Argument from Design.” What’s So Great about Christianity. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2007. N. pag. Print.
[l] 1 Corinthians 2:14–16 MSG
[li] Psalm 90:1–2 MSG
[lii] 1 John 5:11–15 MSG
[liii] Revelation 20:11–15 MSG
[liv] John 11:33–35 MSG
[lv] Matthew 23:37–39 MSG
[lvi] Genesis 6:5–7 MSG
[lvii] Deuteronomy 31:16–18 MSG
[lviii] Job 38: 2–11 MSG
[lix] Isaiah 42:5–9 MSG
[lx] Genesis 2:16–17 MSG
[lxi] Genesis 6:11–12 MSG
[lxii] Judges 10:13–15 NASB
[lxiv] 1 John 4:7–8 NASB
[lxv] The Stepford Wives is a 1972 satirical thriller novel by Ira Levin. The story concerns Joanna Eberhart, a photographer and young mother who begins to suspect that the frighteningly submissive housewives in her new idyllic Connecticut neighborhood may be robots created by their husbands.
[lxvii] Psalm 139:1–12 MSG
[lxviii] 1 Thessalonians 5:23–24 NASB
[lxix] 1 John 4:7–10 MSG
[lxx] John 15:12–14 NASB
[lxxi] Psalm 8:1–9 MSG
[lxxii] Colossians 1:15–18 MSG
[lxxiii] Genesis 1:26–28 MSG
[lxxiv] Romans 8: 18–25 NASB
[lxxv] 1 Corinthians 2:9 NASB
[lxxvi] Matthew 8:5–13 MSG
[lxxvii] Genesis 1:28 NASB
[lxxviii] Revelation 12:9–12 MSG
[lxxix] Acts 1:1–4 MSG
[lxxx] Philippians 2:5–11 MSG
[lxxxi] 1 Corinthians 13:12 NASB
[lxxxii] 1 John 3:1–3 NASB
[lxxxiii] Romans 8:18–19 NASB
[lxxxiv] Genesis 1:31 MSG
[lxxxv] Psalm 19:1–6 NIV
[lxxxvi] Psalm 8:1–5 NIV
[lxxxvii] 2 Corinthians 4:6–12 NIV