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BY creation is meant all that exists which is not God. This includes nature and man and all other forms of being other than God himself. The problem of creation is one of the most difficult of all those with which the unaided reason of man deals. Modern physical science has given it acute form in its doctrine of the transformation of energy. Everything in physical nature is the transformed result of something prior in the causal series. The outcome is an endless regress of physical causes. Through it we never rise to a spiritual cause. At this point is seen clearly the contrast (though not contradiction) between the method of physical science and that of religion and theology. In the former causation is expressed in terms of matter and energy; in the latter, in terms of spirit, freedom, and personality. The difference between physical and free causation must be held clearly in mind. The Christian doctrine of creation, then, is not dependent on the conclusions of physical science as these may relate to the origin of the universe. It begins rather with the new spiritual creation of God in Christ in the redemptive experience of Christians, and finds it easy to accept the Scripture teaching that God created all things. In our religious experience we know ourselves as dependent on God. We know our new life in Christ to be derived from him. We know him as spiritual Creator and ourselves as “new creatures” in Christ. We know physical nature as adapted to promote our spiritual life under God’s guidance. We see in nature the evidence of progress toward a goal and end. In man we see the crown of nature. In Christ and his kingdom we see the spiritual end of God in creation. From these things we infer that the universe is dependent on God; that he brought it into being and preserves it for his own spiritual and holy purpose. In other words, the Christian does not pursue the physical series of causes and effects, nor the philosophical series of logical concepts, to prove that God created the universe. He rather pursues the personal and spiritual series given in the religious experience of men. The latter, however, finds strong confirmation in the scientific and rational processes. Science confirms the view especially if we consider the development hypothesis. Its distinctive mark is progress from lower to higher forms. This progress implies purpose. At the beginning, the middle, and the end this purpose implies a divine Creator of the world. At the beginning,
because the downward steps into the past carry us to a beginning in time for the first and lowest stage of the process. Physical science expressly precludes a self-originated beginning of all things. Hence a Creator is needed. The middle of the process calls for a guide and Creator since the material of the universe is used at every stage for an end above and beyond present attainment. It is thus dependent on a beginning through an intelligent Creator. The end implies creation, because beginnings can only be understood in the light of endings. The outcome reveals the hidden purpose of the origin. If a spiritual kingdom of free persons living together in eternal bonds of righteous love is the goal to which the entire movement leads up, then that kingdom was the primary purpose of the whole. The complete dependence of the spiritual kingdom on the grace of God in Christ carries us back, therefore, to his creative act as the source and origin of all things. The logical and philosophical process also confirms the view. The reason calls for an uncaused cause of all things, which nature never yields. The human will suggests the only solution. The will of man is in a relative sense an originating cause, and from it we infer a spiritual first cause who brought the universe into being. We may sum up the Christian doctrine of creation, then, in the following statements: First, the universe, while distinct from God, originated in his act and is dependent upon him. Secondly, in creating the universe God acted freely and not under necessity or compulsion. Thirdly, in creating the universe God had in view a moral and spiritual end. Fourthly, the end of God was the communication of his own life and blessedness to created beings. His supreme desire was to make vast spaces for the habitation of sentient and intelligent beings; to people these spaces with such beings, and to fill them with the life and holiness, the blessedness and peace of his own nature. His end was to produce a kingdom in which his own image should be reflected, in which his own glory should appear. Fifthly, the end thus defined was an end begun, carried forward, and to be completed in Jesus Christ. (See Col. 1:15-17; Eph. 1: 3-5; Rom. 8:21.)
2. Opposing Views
Several theories have been proposed as against the view that God called the universe into being by his creative act.
1. A brief reference may be made to the theory that matter alone is eternal and
that all forms of mental and spiritual life are derived from matter. This is materialism and is rapidly passing away as a philosophic theory. It ignores all the most significant elements of being, mind and will and conscience in man. It has failed in every attempt to show that mind is derived from matter. It takes the lowest form of existence and supposes that the highest are derived therefrom It is directly contrary to all moral progress and religious and spiritual aspirations among men.
2. The second to be noticed is dualism. It holds that there are two eternal and
self-existent principles, God and matter. God did not create matter, but used it for his ends. This theory arises out of the difficulty of conceiving how God could bring matter into existence. There are several serious objections to it. One is that it is a self-contradictory view. Two absolute or eternal existences cannot be held together satisfactorily in our thought. The mind carries in itself a fundamental demand for ultimate unity. Another objection is that the view does not explain how God ever comes into relations with the eternally existent matter. If it existed eternally apart from him, how did he ever come to possess power over it? A third objection is that matter in all the forms known to us, is stamped with the marks of intelligence. Idealism has emphasized this fact. We know of no form of matter which could form a basis for belief in any origin other than in the will of an intelligent creator. A fourth objection is that dualism increases rather than decreases the difficulties of the mind in trying to conceive of creation. It multiplies problems. If it is difficult to think of God as self-existent, how much more difficult to think of a self-existent matter without intelligence or will? The mind inevitably gravitates to the view that the highest thing we know, intelligent and free personality, is the only sufficient clue to the origin of all things.
3. A third theory is that the universe is an emanation from God. In its older
form, as held by the Gnostics in the early Christian centuries, we need not consider it. In its more recent forms, it is either pantheistic as with Spinoza, or idealistic as held by Hegel and some of his successors. Spinoza conceived God as the one eternal substance, and extension and thought as its attributes. Hegel conceived him as an absolute being of whom all finite appearances are merely phases. A logical process is the immanent principle of development. Both the Spinozan and Hegelian views are monistic. God and the universe are one.
The objections to the view in either form are very serious. It takes away freedom from God, because the universe is conceived as the necessary unfolding of a principle in the divine nature. It ignores the radical differences between matter and spirit and fails to harmonize them. It makes God the author of evil, because evil remains an essential phase of the process of development. It destroys human freedom, personality, and immortality, because man is merely a passing phase of a logical process which will be transcended in the course of time. In short, necessity rules at every stage of the process and the whole moral and personal realm collapses. All this is in direct conflict with the deliverances of our own moral consciousness and of our Christian experience.
4. A fourth theory of the origin of the universe is that it is the eternal creation
of God. The difficulty of explaining why God should have remained idle through an eternity before beginning to create has led to the view. But the objections are greater than the supposed advantages. It tends toward the necessitarian conception whereby God is supposed not to create freely, but by necessity; or else it tends to the theory of the eternity of matter. It is impossible, indeed, to conceive in a satisfying manner the relations between time and eternity. But this theory does not succeed in doing so better than others. We cannot lift the universe out of time because we know it only as subject to temporal conditions. We cannot conceive it as independent because, in all the phases in which we know it, it is dependent. It is best to interpret it in view of the data of our own experience of it and not in an abstract way to meet hypothetical difficulties. As God’s free act, with a moral end in view, we can think of the creation of the universe in a manner satisfactory to faith, since in our own experience of him we know ourselves as his new creation, dependent upon his gracious and free action in Christ.
3. The Creation Of Man
We cannot understand creation except by viewing it as a whole. Man is its crown and goal. Looking forward from the last stage prior to man we should expect man to appear. Looking backward from man we can best explain the earlier stages. Science and Scripture agree remarkably in placing man at the end of the series of gradations in nature. All the lower stages precede man in the account of Genesis. According to science, man sums up all the past in himself and then goes far beyond all lower stages. Man was not, therefore, an afterthought, but a forethought of God. In man creation attains a moral and spiritual level. We thus infer that the lower stages were designed to serve the ends of the higher. In view of the above we are warranted in making the following assertions about man
1. He consists of a physical and spiritual part, body and soul. As to the
physical, he possesses a body in many respects like the bodies of the lower animals. Some Christian evolutionists interpret the Genesis account of the creation of man as implying that the human body was derived from the lower animals, while the soul was God’s direct creation. In Gen. 2: 7 we read, “And Jehovah God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” Here was the use of a means in creating the body, and an immediate and direct act in creating the soul. Two or three remarks may be made as to this matter. The first is that for the Christian religion the vital point is that man is God’s creation. He is not the product of material elements. This is placed beyond all doubt by the Genesis account. The second remark is that there are at least two difficulties in supposing an animal origin for man’s body. One is the wide chasm between the human brain and that of the highest animals below man. Certainly no known skull of these animals can accommodate the human brain. The other difficulty is in the necessary relation between the brain formation and the indwelling mind. The relation is most intimate in human development from infancy to manhood. It seems most natural to think it has always been so. To take an animal brain and put into it a human mind seems to be an impossible proceeding. The later phase of the evolutionary hypothesis known as the mutation theory is more favorable to the idea of an animal origin for the human body. It teaches that progress is made by sudden and unexpected advances in living organisms. The causes are not known. This would accord with the view of theistic evolution more closely than the older conception of progress by infinitesimal stages of growth. But in any case the chief point is God’s agency in the ongoing of the world. It is doubtful whether even the mutation theory can account for the wide chasm between the animal and the human skull. The third remark is that we should not raise a false issue here. Theology can well afford to let the science of biology work out its own problems as to origins. Mutual respect and patience will bring harmony in due time. There are serious enough difficulties for the intellect on any view. Meantime, two truths are to be held tenaciously. One is that man was made a spiritual being in God’s image and not as the product of matter. The other is that when we fully understand them and correctly interpret them, the Scriptures and natural science will not bear discordant witness.
2. Now a striking peculiarity of man is that he is the connecting link between the physical and the spiritual universe. His body is the connecting link between man and the physical universe, just as his soul is the connecting link with the spiritual universe. Man is body and soul.
3. The spiritual nature of man is sometimes referred to in the Scriptures as both
“soul”. and “spirit” (1Th. 5:23). But a survey of all the biblical teachings shows that the writers were using popular rather than scientific language, and that soul and spirit were the aspects of the one undivided spiritual life of man rather than a scientific distinction of parts. Many passages refer to the spirit only. (1Co. 5: 5; 6:17; 7:34; Gal. 6:18.) The words employed in the Old Testament in reference to man are soul (nephesh), spirit (ruach), and flesh (basar). The words in the New Testament correspond. They are soul (psuche), spirit (pneunia), and flesh (sarx). Man’s nature then is twofold. He is spirit and he is body. Both are necessary to him as man. As mere physical organism he is not man. As disembodied spirit he is not fully man. He is man only in the unity of a personal life combining both body and soul. “Soul” then means usually the individual person as in “the soul that sinneth” (Eze. 18: 4). “Spirit” means the principle of life as contrasted with body. “Body” means the physical organism.
4. The biblical account makes it entirely clear that man was created by God in
the divine image. It is also clear that the divine image in man relates to his spiritual rather than to his physical nature. God is not physical. God is Spirit. In what respects then does man bear the divine image? These may be summed up in the following statements (1) Man resembles God in his possession of a rational nature. Man’s capacity in this regard is the source of all scientific knowledge. He reads the meaning of nature and discovers that it is stamped with the marks of reason. Man understands God by reason of the marks of intelligence in the world about him. Reason in man answers to reason in God. (2) Man is like God in that he has a moral nature. He knows good and evil. The moral law, ethical ideals and systems, are all based on the moral nature of God. In man that moral image is reproduced. Conscience is in a real sense God’s voice in man. It is the sure index to man’s moral constitution. It is not uniform in its action in mankind, but it is universal and persistent. (3) Man resembles God also in the possession of an emotional nature. He is capable of feeling. His highest feeling is righteous love. This is derived from the same quality in God himself. (4) Man is made in God’s image also in his possession of will. Here we come upon a wonderful endowment of man. Will is totally distinct from all forms of physical causation as known to us. Some have even gone so far as to call it a “supernatural” power. In any event it belongs to an order above the physical. It cannot be explained by the law of the conservation of energy. It is in a true sense an originating cause.
(5) Again, man is made in God’s image as a free being. Freedom means selfdetermination. Man is not a being whose actions are all predetermined for him by external forces. Nor is he in a state of indetermination, as uninfluenced by motives derived from the past, or from without. Freedom in man does not imply exemption from the operation of influences, motives, heredity, environment. It means rather that man is not under compulsion. His actions are in the last resort determined from within. He is self-determined in what he does. Some hold that freedom in man means ability to transcend himself and act contrary to his character. The will is thus regarded not as an expression of what man is in his essential character. It is free in the sense of being capable of choices unrelated to past choices, acquired traits, and hereditary tendencies. This is an untenable view of freedom. It makes of the will a mere external attachment to man’s nature rather than an expression thereof. Freedom excludes compulsion from without. It also excludes mere caprice and arbitrariness. Freedom is self-determination. The acts of a free being are his own acts. The mere capacity for choosing between good and evil is not the most important aspect of man’s freedom. It is one phase of it only. But if he were confirmed in holiness with no temptation to sin, he would still be free. God is self-determined to holiness, yet he is free. Our moral consciousness and our religious consciousness, especially as conditioned by our experience of God in Christ through our own free choice, are indelible marks of our freedom. They are at the same time tokens of the divine image in man. The above traits in man are not to be regarded as altogether distinct from each other. They are all merely aspects or functions of man’s unified personal life. They are mutually interdependent. They are elements in the organic unity of his personality. (6) Again, the divine image in man appears in his original freedom from sin and inclination to righteousness. We should not here confound perfection in the sense of character achieved through long periods of trial and conflict with the sinlessness of man’s original nature. Even Christ was made perfect through sufferings. (Heb. 2:10.) The perfection of the first Adam at the outset could not have been that of the second Adam at the close of his earthly life. The cumulative growth of knowledge, along with moral and spiritual power, is due to a life lived under the conditions of time. Complete development in all spiritual qualities could only come gradually. But man was created without sin, and as thus endowed he was capable of sin and a fall. (7) Another mark of the divine image in man was the dominion over the lower orders of creation, given him by the Creator. “Have dominion over the earth and subdue it” was God’s command to him. All human progress is but the fulfilment, in one way or another, of this ideal.
(8) Immortality is a further mark of the divine image in man. The spirit of man survives bodily death in an endless existence. The facts regarding the future life are incapable of proof which will leave no possibility of doubt. This is because they lie beyond the range of present experience. But the natural reason of man and his religious experience combine in a remarkable way to establish belief in immortality. We give the chief arguments in brief outline. We note first those drawn from the natural reason: a. First of all, immortality is a necessary inference from a progressive creation. Nature reaches an anticlimax in man if he ceases to exist at death. The movement toward an end is thus defeated. b. Again, the belief in immortality in some form is practically universal among men. It is a part of the general religious life of mankind. It is like the universal belief in God. This suggests an analogy with the life of the physical organism. It is maintained by means of the correspondence between internal and external relations. The universe responds to the call of its creatures. The fact corresponds to the craving, as the structure of the eye implies the existence of light. c. Again, modern physiological psychology favors belief in immortality in that it proves clearly a parallelism between mental and physical states, but not a causal connection. Brain states are parallel with mind states, but the brain does not produce thought. d. Once more, the phenomenon of death suggests immortality. The body as we know it is contrasted in all points with mind as we know it. Bodily decay, therefore, suggests an undecaying spirit. Certain forms of modern idealism have insisted that mental phenomena are simply phases of eternal being, and that by its very nature thought is lifted above the physical and placed in the eternal order. In any event the marked and radical contrasts between matter and spirit remain. e. Immortality is also urged on the ground of the inequalities and wrongs of the present life. We are all subject to conditions in which men fail to find exact justice. The innocent frequently suffer. The guilty often escape. A future life would provide opportunity for correcting these conditions. f. Closely connected with the preceding is the further fact that we are conscious of powers greater than our present opportunities. Man is capable of indefinite, indeed possibly infinite, growth. He beats against the bars of present limitations and longs for a wider range of activities. Immortality is a natural inference from this fact.
We note next the biblical teachings: a. The Old Testament in its earlier stages has no very clear deliverances on the immortality of the soul. Existence after death in Sheol, or the realm of the dead, in a conscious state, is the view underlying the Old Testament belief. In some of the psalms and later prophets strong assertion of immortality are found (2Sa. 22: 6; Num. 16:30; Psalm 16; 17; 49; 73; Job. 14:13 ff.; 16:18; 17: 9; 19:25f.) b. In the New Testament the doctrine finds abundant warrant. The resurrection of Jesus is the historical fact of greatest significance. But the entire teaching of Jesus implies the eternal destiny of man. The gospel rests on the infinite worth of individual men. Human personality is the supreme value for God. To redeem it was the end of Christ’s mission. Only as immortal was it worthy of such an end. c. In strict agreement with Christ’s revelation is our own religious experience of God in Christ. Through him we are reconciled to God and enter into relations of spiritual fellowship with him. The form which this fellowship takes is that of Fatherhood and sonship. We have the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The worth of man in God’s sight is thus the eternal worth of a son. The power by which we realize this fellowship and sonship is the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. The measure of the energy working in us is the measure of the power which raised Christ from the grave. (Eph. 1:20.) The Christian thus finds the complete and satisfying answer to the natural craving for and universal belief in immortality. The value which natural religion teaches and natural reason infers is met by the reality which Christianity creates. Immortal life has already begun in the soul when God reveals Christ in us. One of Paul’s favorite forms of teaching is that the present life of believers is a resurrection life. (Col. 2:20; 3: 4.)
4. The Origin Of Souls
One question regarding man relates to the origin of the in individual soul. Several views have been advanced on the subject. The whole question is more or less speculative, but a few paragraphs may be devoted to it. We note three theories: The First is the theory of preexistence. Souls have existed in a previous state. The soul enters the human body at some point in the early stages of the development of the body. Some have urged the view to account for the coming of sin into the world. It is supposed that the sin was committed in a previous state of existence.
The idea, however, is foreign to Christianity, and has no warrant other than the speculation out of which it arises. It offers no solution of the problem of sin. It simply transfers it from the present to the past. It does not solve the problem any better than other theories. The Second theory is that each soul is an immediate creation of God. It enters the body at an early stage in the development of the body. The body itself is of course produced by natural generation. The chief object sought by advocates of this theory is to preserve the spiritual character of the soul. It is supposed that if souls are propagated, it implies that they are material. There are several objections to the view. The biblical teaching does not support it. According to it, God’s usual method since the first creation is mediate rather than immediate creation. God rested from his creative labors on the seventh day. The new spiritual creation in Christ partakes of the quality of the original creation in some respects, but it is not identical in kind with it. The new creation in Christ arises out of man’s need because of sin. The origin of Christ’s human nature is exceptional for similar reasons. Apart from the biblical, there are two other serious objections to the doctrine of immediate creation of souls. One is that men often resemble their ancestors in spirit as well as body. If heredity explains similar bodily traits, it more satisfactorily accounts also for the spiritual resemblances. The other objection is that the theory of immediate creation fails to account for the tendency to sin in all men. Sin inheres primarily in the spirit, not the body. We cannot accept the view that God directly creates the soul with sinful tendencies. The Third theory is known as traducianism. It holds that spirit and body are produced by natural generation. It is the view which best satisfies the reason and explains the facts. The universal tendency to sin is thus accounted for. The transmission of traits of character from parent to child is explained. The view best explains also the unity of the race. Men are bound together in a common life in spirit as well as body. The view also accords with God’s usual method. His present method of working is in general through the law and processes of nature. He is as truly present as on the immediate creation theory. God indwells in all the processes of nature. Life is his gift. But it is his gift through natural generation. The objection that this view makes the soul material does not hold. God’s presence in the process of generation is the guaranty against this. The relation of spirit to body is a profound mystery in the nature of every individual. We can only accept the obvious fact that the two coexist in closest connection in each of us. We cannot explain it. The transmission of both elements of our
nature from parent to child is simply a particular phase of the general problem of the relation between spirit and body. In the absence of direct Scripture teaching on this subject we are without means of setting forth more than a probable conclusion. Theoretical proofs one way or the other are more or less precarious. We must maintain under any view man’s spirituality and immortality. If we do this no great consequences can be involved in the theories formed with a view to satisfying the reason.
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