No form of government, no powerful leader, no set of laws, and no group of social programs will fix our shattered world.
By Mark D. Harris
Man is a magnificent and tortured creature. He is capable of the brilliance of Newton, the dedication of Paul, and the courage of Shackleton. He is also capable of the stupidity of the Three Stooges, the wavering of Congress, and the cowardice of Pontius Pilate. The same race that produced Washington and Lincoln also produced Mao Tse Tung and Shaka Zulu. We are industrious and lazy, courageous and cowardly, selfless and selfish, and clear headed and confused. The Bible has much to say about the character of man.
1. He was made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). The exact nature of that image is controversial but surely involves intelligence, emotion, will. It may involve the tripartite nature of man, including body, soul and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23, Hebrews 4:12).
2. He was made just a little lower in precedence than God Himself, with glory and splendor and might (Psalm 8:4-9).
3. He was made to have dominion over and responsibility for all of the rest of creation (Genesis 1:28).
4. He was made to be in communion with others (Genesis 2:18, Hebrews 10:23-25).
5. He was made to learn and to teach (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).
6. Because of his sin, he is separated from God, the rest of creation is cursed because of him, and he will die (Genesis 3:17-19).
7. His best attempts at living well are filthy rags and none of us seeks God (Isaiah 64:6-7).
8. He is as foolish and helpless as sheep in knowing how to live his life (Psalm 23).
Dr. Michael Mitchell in Leading, Teaching and Making Disciples discussed the nature of man in a series of contrasts. Rejecting the conventional wisdom of 21st century America, he noted that:
1. Humans were created by a personal God. We did not evolve from non-human organisms as a result of impersonal forces.
2. Humans were made in the image of God. We are not a blank slate awaiting input.
3. Humans choose evil in our rebellion against God. We are not morally good or innocent.
4. Humans are comprised of multiple parts, body, soul and spirit; not just one.
5. Humans are made to live in community, not as isolated individuals.
6. Humans are active, not passive, in the learning process.
7. Humans learn both through experiences and through processes and they differ in emphasis over time.
It is clear that the Word of God reveals the true nature of man and there is an explicit the contrast between Scriptural truth and conventional wisdom. Christian teacher-leaders must hold fast to the Bible to understand the reality of mankind, tailoring our lessons to the general and specific needs of students.
What does it mean the man is a tortured creature?
Since the Fall of Man, all of creation has been groaning under the pain and distortion of sin. Everything that was once beautiful in God’s perfect creation has become grotesque compared to the glory it had before man’s rebellion. Romans 8:19-22 speaks of creation, including man, under slavery to corruption and subjected to futility. It relates how the universe suffers and groans under the tyranny of evil. Webster’s defines torture as “severe physical and mental pain, anguish or agony” and “a violent twisting, distortion or perversion”.
Due to our wickedness, man and everything else in creation, is tortured. We will be until the Lord returns in glory.
What is the problem of the modern understanding of the nature of man?
One of the fundamental problems in the world and the church today is that we either do not understand or do not accept the truth of the nature of man. The world tells us that man is basically good. This assumption is perfectly understandable because if one refuses to believe in God as the creator and ruler of the universe, he is forced to accept evolution as the creator and man as the ruler of the universe. To avoid the inevitable consequences if man is wickedness, and subsequent hopelessness for the future, the atheist must believe that man is morally good, despite all of the evidence to the contrary.
Another common misunderstanding of the nature of man is that man is merely a biological organism with no spiritual component. Such reductionism reduces fear, courage, and even love to chemical (hormonal) and electrical (neurological) processes. This mindset asserts that nothing exists except that which is material, accessible to study by the five senses. Fortunately, people who believe in reductionism also fall in love, despise cowardice and admire courage, proving that they don’t really believe what they say they do.
C.S. Lewis addressed this opinion in Voyage of the Dawn Treader:
“’I am a star at rest, my daughter,’ answered Ramandu. ‘When I set for the last time, decrepit and old beyond all that you can reckon, I was carried to this island. I am not so old now as I was then. Every morning a bird brings me a fire berry from the valleys in the Sun and each fire berry takes away a little of my age. And when I have become as young as the child that was born yesterday, then I shall take my rising again…’”
“In our world” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.”
“Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.”
If space aliens existed, they might look at we humans walking around on the earth and describe us as a pile of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and trace elements. We who are men know that that is only what we are made of, not what we are.
The church, much to our shame, too often mindlessly accepts the judgment of the world, especially if smart-sounding people with lots of titles make the judgment, and a fawning media tells us how wonderful they are.
What about one’s own opinion of his sin?
The ugliest of all sins, the one which so bedeviled the Pharisees, is spiritual pride. I once heard an evangelical leader tell a large group of students at a Christian university that she had not sinned in 12 years. I, on the other hand, have difficulty going 12 minutes without demonstrating pride, worry, insensitivity, or any of a host of other transgressions. And the funny thing is that even those who recognize their sin are in danger of becoming proud that they are able to recognize it. The cycle continues, according to C.S. Lewis in Screwtape letters, in which a senior demon is counseling a junior one:
“All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them. This is especially true of humility. Catch him at the moment in which he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, ‘By jove, I’m being humble’, and almost immediate pride – pride at his own humility – will appear. If he awakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of pride, make him proud of the attempt – and so on – through as many stages as you please. But don’t try this too long, for fear you awake his sense of humor and proportion, in which case he will merely laugh at you and go to bed. “Screwtape Letters, p 63
Sin is so beguiling. Were it not for the work of the Lord, we should never escape it.
In conclusion, man is a magnificent creature, just a little lower than God Himself, who willfully disobeyed his Creator and fell into a sorry state. He has tremendous value, so much so that Jesus Christ, God the Son, died to bring His rebellious creatures back to Him. He is also foolish and powerless as a sheep.
This being true, ministry to our fellow man is great and is a form of worship of our great Lord. The majesty of man makes us want him to be saved, and the poverty of man makes us compassionate about his frailties. We are men, and we share the summits and valleys of our race. As teachers, disciples, and disciple makers, we must do everything we can to bring others back into relationship with their Lord. We must also guard our own faith lest by neglect we drift away.
Ultimately, we go to the cross with our Lord. Many will follow and believe. Some will not, and of them we say “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.”