Archive for May, 2013

The Jewel of the Sixth Day: The Imago Dei

Posted in Uncategorized on May 28, 2013 by ancienthopes

There is simply no truth, no doctrine, no idea, that is more fundamental to the Judeo-Christian world view than man made in the image of God, both male and female. Everything from Genesis to Revelation hinges on this one idea. There is no end to the glories of this doctrine; in it are hidden all the answers to all the questions of the human heart. It is the pearl of creation, the jewel of the sixth day.

It is critical for us to understand that nowhere does the text define what the imago dei (Latin for “image of God”) means in humanity. True, the immediate context links the imago dei with dominion (1:26). However, the idea of dominion in and of itself cannot exhaust such an expansive and suggestive idea. This is a critical point; the imago dei is the great human mystery of which our human minds can never get down to the bottom. It is our glory as divine image bearers never to be explained fully, just as, by analogy, we can never explain God, although He is eternal, and we are finite. Therefore, all attempts to reduce this idea down to one aspect of our humanity are bound to fail. All we can do is meditate on it, circle around it, and turn it round and round in our minds and hearts until we begin to see all theology open up through it. The greatest travesty that has happened to our culture when it embraced the secular model of evolution by chance is the loss of this doctrine, and with it the total loss of our identity.

The dual Hebrew words linked together to establish this idea are ṣelem and demût, often translated as “image and likeness.” Scholars understand these two words as a “hendiadys” which means that the two words are placed together to express one idea too rich for one word. In this case, ṣelem means “image” and is even used elsewhere in reference to “idols” which men make. Hence, man is a “miniature,” or “replica” of God, so that when we gaze upon humanity, both male and female, especially when righteous, we are gazing at God. However, the word demût (likeness) necessarily limits this idea so that we must not mistake the Eternal God with mere man; we are “like” God, or analogous to God. (There are theologians who argue that man was made in the ‘image” of God by creation, but must grow into the “likeness” by sanctification. This is not exegetically correct, whatever its theological value may be.) And so it is, it is proper for God to make idols of Himself, but it presumptuous for man to make and idol of God. Idol making is a divine prerogative.

Moreover, we must not limit the divine image to one specific aspect such as our spiritual dimension in contrast to our physicality. It is said that God “breathed” into Adam(‘s clay form) and he became a “living soul” (2:7). The word ‘soul,” here used for the first time, denotes the totality of Adam. Our humanity is by necessity a union of the physical and the spiritual, the body and all that constitutes the inner psychological person. This must include the physical. Now we know that God is not “corporal” as we are (John 4:24). Still, though God is everywhere and fills all things (Jer. 23:24), God is never understood in the Bible as amorphous, a hazy “force” that cannot be “located.” God is everywhere, but He is somewhere, and even the highest of Seraphim will not look fully into the face of uncreated light. So, whatever “form” God takes in the spiritual realm, our bodies are understood to be comparable or compatible with It. As we look ahead, we see that the very doctrines of the incarnation and the resurrection hang upon this doctrine of the imago dei, for Christ, the very image of God, took on our form in the flesh to redeem us with our bodies. Who knows, perhaps Christ Himself formed Adam of clay in His very likeness in the garden, and when He breathed into it, he looked face to face into his own likeness like in a mirror!

No matter how hard our secular culture wants to see humanity as a mere “animal,” it cannot get away with such insipid simplicity. There is something that glows special in humanity, and it takes a thoroughly jaded person not to admit this, or at least a dishonest one. This special glow has a theological name, the “imago dei,” a direct result of intimate contact with the Divine Breath, the jewel of creation.

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Terra Firma: The Temple Floor – Days 3 & 6

Posted in Uncategorized on May 20, 2013 by ancienthopes

As we have seen, days 1 and 3 deal with the broad issue of what constitutes time, day and night, evening and morning, with corresponding light and darkness. Days 2 and 4 deal with the great celestial ceiling and weather, without which there can be no life. Now in days 3 and 6 we find ourselves on the earth, the floor of God’s great cosmic Cathedral.

As we have seen, separation is a key creation idea in days 1-3. Separation is established and maintained by boundaries. God’s nature Temple is rightly ordered with the boundaries of evening and morning that separates light and darkness, the firmament that separates the waters above and below. Here in day three the land is separated from the sea. The sea shores are not explicitly mentioned as boundaries here, but they are implicit. Without these natural boundaries, the elements of chaos would break their bounds and return to the pre-created state. The Hebrew was very sensitive to boundaries. To their back (i.e. the west, for they were oriented to the east, not the north) was the sea. They were not sea lovers like their northern Phoenician neighbors and avoided it. To their front they faced the desert (i.e. the east), a chaos of formless earth, which always seemed to menace them with its encroaching winds and sands.

Along with natural boundaries that made the world livable and wonderful were moral boundaries which made life livable and wonderful. Both boundaries were the law of God, one visible, the other invisible but made visible in the life of a man. In fact, a human being is a universe in miniature, a reflection of the great cosmic temple within which he is placed, if rightly ordered, and maintaining boundaries against moral chaos. Actually, the movement in these days of creation from chaos (Gen. 1:2), the ordering of days 1-6 (Gen. 1:3-31), culminating in the rest of day 7 (Gen. 2:1-3) is symbolic of the great interior movement of the soul from chaos to order to rest.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. With the separation of dry land from the watery deep, God calls forth plant life from the ground (day 3). This is in anticipation of the creation of land animals and humanity in day 6 which will need food. We see again that the creation of matter is not the issue here. Also, there is no attempt to explain the mystery of life; God calls it from the land, sea and sky. Everything is set forth in terms of function and purpose, form and beauty. The cadence of the days suggests a movement much like a celestial dance before God. For humanity, the crown of creation, this dance turns about him as he stands upon terra firma, the floor of this cosmic temple.

Humanity shares the floor, and we might even say the dance, with the animals (Gen. 1:24-25). God calls them forth from the earth. It is critical to see that the idea of order continues with these creatures in that they are to reproduce “after their kind.” Boundaries are what makes everything, down to the minutest detail, beautiful, and pronounced “good” by Him who calls them forth. Mixtures are by definition monstrous, unholy, and chaotic. Mixtures, the breaking of boundaries, dance to a different tune than was set at creation.

God Erects a Roof for His Temple: Days 2 and 5

Posted in Uncategorized on May 15, 2013 by ancienthopes

In many ways, the more scientifically advanced we become as a human race, the less human we become. We have lost the ability to see creation as participants in a great cosmic drama full of purpose. Rather, we seek to explain forces in abstract equations and to master the elements, bending them to our purposes, and to become ultimate. In the process, we find that we no longer have a roof over our heads and feel more vulnerable than ever. We must find our way back to Genesis 1!

With the establishment of days and nights, evenings and mornings, creating time in day 1, filling space with the celestial choir in day 4, God establishes the framework of a hospitable cosmic house to share with humanity in space and time. Now in days 2 and 4 He completes the roof, so to speak. Everything is described from the perspective of how we humans experience the skies. God creates a “firmament,” (Hebrew rāqîa`; that which is beaten out like a metal dome) that rests on the “pillars of the earth” (i.e. mountains, see Job 26:11). Above this dome are the stars which are immovable, symbolizing the celestial spirits that minister to God at the very edges where transcendence borders creation. Within this dome are the moving celestial bodies, the sun, moon and planets. This blue dome holds the “waters from above” which are separated from the waters below, and in the dome are the “windows of heaven” (Gen. 7:11) from which the rains from above come. Again, creation is described as a “separating” as it is in day one.

Day 4 is concerned with populating the skies above and the waters below, just like day 3 was concerned with filling the heavens with lights. We have the creation of birds to fill the heavens, and fish for the waters below. It is of no small importance that the creation of the sea monster (Hebrew tannînim), which in pagan mythical lore was the chaos god/goddess, is a creation of God and therefore under His full control, divested of any divine quality. Everything is blessed and pronounced good according to God’s design, even the fearful sea monster! The creation of these birds and sea creatures is primarily presented here in terms of their purpose in the grand cosmic scheme, not how they were created.

It is impossible to know for sure how literally the ancients understood these metaphors. I doubt very much that they thought that the celestial dome actually had windows, or that the dome actually rested on the tops of the mountain pillars. Rather, the issue here is that they conceived the universe through metaphors that made it a home, roof and all. In contrast, the systematic removal of these metaphors, all for the sake of “scientific truth and accuracy,” only serve to alienate us from our environment and each other.

Consider these quotes from C.S. Lewis’ “The Discarded Image” (Cambridge, 1967) where, speaking of the medieval cosmology, certainly speaks for the ancient Hebrew as well. “The really important difference is that the medieval universe, while unimaginably large, was also unambiguously finite” (p. 99). “… to look out on a night sky with modern eyes is like looking out over a sea that fades away into mist, or looking about one in a trackless forest─trees forever and no horizon. To look up at the towering medieval universe is much more like looking at great building” (p. 99). “In modern, that is, evolutionary thought, Man [capitalization intentional] stands at the top of a stair whose feet is lost in obscurity; in this [medieval model] he stands at the bottom of a stair whose top is invisible with light” (p. 74).

Day One is about Day &Night, Evening & Morning, and Ultimately Time

Posted in Uncategorized on May 6, 2013 by ancienthopes

“Now the earth was tōhû wābōhû (usually translated and formless and void), and darkness was over the face of the deep.” By now we know that whatever is meant by tōhû wābōhû, it does not mean a non-existence of material. Rather, the material that was there, darkness, formless earth, and the watery deep, had no form so as to be functional as God ultimately intended it to be. In fact, it was terrible beyond our human sensibilities; the absolute contrast to the Garden of Eden.

We now turn our attention to light and darkness in days 1 (1:3-5) and 4 (1:14-19). Again, we are faced with the fact that darkness precedes the creative acts of this narrative. It is just there with no function at all. In fact, it has function only in reference to light. We might even argue that there may very well have been some source of light pre-existent to verse 3, because the emphasis in vv. 3-5 is not on the light per se, but on the separating of the light from the darkness creating something completely new, i.e. the day with an evening and a morning. Thus, “let there be light” could, in fact, be understood as a “period of light” rather than “light” itself, in contrast to a period of “darkness” called “night” (Walton). Of course, “separating” light from darkness presents a scientific conundrum, not to mention the famous problem of how could there be “day” and “night” apart from the sun and moon. There is simply no way for our human minds to even comprehend such an existence.

I do not think that the text is asking us to try to comprehend such a “day” as the first day. Rather, the text is establishing the creation of something absolutely necessary for a functioning cosmos from an earthly human point of view, time! Time, of course, is vital for life, growth, change and movement within space. True, what time looked like without the sun and moon on the first day, we can never know. All we know for sure is that the first day establishes time as the fundamental building block of what is to become God’s great cosmic temple. Personally, I believe there is something analogous to time in the eternal, for we know that the idea of “age” evokes a quality of time that speaks of value (e.g. God as the “Ancient of Days”).

Day one establishes the concepts of “day” and “night,” “evening” and “morning,” out of which the idea of time emerges. Thus rudimentary form is imposed on the chaotic element of darkness, creating the context for the fourth day, where the final function of light and darkness is given to the celestial orbs. In contrast to our modern embarrassment and awkwardness in trying to defend the text that describes day and night before the creation of the sun and moon, we find rather that there is a grand cadence in the text when understood in the ancient cosmological context. Days one through three are concerned with laying the foundations upon which the functionaries of days four through six are built.

This biblical perspective on creation which we are elaborating upon is very sophisticated taken on its own terms. The truth is that these dark moments of cosmic conception can never be wrung of its mystery. Scientific method cannot probe it completely because the human mind cannot grasp such gigantic processes. One must, if honest, kneel before the mystery. This is exactly what Genesis One is meant to do.