Saturday, February 6, 2021

What is Man?

"What is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that You care for him?" (Psalm 8:4).

John Calvin begins his monumental Institutes of the Christian Religion by arguing that the way to understand God is to understand something about man, and the way to understand man is to understand something about God. Today we begin a study of the biblical doctrine of man.

What is man? Traditionally, stemming from the intellectual tradition of the Greeks, man has been defined as homo sapiens, “thinking man.” The argument is that “alone among the animals, man thinks.” The “other” animals, we are told, operate on “instinct.” This is convenient but simplistic. What is this “instinct”? The word is used to describe how animals do what they do, but it does not tell us anything about the thought processes of animals. In fact, if we limit the discussion only to the area of thinking, the difference between human beings and animals seems only a matter of degree.

One of the differences between human beings and animals is that human beings are capable of contemplating the future. Human beings are not animals but are the images of God. God is the Creator who has dominion over all. Man is a creature who has dominion under God. Blaise Pascal noted that man alone has the ability to imagine a situation better than what he presently enjoys. Man is capable of dominion, imagining a better future, setting and achieving goals, and acting to make that blueprint into reality.

Because we can think on the future, we can become aware of our shortcomings and failures. We see that we are not as good as we should be. Human beings, thus, are capable of moral reflection. Human beings are capable of guilt before God.

Your dog may feel guilty and hide from you when he runs into the kitchen garbage, but he does not feel guilty before God. Only human beings have that kind of Godward relationship, a relationship in which God has entrusted responsibilities to us and we have failed Him. Man is homo religiosus (religious man), or homo adorans (worshiping man), and here is where he differs from the animals.

While engaged in this study of man, watch carefully and study the culture’s various views on man. Note any similarities, but particularly note the many differences. Work to ensure your idea of man comes from Scripture and not from your particular culture. Can you explain the source of the differences?