Friday, October 19, 2012

“Mankind: God’s Handiwork”

Forth Quarter 2012 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
Mankind: God’s Handiwork
For the week of Oct. 20, 2012
Facing the Secular Challenge:  Mankind as God’s Handiwork 
The question of human identity has numerous facets:   Who are we?  How did we come to be? What is our nature?  And thus, what is our purpose? Where are we going? Do we have a choice or is it inevitable? What is our relationship one to another? Did God truly make us of one blood in Adam? (Acts 17: 26) What is our relationship to those who have gone before and are moldering in the grave?  The answers reflect our sense either that humanity is the creation of a Sovereign God with a purpose, or that we are the consequence of random, historical, material processes (evolution). 

All these issues have been central to philosophy, psychology, sociology, political science and many of the academic disciplines that have shaped the Western World.  They are basic to our quest for meaning. These academic disciplines and thinkers have informed and influenced Western approaches to society, to values, morality, government and politics, as well as science.   They are often the lenses which paint our view and and resolve our understanding of economic structures and markets, and institutions, and our larger vision of human relations and possibilities. 

Unfortunately, these views have been built on the skepticism of Greek thought in the likes of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and the later rationalism of the Enlightenment. Thinkers like Rene’ Descartes proposed, “I think therefore I am,” as an indubitable principle and the basis for an entire system of reasoning about the world.    His theories and so many others have largely been devoid of the foundational base of a Biblically revealed understanding of man and his Creator.  “I think, therefore, I am?”  We surely are not the creation of our thoughts, but in a sense we have become the product of them. Thus, to a great extent these academic disciplines are “science and education, falsely so-called.”   Man has indeed “committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters and hewn out cisterns --- broken cisterns which can hold no water.” Jeremiah 2: 13.  E. A. Sutherland, Adventist educational pioneer saw that this was indispensable and critical to an understanding of the salvific process for the restoration of the image of God in man. Indeed the purpose of education is that restoration.  Salvation and education are one. This is the true aim of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as E. G. White has said, “restoring the well-nigh obliterated image of God in man.”

 Therefore, the questions of who we are, who made us, and how we got here?  are  long-ranging ones with profound implications for life.  A majority of Westerners have rejected the straightforward Biblical claim in Genesis of the creation of humanity in the image of God. The Fall in Eden, which is so basic to biblical and spiritual understanding, then becomes regarded as mere mythology. Consequently, they are cynical about vital Scriptural views of the fallen nature of man, the Sin problem, the plan of redemption, and the conflict between good and evil. Even Christians sometimes struggle with resolving Biblical accounts and science.  The word speaks softly, clearly, and authoritatively, “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.” Hebrews 11: 3

The question, “What is man?”  Has brought an array of answers and rival theories that seek to explain man’s origin, condition, and possibilities.  They form the curricula of college education in most places.  From Plato’s dualistic view of man’s body and “eternal soul”, to Karl Marx’s  social alienation of man,  to B. F. Skinner’s behavioralist idea that only science can tell us the truth about nature and human nature, to Sartre’s existentialist ideas that man must make his own purpose, to Sigmund Freud’s mental determinism which seems to deny human will altogether ---  the theories abound and outlast our time to consider them. Nevertheless, in the secular arena,  they are deeply respected, studied, and imbibed, and regarded as the mental productions of the great thinkers throughout history.  But one greater is revealed in the Bible as the source of all wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.  He is one who does not theorize, but who knows the beginning and the end, because He literally is the beginning (the Beginner) and the end (The resolver) of human existence and history.

Those not atheistic, but agnostic still believe that “if there is a God, they can figure it out by reason.” In this view, man’s mind has become the standard of all things.  Hence we have evolution, same sex marriage, and “any day is holy” approaches to the vital issues of human origin, relations, and worship. The Bible says to them, “Canst thou by searching find out God?”(Job 11:7)  We cannot. But in taking the leap of faith and accepting the idea that the Bible is God’s inspired revelation to us, a whole new vista of understanding opens to us, a system of revelation and insight from God that is consistent and proven by those who dare to test Him and believe that He is.  It is His own declaration of His identity, purpose, and His love for the human family as shown in history and climaxed in the cross of Christ,  that has liberated us through the everlasting gospel.  It is his intimacy as Creator that allows the reasonableness of the intimacy of repentance and confession, rather than rebellion and conflict.  Like the coin every individual has a sacred worth evidenced by the abundant blood shed for all; still all are a part of a community which the Creator Father deems a family.
Most importantly, Divine revelation in the Bible puts human history in the context of the fall and God’s work in Christ (the seed of the woman, Genesis 3; 15).  It reveals that because of man’s choice, something has gone fundamentally wrong, grossly injuring man’s ability to relate to his Creator in love and a life of holiness.  Sin has marred the image of God in humanity. In a time when we talk a lot about “relationship” with Christ, and relationships as more important than religion, we should be quick to succinctly say that the human relationship to God, to Christ, to our Creator and redeemer is simply and powerfully, one of love.  Indeed He is love, and our greatest joy is in loving Him with all our heart, strength, mind, and soul, and loving our neighbor as our selves(Matthew 22: 37-39).  It is the restoration of this love in our hearts through the infilling of the Holy Spirit that is the promise of God’s covenant of blessing us and making us a blessing Ezekiel 36: 25 -28).

While the world’s competing intellectual views abound, the Word of God presents us a clear spiritual view.  It says we are indeed His workmanship in creation; and again, now because of the fall and sin, His workmanship in redemption.  It promises that through his work as our High Priest in the true tabernacle which the Lord pitched, we shall be made like Him, bearing his image in its fullness again.( I John 3: 1-3). We will ultimately be his workmanship, finished and glorified, in the Kingdom made new. 


Next year is 2013.  Not a special year of significance in the mind of most.  It will be one hundred and twenty five years after 1888.  It was then that some of the clearest Biblical presentations of the gospel, the work of Christ, the true nature of man and the love of God were presented.  The purpose of God for humanity in Adam was set forth.  What was lost was presented. The exalted role of Christ in restoring what Adam all but lost -- the image of God in humanity--- was presented.  The glorious role of the gospel in exalting humanity beyond its initial purpose and preparing the bridge of Christ to stand in the judgment, was proclaimed by the messengers.  The message of God’s love and righteousness in the three angels of Revelation 14 began as a loud cry.  One hundred twenty five years later, as the violence in the nations of our world and on the streets of our cities tells us, as pain proliferates, and confusion distorts minds, now  it is time for that clearer image of the Lamb of God, the Saviour of the world,   to again be presented.  May the angel of Revelation 18, the fourth in the series, again come down with great power to lighten the world with the glory of Christ’ righteousness.
-Michael Horton