By Pastor Stephen Feinstein
In the last two posts, some important ideas were presented. First, we dealt with personality. Human beings are persons, and there are mighty implications that come from this. In the second post, the topic of knowledge was discussed. How do we know things with any kind of certainty? Is there anything that can unite knowledge? The answer was a resounding yes. Both personality and knowledge can only be explained by the reality of the Christian worldview. Fallen humanity will do whatever it can to suppress this truth, but they cannot live in any other way than to behave with their actions as though Christianity is true. If you want a review of these ideas, read the last two posts.
Well, as I continue to summarize chapters of Francis Schaeffer’s work, The God Who is There, we get to focus on another crucial topic. We have the task of discussing the dilemma of man. Truly, the goal is to ask the question, “What is wrong with man?” Some may object that this question presupposes that something is wrong with man, but any honest and bright soul can obviously tell that something is wrong with us. We can rise to great heights, and we can sink to miserable acts of cruelty such as the Holocaust. We can physically exercise until the point of being an Olympic athlete, and we can die of cancer soon after. We can demand and expect that respect be given to us, and on the same day we can gossip about other people. So then, what is the problem?
Well, there are two possible explanations. Man either has a metaphysical problem or he has a moral problem instead. All systems of unbiblical thought in some form or another hold to the metaphysical answer. They believe that man’s problem is his finitude. He is too small to wrestle with the many problems of the big world and bigger universe. Thus, man has always been this way. Death, natural disasters, pestilence, etc., have always existed as long as life has existed, and thus man has always been fallen in the biblical sense. This dilemma is part of what being man is.
The liberal theologians tend to buy into this explanation. Yet, they fail to realize the implications of this. If God originally made the world messed up and if He originally made man as a cursed race, then God is actually the devil. God is responsible for sin, death, and the curse. French art historian and poet Baudelaire reasoned as such and concluded, “If there is a God, he is the devil.” And yet, the new theology, or new liberal theologians, will still declare that God is good, but they can only do so with a leap of blind faith. This is totally inconsistent because if their presupposition is true, namely that man’s problem is metaphysical and normal, then all evidence would point to the opposite conclusion leading one to conclude that God is the devil. So there is no hope or adequate answer to the dilemma of man if one believes the problem is metaphysical.
The second option is the biblical option. This option reveals to us that man’s dilemma is a moral one rather than a metaphysical one. Adam and Eve were created by God as non-determined beings. In other words, they had a free will and were morally good. They were in communion with God. The world and the universe also were made as good. There was no curse, and there was no death. Thus, Schaeffer writes, “Man as created in God’s image is therefore a significant man in a significant history, who can choose to obey the commandment of God and love Him, or revolt against Him.” Adam was the only man in this position. His choice to revolt had consequences for the entire race that came from him. Many modern theorists believe man to be determined by chemical factors in the brain, and thus free will is declared to be an illusion. They would reject the idea of Adam having a free will on these grounds, but their position is erroneous and they do not even live their own lives according to their presuppositions. More can be said on that at another time. It is true that in our current fallen condition our will has been affected by sin and the sin nature. As such, we lack a free will to do what is good since we are now cursed sinners by nature. That is what explains the horrible things that humanity does to itself. Yet, we still have a semblance of the image of God within us, which is what accounts for us rising to great heights.
So then the moral problem of man stems from the fact that the infinite-personal God called on personal man to act by choice. Choice is something that was intrinsic to Adam’s status of being made in God’s image. When people ask why did God not just remove the choice and avoid all of this, it is because removing the choice would reduce Adam to less than a perfect human. It would make him closer to being a machine.
At this point, it is important to quickly address a misnomer about Calvinism or Reformed Theology. People of the non-Reformed camp often accuse Calvinists of being determinists. In other words, they argue that we believe God made us like robots with no choice. This is simply not true. The biblical position is called compatiblism. The idea is that God is totally sovereign over all things that come to pass, but humans make real choices in real time with real consequences, and therefore they have real responsibility. How it all works together is difficult for the finite human mind to grasp, but it is the clear teaching of Scripture and it makes the most sense out of what we know of God and yet see in man. The Bible speaks of God predestining and decreeing history, and yet this somehow happens in a manner consistent with human choice. This is the Calvinist position.
However, let me be clear that humans do not have a free will, at least not anymore. We do have a will, but it is tainted by sin. The sin nature dictates what our will chooses. For example, a lion is by nature a carnivore. If you put a bowl of cabbage and a bowl of raw meat in front of the lion, you are giving it a real choice, but it will always choose the meat since by nature it is a carnivore. The only way to change the choice is to change the nature. Thus, when the truth of God is presented before fallen, unregenerate sinners, they suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18-21) and reject God since it is their nature to choose to do so. Only Adam had a will free from sin, but once he revolted, he too was changed by the sin and became a fallen creature. His fall condemned the entire earth since it was under his stewardship. Now the world is cursed, the animals are violent, the earth produces toil for man, and natural disasters are the norm. Within this fallen world is a fallen man choosing to reject God and to blind himself to the truth. Thus, he declares that our problem is metaphysical. He declares that we have always been this way. He declares that we need not to be saved for there is no curse. These errant beliefs are all part of the sin nature. Only an act of grace from God can change a man’s nature, and when that nature is changed through regeneration, man can then believe God of his own choice. He can start living in obedience to God.
So Schaeffer’s biblical conclusion in this chapter is that man as he is now is completely abnormal. He is separated from his Creator, which separates him from his reference point. Man’s problem is one of moral guilt before his Maker. Now only the Maker can fix the problem. Genesis 1-3 offers a comprehensive explanation concerning the problem of man as it explains perfectly all things that we see in this world. Parts of Genesis 3 and the rest of the Bible offer the solution to the problem, but that will be covered in the next post. God bless.