What is Man to Jerusalem and to Athens?
"What is man, that Thou dost take thought of him? And the son of man that Thou dost care for him? Yet, Thou hast made him a little lower than God. And Thou dost crown him with glory and majesty. " Psalm 8: 4,5
Jerusalem and Athens are in perpetual conflict. The respective spiritual animus of each city is so diametrically opposed that, in the end, the two cities cannot agree about anything. The antithesis runs both deep and wide.
We have seen where the root of the antithesis takes shape. Jerusalem presupposes the existence of the all governing, almighty, infinite and eternal God—in which all mankind live and move and have their being—as the presupposition of all meaning. Without this God, nothing can have meaning; nothing whatsoever is meaningful. Even a discussion about God's existence and nature cannot take place without already presupposing Him.
Athens presupposes the opposite. While keeping an “open mind” as to whether a god or god(s) may exist, Athens takes two positions: firstly, it presupposes that the God of Scripture cannot possibly exist. Note that Athens does not have an “open mind” about this. Whilst god(s) may exist; the God revealed in the Bible most certainly does not—and cannot. Secondly—and here is the reason Athens excludes the God of the Bible as a possibility from the very beginning—meaning and truth must be discovered and determined by man for himself and by his own standards. These fundamental principles are presupposed by Athens—to discuss them in any sense is to have already presupposed their veracity.
But that is not the end of the matter. There are some other ultimate assumptions in the Athenian market place of ideas. Since the infinite, eternal, and unchangeable God, Who governs totally as the all conditioning Conditioner, cannot possible exist, for Athens the universe and reality are “open”—that is, ungoverned, uncontrolled, and therefore beyond knowledge. The universe, for Athens, is ultimately random or floating on a sea of chance.
So, Jerusalem and Athens will never agree on anything. But that is not the end of conversation with Athens, for there are points of temporary intersection, which enable us to commence a discussion. For example, both Jerusalem and Athens believe and assert that man is a special being, with distinctive honour and dignity. The two cities, however, develop the principle in radically different directions.
Athens, although desperately wanting to believe that man is a special being, is constantly frustrated in the attempt. Anything that can be said to defend or assert the idea that human beings are special floats upon that restless sea of chance. As mankind floats amidst chance, anything and everything is eventually put up-for-grabs: truth, morals, rationality, the past, the future, the self—there are no fixed points, no certainties, no verities. In the end, man is no more than a random temporary collusion of atoms, soon to be dissipated again into the nothingness whence he came.
While Athens may commence speaking about the dignity of man, of his privileges and rights, the tone soon changes. Confronted with an imperfect world, Athens soon demands that, if things are to be corrected and perfected, it must have power. It insists upon the right to take more and more away from individuals, parents, families, children, corporations, and society itself—so that it can make things better. Increasingly, the citizens of Athens find themselves subjected to a remorseless, intrusive, controlling, demanding kafkaesque government, which grinds away their faces, removing—if possible—every vestige of dignity which Athens professed to uphold. Man—individual man—becomes once again the meaningless cipher, a mere nothing in a pointless and meaningless existence.
We have seen this remorseless progression of events in the Western world. At the Enlightenment, liberals were those who spoke forcefully of the rights and dignities of man, of the evils of tyranny, of the perfectability of humanity under the sweet light of reason. Now the very same liberals have become—as will inevitably be the case in Athens—the very opposite. Oppressive, tyrannical, controlling, intruding, bullying, hectoring and thoroughly illiberal in all their ways and days. And the outcome? A remorseless grinding of man, once again, down to slavery.
Athens wants to assert and defend the glory of man. It ends hating man and grinding away the face of every expression of individual dignity and glory.
For Jerusalem, the career and course of mankind could not be more different. In Jerusalem, ahead lies an indescribable glory and future. Created “very good”, man's fall into sin against God was not the end of the story. For God made a covenant—a solemn agreement—whereby God committed to redeeming and restoring mankind. He invited all mankind to join Him in this covenant.
The impeccable dignity and glory of man was sheeted home when Messiah came forth. Very God of very God, He became man. He lived and achieved a life of perfect righteousness—even though born in the likeness of sin, bearing its weaknesses, illnesses, imperfections in his body. This righteousness He freely credits to all who seek Him. Meanwhile, He also offered up His life at Calvary, bearing the full weight of divine wrath against the sins of all His people. Thus, He lived righteously as a perfect human being—and credits that to us that we might be holy in God's sight. But our sins he credits to Himself and takes the full weight of judgment in our place.
God raises Him, as man, from the dead, and as man seats Him at His right hand. Mankind is now perfected and exalted to the highest of the high, over the entire creation. Messiah is the first born; His people come after Him and share in all His glory.
His ascension to the right hand of God is not hoped for. It is a present reality—and it gives all citizens of Jerusalem true dignity and the very brightest of hopes. This blessedness which lies in the future protects and locks in the glory and dignity of man in the present.
Athens brings grinding humiliation and slavery. Jerusalem brings dignity, glory, and hope. The place of man in the two cities could not be more diametrically opposed. The citizens of Jerusalem, authorized by God, cannot but help call out to the citizens of Athens, urging them to leave its arid acrid acidic streets and come to Jerusalem where they will be welcomed with great feasting and celebration—not as some lately come non-resident alien—but as a native born son, who was lost, but who has come home.
In Jerusalem, whence this glory of man? It is God's doing. “Thou hast made him a little lower than God. And Thou dost crown him with glory and majesty.”
Man as God's Image Bearer
The city of Athens is built on the Great Lie of an ultimately, radically random universe. But those living the Lie are constantly confronted with an opposite reality, both material and immaterial. Whereas Athens professes that man is a mere chance collection of random atoms, reality (both internal psychological reality and external reality) screams out that human life is precious, that man is significant, that he is special, that man both reflects and therefore commands a certain reverence, such that to take a life is regarded as a heinous crime, and the death of an individual requires rites and rituals that attempt to reflect the honour of the life once lived, now ended.
Athens refuses to account for its internal contradictions because it cannot do so without humbling itself before the Living God.
Jerusalem, on the other hand, knows why man is a special being; it knows why the material and immaterial realms testify constantly to the glory and dignity of human beings. A significant component of man's glory arises from the very creation itself. Genesis 1 and 2 tell us that man was different from all other creatures, insofar as man alone is declared to be in the very image of God.
In Genesis 1:26 we read: “ . . . Let us make man in our image according to our likeness. . .” The Believing Mind forges all its beliefs and works around this great truth. Man alone, out of the whole creation, is declared to be the very image and representation of God, Himself. This is the explanation and justification for man's glory, honour and dignity. It is why murder is a heinous sin. It is why when murder occurs, the Bible says that the blood cries out from the ground unto God. It is why human life is to be cherished and protected.
But Jerusalem confesses, at the same time, that this truth is a great mystery which cannot be plumbed. God, as we have seen, is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, and power. Man, by contrast, is finite, temporal, and changeable—limited in every way. Therefore, to bear God's image is not to be or become divine in any sense. But it is to reflect and bear within the finite created realm—within the universe—a mirror of the Being and Person of God. When the creation looks at man it sees a likeness to God that is not found anywhere else—neither amongst all the other creatures found on the earth, nor amongst the angels and the beings and principalities and powers of the invisible realms.
The second point to be stressed is that the likeness to God in man is not restricted to a particular aspect or part of man, but embraces and includes the entirety of his being. Note that the Scripture does not say, “Let us make the mind or man, or the heart of man, or the will of man, or the emotional intelligence of man to be in God's image.” Man in the entirety of his being is in the likeness of God.
This raises a question as to how the physical or material aspects of man can be said to be in God’s image? How does the hand, for example, reflect the image of God? God is a pure Spirit and does not have a hand. How does the eye? God does not have eyes.
But the hand of man enables him to make, shape, build, create, govern, control, nurture and so forth. In working with his hands, man reflects—is analogous to—the work and activity of God who makes, shapes, builds, creates, etc. The eye of man enables him to see, but in a particular way—to see as God actually sees the world—not to comprehend infinitely, but analogously to God. All human senses are likewise analogous to God.
Being in the image of God means that we are able to imitate God analogically. Our hands can create and make after God, imitating Him. We can see analogous to the way God sees. We can think in a way that it analogous to the way God thinks. We can move in a way analogous to the way God moves. We can imitate God’s dominion and kingship over the creation. Note, by the way, how closely being in the likeness of God is related to the concept and actions of governance and kingship: “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness; and let them rule over . . . all the earth.” (Genesis 1:26).
This is why man in the totality of his being has honour and worth. This is why the physical body is to be reverenced and respected. This is why, in the Christian mind, in the confines of Jerusalem, even the weakest, most disabled, most stricken human beings are cherished, loved, and respected.
For the Unbelieving Mind it is a very different story. Athens is shipwrecked here—as in so many other places—and repeatedly intellectually and morally bankrupt. Wanting, on the one hand, to posit the honour and dignity of man, yet having no principle or foundation upon which to ground it, Athens resorts to picking out aspects or parts of man which are said to grant him special dignity. These are said to make man distinct and special over the rest of the creation, over the animals. The faculty of speech, of reason, of communal life, of the capacity to love, of his ability to function according to his potential—and so on—each in its turn has been seized upon as a reason why man should be regarded as a special being. Special privileges or rights (human rights) are then accorded to man within Athens because of this distinctive quality. For example, man deserves a right to life, it is argued, because he has the capacity to think rationally; whereas because animals cannot think rationally, they can be killed without significance or consequence. Or, the faculty of speech respresents the essence of human beingness; it is this which distinguishes a human being from other animals.
As soon as Athens alights upon a principle of distinction for man which reflects only part of man's being, the Unbelieving Mind has to exclude from the human race those people who don't share in this “part” or for whom this “part” is damaged or very undeveloped. Unborn babes in utero, for example, can be killed wantonly, officially, and legally because they are excluded from the category of human being. They are simply not human because they cannot think rationally. Or, if speech is preferred, they cannot speak. Therefore, the unborn child can be classified as a non-person—a non-human—and killed without compunction.
But by reasoning this way, by deciding for itself what is distinct about man without reference to the Creator, Athens sets in train a relentless juggernaut that crushes ever more people. Since unborn children can be killed because they are un-human, why not kill off new born infants, since their reasoning or faculties of speech is hardly developed? In the mindset of Athens it is simply irrational not to do so. It can only be stupid prejudice, ignorance, or squeamish sentimentality not to do so. The fearless, truth seeking, scientifically rational Athenian will clearly advocate that it ought to be so: it is as obvious as the proverbial nose on the face.
Or take the imbecile, or the senile older person. Surely, they have lost what is the essence of humanity. Within Athens, it is simply inconsistent, irrational sentimentality which stays the murderous hand.
The principle is that by seizing on only one aspect or part of man as the ground for asserting his dignity and glory, Athens cannot explain—and in fact has no grounds to explain—why individuals who lack, or who are severely impaired in, whatever faculty or capacity is being hailed to be the essence of humanity should not be treated as sub-human, or non-human. Consequently, Athens has always been a city of blood—and the blood shed is by-and-large innocent blood.
In its long history upon the earth there have been cultures and states within Athens which have sought to be very up front about this. In some ways, judged by its own Athenian standards, these cultures and states have been more rational, more consistent, less maudlin than the untutored masses within Athenian walls. Our modern day practice of abortion is one such manifestation. But other states have sought to exterminate men on the grounds of race, of religion, of origin, or of class. In each case, the exterminatee was regarded officially as non-human. Generally, Athens is terribly embarrassed by such historical examples of inhumanity. But hypocritically so. Athens always classifies a sub-set of the human race as non-human, treating them monstrously as a result. The only credible debates in Athens are around where the sub-sets lie. Credible, maybe, but nonetheless egregiously evil.
From time to time an Athenian more honest will emerge. Ian Wishart introduces us to Peter Singer, whose views may be embarrassing, but they are nonetheless right to the heart of what Athens represents:
“Australian born ethicist Peter Singer, now Professor of Bioethics at prestigious Princeton University in the US, argues that newborn babies should not be considered 'human' until 30 days after birth and that they can therefore be euthanized during that time. He also argues that disabled babies should simply be killed on the spot. Singer doesn't offer any real logical or scientific argument to support his beliefs, other than what academics call 'functionalism' which is that humanity is defined by what you can or cannot do. Singer therefore sees the world through his own eyes as a functioning adult, and regards the disabled and babies as lesser beings because they are not as fully functional. In this sense, he is a reincarnation of the Nazi philosophers.” (Ian Wishart, Eve's Bite [North Harbour, NZ: Howling at the Moon Publishing Ltd, 2007], p. 248.)
Singer is the apotheosis of the Unbelieving Mind. His views are not extreme in any rationalistic sense—although they may cause many Athenians to squirm with distaste. But within the walls of Athens they are the ones with the problem, not Singer. He represents the essence of what Athens is all about. Define humanity in terms of functionality, and, guess what, the disfunctional are sub-human. Athens has always reasoned this way. While Wishart chides Singer for not offering any logical or scientific argument to support his position, he really does not need to. Singer represents the highest flowering of the Unbelieving Mind, reasoning in a manner perfectly logical and consistent with the fundamental assumptions and credo of Athens.
Singer is one of the rational heroes of Athens in our day. Like Socrates, he may not be popular within the city, but he represents its heart. Moreover, Singer may or may not be a reincarnation of Nazi philosophers—but more to the point, he is a consistently true son of his native Athens, even as the Nazis and the Stalinists and the abortionists were and are.
Man's inhumanity to man is not an aberration in Athens. That city will always, as official policy, with the full weight of the law, be acting inhumanly to man in some way, shape or form. Every expression of Athenian culture and thought will have defined some class of the human race as sub- or non-human, and will wreak a terrible vengeance upon them as a result. Athens is intrinsically inhumane—inescapably so. Scratch an Athenian, and underneath you will find the mind of a murderer—as soon as he has decided which part of humanity is sub-human. And that decision is not usually consciously made. It comes from flowing with the tide of consensus of the day.
In Jerusalem, by contrast, man in his entirety, reflects the image and likeness of God Himself. Any impairment of any faculty may mar, but not eradicate, the image of God in any individual. Man was created in the image of God; he cannot lose that image, any more than go into non-being. It is what he is. Therefore, in Jerusalem human beings are always to be treated with a respect and dignity that is appropriate to one who is in the image and likeness of God. Those who are impaired and weak within her streets are especially to be cherished and nourished. Because they are after the likeness of God Himself, even the weakest, most ill, most malformed, or most impaired person is of inestimable value, worthy of the deepest respect and the greatest of care.