Man’s Life: Spiritual, Intellectual, and Physical
ALTHOUGH DETERMINED efforts are being made to reduce man to the terms of physics and chemistry, to eliminate all vital forces which could conceivably exist in their own right outside the physical order, to derive consciousness from the inanimate forces of Nature and self-consciousness in turn from consciousness, it appears to me that God by the very act of creation must have introduced something which was not derived from the mere substance which it inhabits, otherwise why speak of creation at all in reference to man? And yet it seems that this created “soul” is so constructed that the physical housing which it inhabits is in some way essential to it. Thus while by the very statement “Let us create man” one must suppose that some essential part of man is created in entire independence of his physical body (though this, too, was created), God saw fit to design a creature who bridged the gap between the purely spiritual and purely physical orders of being. It is this which makes man neither animal nor angel but something of both and having the capacities in part of each.
The uniqueness of man considered as a total spirit-body entity has become increasingly more apparent as the determination to reduce him to the status of a mere animal has gathered momentum. When evolution first became widely popular in its appeal, there was a tendency to fit man into its scheme by emphasizing his purely animal characteristics and largely overlooking his possession of certain other capacities, particularly his capacity for language and for self-consciousness. The whole burden of
research tended to be absorbed in the study of bone structure, and the search for fossil remains assumed tremendous importance since it was believed ï¿½ and popularly still is believed ï¿½ that such bones could prove man’s descent from some purely animal ancestor. Culture was considered to be merely an extension of his strictly animal behaviour. It was something only quantitatively different from animal habit, not qualitatively different.
But in the course of time, certain aspects of hurman culture began to appear in a new light as being uniquely human and not easily, if at all, derivable from some counterpart on a lower scale in the animal world. Two related cultural phenomena were soon freely admitted in this class: the first was the power of creative activity ï¿½ the ability to make things, to make fire, to make tools, and to make purely artistic objects; and the second was the possession of self-consciousness and with it the power of speech.
Every effort has been made to find the counterparts of these things in the animal world, to find evidence of self-consciousness as opposed to mere consciousness, evidence of true language in the propositional sense and not merely in the use of signs, evidence of the creation of weapons and tools and not merely the incidental use of things that lie at hand, and evidence of a conscious striving for beauty in design and not merely instinctive orderliness of construction such as is to be observed in the honeycomb, for instance.
Not only has the search for animal origins for these things so far proved fruitless but in some cases has turned out to be so pointless that, in the case of language for example, the search has been almost abandoned. (26) Yet it is these very things which have constituted those elements of human nature that make man uniquely able to respond to the overtures of God, to enter into fellowship with Him, to worship Him fittingly, and in some measure to think His thoughts after Him.
The study of human physiology has served increasingly to emphasize the fact that man’s body constitutes a temple of a very special design such that the unique characteristics and capacities of man, as opposed to the animals, can express themselves. He is equipped with a combination of faculties and functions which operate harmoniously and subserve one another, and which in the event of the failure of any one of them tend to reduce him
26. Langer, Susanne, Philosophy in a New Key, Mentor Books, New York, 1952, p.88. Her words are: “The problem is so baffling that it is no longer considered respectable.”
not to an animal level but to something far worse. His possession of a central nervous systern with capacities and complexities far greater by many orders of magnitude than that to be observed in the most intelligent animals constitutes only one of these. He is equipped with binocular vision combined with manual dexterity and truly opposable thumbs, and with tactile sensitivity that allows his hands to serve as an extension of his mind in a way quite unobserved in any other creature. He has tvo hands and two feet appropriate to an erect posture which makes his body capable of manoeuvers that are unique. All other creatures have either four hands or four feet; and although this might not appear of very great importance it is actually profoundly so. Man’s central nervous system is of such a nature that the destruction of some parts of it does not merely reduce him somewhat so that his behaviour approaches more nearly that of other creatures, but rather tends to destroy him entirely — to disorganize his whole being. Animals will recover from brain operations in which whole sections are rendered inoperative and can in time recover a large number of their former animal capacities, evidently by some process of substitute control in some other part of the brain. Man’s brain is so complex that the possibilities of this kind of substitution are virtually absent.
Many purely anatomical features of the human body differ in critical ways from the corresponding structures in other animals. These structures are presumed related in such a way that, superficially, the difference is slight and inconsequential, but in fact the differences are often critical (e.g., in structure of the feet) and essential for the proper functioning of the whole man viewed as a culture bearing creature. (7)
In the development of human organs there are also important differences. The rate of maturing of the animal brain is so fast, relatively, that the animal’s period of plasticity is enorrnonsly reduced when compared with the long span of maturing and adolescence in man. In most animals plasticity remains for only
7. The differences betvveen man and other animals, physiologically speaking, are far greater than is popularly supposed. Standard textbooks of comparative anatomy tend to obscure the fact by emphasizing the homologues, sincc current theories of animal ancestry render these of more immediate interest. But actually the differences are so numerous and so important that a separate Doorway Paper, “Is Man An Animal?” (Part V in Evolution or Creation? vol. 4 of The Doorway Papers Series) examines the matter, with quotations and graphs and charts and tables from a very large number of authoritative sources — as a corrective against current popular assumptions.
a few months or perhaps a year. In man it is normally 15 to 20 years, and by proper cultivation it may last up to 50 years. Thus it is always possible for a human being to relearn and therefore to change in nature. In animals this is never true. In human beings the period of fertility, especially in the female, is limited in such a way that children are not likely to be born before they can be cared for in the first few critical years nor after the mother has reached such an age that she can no longer care for them to maturity. Most animals are on their own within a few montlls and consequently the female may continue to be fertile until within a few months of the terminus of her normal life span. But this extremely long and slow process of coming to maturity in man is largely responsible for allowing him to develop with the unique capacities that he enjoys, and it ultimately relates to his ability to respond to the overtures of God. As men and women grow older and begin to approach the stage of mental set which the animals reach in so much shorter a time, they begin to find it more and more diflicult to respond to God unless they already have entered into true fellowship with Him. This in itself is evidence that the slow maturing process in humankind is a gracious provision by God, making more possible the end for which rnan was created in the beginning.
The possession of self-consciousness which very early enables a growing child to see himself in relation to those of his own family and to the community at large provides him with the experimental base upon which to perceive his possible relationship to God as His child, and to other Christians in the fellowship of a brotherhood. Although animals clearly recognize their own kind and distinguish them from those creatures which are of another species, and although for a season there is a sense of “family” when the young are being raised, it is fairly clear that family relationships in this sense are not merely allowed to lapse when the young can shift for themselves, but are actually destroyed, the young being thereafter treated as competitors and intruders. (25) The bonds of blood relationship (that is to say, all family bonds except those of mating) are loosely held within a
few months and then rejected entirely. If it should be argued that this cannot be applied to man because he is helpless for so long a period, the answer is surely that this helplessness is part
25. This aspect of animal behaviour has becn studied and written about in a quite fascinating and most informative way by Konrad Lorenz in a most readable work entitled On Aggression, Bantam Books, New York, 1967, 306 pp.
of the economy of God whereby He has established family bonds for man in an entirely new way.
Thus one can see that the uniqueness of human nature, of human capacity, and of human relationships is in each case not a uniqueness of a purely spiritual kind that might have originated by some entirely cultural process, but is dependent upon the kind of anatomy and physiology that human beings have. Man is a unique body-spirit entity, and the uniqueness of his body is understandable in terms of the uniqueness of his spirit, and the uniqueness of his spirit in the terms of the uniqueness of his relationship among other created beings to God. And that this physiological uniqueness stems from spiritual integrity is surely borne out by the fact that when the spirit has been degraded, the body no longer serves as a beautifully organized instrument for survival ï¿½ as is everywhere to be seen otherwise in nature ï¿½ but as a faulty, inefficient, diseased agent of destructiveness. Clearly it was intended to serve the higher purpose.
It must always be borne in mind that if man was to be created with a potential for saintliness when surrendered to the Spirit of God, this same potential must exist for devilishness when surrendered to Satan. There is none of the uniformity of animal behaviour about man. He has capacities for extremes which in healthy animals are quite unknown. This was an inevitable consequence for a creature capable of loving God, as we know man can do. He is capable of passionate devotion, but not always to the good. His powers of dedication are tremendous, and therefore all the more disastrous if wrongly directed. Thus the course of history is full of surprises, of deeds of extraordinary nobility and deeds of appalling savagery. (29) And those who have shown themselves capable of such things often did not seem distinguishable in prospect, but only afterwards.
Man’s nature tends either up or down, depending upon the grace of God. And hence, as a precaution, God has so constituted him that he is able to create from within himself, even in his fallen estate, certain correctives which provide a measure of restraint to the ravaging tendencies of his fallen nature. These correctives may be examined under two headings: Civilization
29. The potential of man for good and for evil has been set forth in “The Fall Was Down” (Part I in Man in Adam and in Christ, vol. 3 of The Doorway Papers Series), where it is shown that in every man there is the capability of appalling wickedness that only accidents of birthplace and social environment prevent from being realized. The importance of culture as a restrainer of human wickedness is here examined.
and Culture. It is important to establish meanings for these terms that will allow some precision in the discussion of them. For the sake of clarity in the present context, we define “civilization” as the mechanics of a culture which allow a society to eat, live, multiply, and have dominion over the immediate environment; and we define “culture” as the “spirit” of a civilization, its value system and its “artistic” refinement and elaboration ï¿½ using art in the widest sense as embellishment beyond mere utilitarianism. In a manner of speaking, civilization is the “body” and culture the “spirit,” and both are required to make life meaningful and worthwhile. They do not necessarily coincide. A very wealthy and affluent society can become ”uncultured” for all its high civilization,
and a primitive people whose civilization is at a bare subsistence level can nevertheless be highly cultured in their social behavioir patterns and “genteel” in their own way. Ideally, the two should go together, each interacting with the other for good. A man should have a sufficient margin of survival that he can appreciate the song of a bird or a tree blown in the wind, but some societies have been reduced to such a low level by the struggle to keep body and soul together that they have not survived at all. Yet the reverse can happen, too. There have been societies which enjoyed almost total immunity from the struggle to survive because of the lushness and temperateness of their environment. Yet they were in a state of chronic warfare so disruptive of settled and peaceful existence that the arts were in danger of almost total disappearance.
As Christians we have often tended to equate culture with “worldliness.” This is a mistake. Culture is what curbs the less pleasant aspects of human nature ï¿½ including bad manners, for instance. By culture, base impulses and motives, if not “virtuously” suppressed, are at least hypocritically concealed. In day-to-day social relations such suppression, and even such concealment, is desirable. If we have disrespect for someone, it is not necessarily a good thing to make our disrespect obvious merely on the grounds that this is being more honest. Completely frank people are not so much to be praised for their fearless honesty as they are to be pitied for their lack of self-control. Ideally, civilization provides man with the means to cultivate what remains of the finer and more creative side of his life by relieving him of the consuming problem of getting food and shelter. But culture is what directs the energies thus set free into useful, helpful, and constructive channels. It does not so much produce
good as it does open the way for good to be done by suppressing or discouraging the evil propensities in human nature. In the absence of culture, man may be simply a barbarian, and a barbarian society does not permit the free development and expression of man’s potential in body, mind, and spirit. It reduces him to an animal level where mere survival is paramount.
Man does indeed need to survive; he does have a body that demands preservation and care, but he also has a spirit that refuses to have its aspirations and its fears ignored. He has, besides a body and a spirit, a mind. He lives in three realms at once; in the physical world to which he must to some extent conform if he is to survive, in a realm that is spiritual where he also seeks to come to terms with “spirit forces” and “powers” rather than physical things, and in a world of thought. His spiritual life, his mental life, and his corporeal existence may each be treated separately. The religious man may feel keenly about spiritual things and live in hope or fear of the hereafter with or without a sense of worthiness, and yet do very little thinking in the sense that a philosopher thinks about things dispassionately. The life of the spirit and of the mind are not to be confused. Philosophers may be profound in their thinking, yet profoundly unreligious or unconcerned about spiritual matters, just as spiritual people may be quite unresponsive to philosophical ideas. (30) Faith and reason are often diametrically opposed. One may have either ï¿½ or neither; for there are men whose whole life is animal in its orientation, caring neither for the musings of the philosopher nor the aspirations of the saint.
But there is no question that the whole man is at his best
30. While it is important to distinguish between the mental life and the spiritual life of man, there is a further division which has not been made in the present paper in order to avoid complicating the subject matter more. Whenever we are dealing with the “spiritual” history of mankind, it is well to recognize that there is a difference between a man’s spiritual life (as the Christian understands it) and his religious life. From the scriptural point of view every man has something of a religious life but a spiritual life does not appear until a man is born again. This distinction is quite fundamental and when properly recognized provides an insight into some remarkable passages of Scripture which have to do with the symbolism rigorously adhered to in both the Old and the New ‘I’estaments, in connection with Israel’s history. A Doorway Paper “Three Trees: And Israel’s History” (Part II in Time and Eternity and Other Biblical Studies, vol.6 of The Doorway Papers Series), shows how remarkably consistent the Bible has been throughout in treating of Israel’s national, religious and spiritual history under the symbolism of the vine, the fig tree, and the olive, respectively.
when each area of his life ï¿½ his bodily needs, his mental capacity, and his spiritual awareness ï¿½are allowed to balance one another and grow together to maturity. And what I wish to show is that in a remarkable way God has taken care to see that these three facets of man’s needs, as man, are each properly nourished and preserved so that the effects of the Fall may be always held in check and man never allowed to completely destroy himself while God has yet some purpose to work out with respect to him and while history thus pursues its course.
Man has a spiritual, a physical, and an intellectual life, each of which interacts with the other, yet each of which may usefully be considered as a separate entity. Scripture has provided us with an insight into the manner in which God has divided the responsibility for each of these three aspects of human potential, allocating to the three sons of Noah ï¿½ Shem, Ham and Japheth ï¿½ the responsibility for man’s spiritual welfare, physical well-being, and intellectual development, respectively. And the manner in which each has fulfilled his task and has contributed to the whole provides the framework of history, which forms an essential part of this Paper.