Since the beginning of history, it seems, mankind has been in the business of asking questions. People ask questions for a number of reasons but primarily for the purpose of attempting to gain information. Out of all the questions man has asked throughout the millennia, there are two which stand unrivaled in depth and importance. Who (or what) is God? Who (or what) is man? The answers to these questions are some of the most fundamental truths necessary for understanding not only human existence, but that of the entire cosmos and beyond. If one is to comprehend the meaning of one’s place in reality, he must look to God’s Word, from which is derived all that can be known to be true. In two essays that explore the nature of God and men, Barry Seagren examines Scripture and is rewarded, along with his readers, with the answers to these seemingly eternal questions.
Genesis 1:1 states that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Later, in 1:27, Scripture reveals that “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” From these two verses alone are derived several key assumptions that must be considered in any discussion of man’s relationship to God. Since the Bible refers to God first, this essay will likewise give Him priority.
The first assumption one can make from Scripture is that God exists. The Bible makes no attempt to prove this fact; the existence of God is simply asserted within the first four words of Scripture. Thus, any biblical examination of God must first accept the proposition that the existence of God is an objective truth. As Seagren writes, “We are talking about an objective being… What we believe or do not believe about Him is entirely secondary” (1).
The objective nature of the existence of God has been established. However, this is only the beginning of the answer to the question, “Who is God?” The next point Seagren makes is that “the God described in the Bible is personal… He has a certain moral nature, a definite character… He is a definite, distinct, discrete person” (2).
Support for these statements is found throughout Scripture. Genesis 1:1 states that God existed in “the beginning,” and that He created, making Him distinct from the created universe. Seagren clarifies: “When we say that God is infinite, we do not mean that He encompasses all things. Rather, we mean that He is without limit in His specific attributes” (2). In Romans 2:4, Paul writes concerning God’s “goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering.” This is one of many verses which attest to God’s personal nature. Only a person can exhibit attributes such as kindness or patience; for any other created thing it is impossible. Since God’s personal nature has thus been demonstrated, the task at hand is to specify what kind of person the objective God of Scripture is.
Seagren approaches the character of God by emphasizing God’s equally complete holiness and love (2). In his description of God’s holiness, he breaks down the concept into three parts: majesty, righteousness, and wrath. Majesty speaks of God as being the highest being, complete in power and wisdom, and existing in utter perfection. Righteousness describes God’s complete goodness and justice; by what He says and does, He is the very definition of the word “good.” Wrath, Seagren explains, “refers to the fact that He cannot accept or tolerate evil” (2).
God’s justice and holiness alone do not completely convey the breadth of His character, however. While it is essential that one views God as holy, it is equally important that one appreciates that He is also love, in its purest form. Seagren asserts that God’s love is not just an emotion: “It is not at all a response to that which is lovely. Rather, love, especially God’s love, is something which takes the initiative. God sets His love upon us, esteems and cares for us, despite the fact that we in our sinfulness are most unlovely” (3).
If one gives too much emphasis to one aspect of God, while ignoring the other, one arrives at an incomplete notion of the Creator. A truly biblical view of God is one that observes the balance – the equal completeness – between His holiness and love. This balance is most evident when one considers Jesus’ atoning work on the cross. Seagren elaborates: “It is important to see that the Bible presents [the cross] as equally a demonstration of His love and His holiness… Out of His love God offers up His own Son to satisfy the demands of His holiness. God’s holiness is maintained; God’s love is displayed” (3).
Certainly one can learn much more from Scripture about God’s attributes; Seagren is merely presenting a brief overview of what constitutes the framework of God’s character. In his second essay, Seagren presents a similarly brief look at the answer to the question, “Who is Man?”
Genesis 1:27 is the first verse of the Bible to mention man, and in doing so it supplies readers with information regarding the manner in which he was created. In examining this and other verses which refer to man’s creation, Seagren calls attention to the fact that “the key words used in describing the creation of man are the words image and likeness. Image simply means a material representation… The word likeness means similarity, pattern, picture, or semblance” (4). This simple observation has tremendous implications for the way Bible-believing Christians ought to live their lives.
If “Man is a finite representation of the infinite God” (4), as Seagren asserts, then believers should live their lives as such. Selfish pride must automatically be rejected, for man must always be viewed in his relation to God. Without God, man is an empty shell with no point of reference from which to derive his purpose. The fact that man bears God’s image must be the starting point for any study of man via science, etc. “If these disciplines do not understand who man is, wrong and harmful results will surely follow” (4). Scripture also explicitly states that not only males, but also female humans are created in His image. Thus, every member of mankind, regardless of sex, ethnicity, handicap, religious beliefs, etc., must be viewed as a special creation of God, bearing His image. It is also important to note that this means that mankind as a whole should not be reduced to the level of mere animals, as some evolutionists would have others believe. Man is not a result of random chance; he is no mere cosmic accident. On the contrary, being God’s image-bearer, he assumes a level of great importance.
The second thing to be understood about man is that he is fallen. Genesis 3 gives an account of how Adam’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden introduced sin and corruption into the world. In their new, sinful state, Adam and Eve were no longer considered righteous in God’s eyes. Romans 5:12 states that “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” This means that since Adam was the federal head of his race, the guilt of his sin was spread to all of his descendants. As a direct result of sin, “As it is written, ‘There is none righteous, no not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.’… ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes'” (Romans 3:10-12, 18). Thus, although man still bears God’s image, all of mankind has fallen from righteousness and as sinners are unable to stand before God in His perfect holiness.
What hope is there for man, if he now exists in such miserable disgrace? The answer lies in the same place where one sees the balance between God’s complete holiness and love: the cross. When God sent His Son into the world to be born of a virgin, it was so He could become the federal head of those who He would call His children. In living a perfect, sinless life, and in taking upon His shoulders the sins of the world, He provided the perfect propitiation for fallen man. Because of His sacrifice, His righteousness is imputed through belief to those whom He has chosen, allowing restored fellowship with God.
“For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (I Cor 15:21-22). Jesus is described as a second Adam. This entails not only His federal headship, but also the kind of man He is. Although Christ is fully God, He became also fully man. Not another sinful man, but instead a man who was righteous in the way Adam was originally created. Christ’s righteousness endures, while Adam’s was mutable. Seagren submits that “As we think of Jesus’ humanity, we must not think of Him as superman, but rather as… the only normal person who has walked this earth since the fall” (5).
The concepts explored in Barry Seagren’s articles are essential pieces of knowledge that are necessary for understanding man’s place in existence, especially with regard to his relationship to God. Since the implications of these indispensable truths have such a deep and profound impact on the foundations of the Christian faith, believers must apply them to every aspect of their daily lives. Once an individual has a proper, biblical view of who he is, and also of who God is, he will be far better prepared to approach Almighty God in a proper attitude of worship.
(1) Seagren, Barry. “Who is God?” Communication Institute. What in the World is Real. Champaign: Communication Institute, 1982. 295-302 (p.297)
(2) Ibid. (pp.299-300) Of course, God consists of three distinct persons; Seagren does not intend to make a statement about the Trinity, but merely to distinguish God from His creation.
(3) Ibid. (p.302)
(4) Seagren, Barry. “Who is Man?” Communication Institute. What in the World is Real. Champaign: Communication Institute, 1982. 305-316. (p.306-308)
(5) Ibid. (p.314)