In What Do I Believe?
My mind begins racing when I’m asked that question. There are so many things I believe in: music and beauty, love and kindness. I believe in honor and integrity, diligence and hard work. I believe in character and humility, in children and family. I believe in purpose and fulfillment, life and death. I believe in good and evil. But the best way to lay claim to the tenets of my beliefs is to start with a view to reality:
I believe in a reality that unfolds in the book of Genesis of the Bible, that of a spatio-temportal universe consisting of planets, stars, human and animal life. I believe in an eternal being (the creator God) who breathed life into man and made him in His own image, and I believe in an eternal and infinite “God-existence” (heaven).
I believe that man was created to be one with God, to be perfect and to love God forever here on earth. God did not force man to love but gave him a mind and therefore the freedom to love and to make other choices — a volition. It’s ironic that while his mind was created in the image of God it actually proved to be man’s Achilles heal, costing him his intimate earthly relationship with God.
The book of Genesis tells us that the first man, Adam, was created by God from the dust of the earth and put in a garden called Eden (most likely in Mesopotamia); it was there that he enjoyed life and communion with God alone. But God saw that Adam should not be alone, and so He put Adam in a deep sleep and created a female, Eve, out of one of Adam’s ribs. Together they lived in harmony with all of the creatures in the garden except one, the “tempting serpent.”
This serpent (Satan) tempted Eve in the garden, persuading her that she and Adam would be like god if they ate the fruit of the tree of good and evil. Eve knew that this was wrong since God had clearly instructed Adam as such. But even with a knowledge of this prohibition the temptation was too great, and Eve ate anyway.
When God questioned Adam as to Eve’s disobedience Adam lied, and their mutual disobedience cost them their intimacy with God and put them in a condition similar to that of the serpent. Adam and Eve’s offspring would even be poisoned by unrighteousness and separated from God at birth. Justice for man’s disobedience required payment of the ultimate penalty, death – both physical and spiritual. But in His mercy God prepared a way for restoration.
God would accept instead the sacrifice of one pure man, a sinless man, as payment for all who would recognize his lordship and love him. This man would have to be born of the supernatural power of God, much as was Adam.
At the time appointed in history by God a baby named Jesus was born into the world. Conceived by God Himself and born of a virgin, Jesus would bring this world hope and the power of restoration. In his adulthood Jesus would demonstrate his power and show the mercies of his father through his teaching and by the miracles that he would perform. He would heal the sick, turn water to wine; he would even bring the dead back to life.
Jesus’ mission on earth was twofold: to transform and to save. He would transform people by demonstrating the power of God, and he would save by giving himself as a sacrifice and payment for man’s sin. His later death on a cross was, in effect, a ransom for all who loved him and truly believed that he was the son of God and their own personal savior.
So how does this view of reality alter or affect how I feel about other dimensions of life? How, for example, might my view of life be different from that of a person who believes that existence is the result of a random explosion? How does it matter that I hold this to be a creator/universe and not a random/universe? It makes a difference, read on.
How Do You Know What You Know?
Language allows man to communicate, but more importantly language enables his conceptual faculty and therefore his mind. Without language, human thought would be severely restricted, limited to the here and now.
The one true feature that distinguishes man from animal is his mind. Without it man would be helpless and would quickly die out, having no instinct for survival. It boils down to the fact that man’s survival is really his own choice that demands the use of his mind.
The book of Genesis tells us that Adam first named the animals in the garden. And in doing so he was, in effect, inventing his own language. But why? With whom was he going to talk? God? His mate Eve wasn’t yet in the garden, and Adam’s connection and communion with God were, I believe, of God acting directly on Adam’s mind and his conscience rather than through an audible voice. Assuming this to be the case, with whom was Adam going to use his newly invented language?
I believe that Adam used language primarily as a means to think. Man needs his conceptual mind to survive in a world radically changed. God’s treatment of Adam and the world was the penalty for his disobedience, and to survive Adam would be forced to use both his brain and his brawn. Essentially, Adam was given over to himself after the fall, and it was from this point onward that his offspring (all of mankind) would become farmers, hunters, gatherers, doctors, inventors and builders. After the fall of Adam men would come to be respected for their knowledge of worldly things and of their practical know-how. Experience and the memory of both success and failure would become terribly important since mistakes might cost one his life. The world became a dangerous place.
God is just: that much is implicit in the very definition of god. His judgment on Adam was, therefore, not cruel but just. But God is also a merciful, and He loved his creation in Adam. Even under the penalty of death and earthly struggle God’s mercy was apparent, for in Adam and all of his offspring He left the capacity to live a span and to love – this even though life itself would certainly be more difficult. God had given Adam a brain with which to think, to learn and solve problems, to remember and to imagine. He created Adam in such a way that he would be able to count on his observations as valid, trusting his senses to give him accurate information about the world.
It’s interesting to note that God had originally created Adam to be one with Himself, fully dependent and relying on God for everything and yet it this same makeup that would enable him to survive the hard challenges of living with others in an imperfect world. God had given Adam and all of his posterity a clear mental window on the world.
In order to better explain the significance of having a trustworthy brain let me offer an example: If in order to satisfy his hunger Adam were to reach for and retrieve an apple on a tree, this would indicate that his mental information was first and foremost accurate, i.e. that his reach wasn’t in vain. His eyes allowed in information – the color and shape, and his memory quickly recognized it as something that he’d earlier named. Additionally, his experience (via memory) would tell him that the apple was food and would satisfy his hunger. Adam would trust his brain that the information on which he was acting was fact and not illusion. And then, upon eating the apple, Adam would experience a satisfaction that would be unmistakably real.
Having arrived on the scene before Eve and having identified things with his own language Adam would also become the world’s first teacher. Certainly, he would instruct Eve on the things of God and also of his own newly formed base of human knowledge, probably starting first with the mere identification of things – their words and definitions.
Adam named the things that he saw and whatever he named them they were. A sheep was a sheep, a dog was a dog, and a tree was a tree. A was A, and A was A absolutely. This simple principle, that a thing is itself and nothing else, is terribly important. In fact thousands of years later a thinker named Aristotle would claim it as a law of existence. Simply stated the law says that a thing “is what it is,” the implication of which is that a thing cannot be itself and something else at the same time.
The law implies, too, that man’s mind is trustworthy and that two different minds may be trusted to act in the same way. When, for example, I see an apple that you too see, we can trust that we are seeing the same particular object. We both believe the apple to be here in the world, existing. We both know it to be red and round, and we both know that it is the red, round fruit of an apple tree. We could go as far as saying that with respect to the process of identification our minds (yours and mine) work just alike.
How Should We Live?
God gave Adam and Eve few instructions when he created them and put them in the garden. But one instruction was clear: “do not eat of the tree of good and evil.” This one instruction was given as a moral code for Adam and Eve. It was God’s law to man.
One day in the garden, evil in the form of an alluring serpent tempted Eve to eat of the tree. She was beguiled by the serpent and convinced that she herself could become like God. The power of the allure must have been great, and despite her knowledge of impending and dire consequences she ate. The penalty handed down by God was death – both physical and spiritual. But that wasn’t all.
Adam and Eve were removed from Eden, their home and eternal paradise. Physical and emotional pain would become man’s experience as would toil and a burden to survive. The ground itself was cursed, and man’s attempts to grow food would be difficult from thereon. The Bible tells us also that Adam and Eve, like children, knew no shame in their nakedness prior to their disobedience. Shame was foreign to man, and evil was never his choice until he was tempted by evil itself. Then choice opened his eyes and shown him evil.
I believe that prior to his disobedience man was actually ignorant of his own volition. He was blessed by God to live forever but blind to the fact that something such as death could ever enter the world. But man was also undoubtedly subject to enticement, and the serpent presented a choice that was provocative and evil, the choice to be like God.
God’s creatures will never attain the status of their creator. The universe is ordered, and God created a stratified order of existence. The Bible speaks of no creatures other than humans and angels who are given the power of mind and the power of choice. Neither plants nor animals weigh the consequences of their actions. Eve knew that there would be harsh consequences of disobedience, and so when faced with the choice of good or evil she most certainly was aware of a present morality.
It’s quite easy to think that after man’s fall God essentially gave man over to himself – that His own involvement with this world ended and that man would have to figure how to survive on his own. Just look at all the bad in the world – war, starvation, disease, greed, jealousy, and hate. Where is God in all of this?
It’s true that the Bible is about man’s fall away from God, but more importantly it is about God’s instruction and pleasure in bringing us back to Himself. The Bible never talks of God’s abandonment but rather His ever-present superintendence in the works and the world of man. Biblical stories demonstrate the futility of man’s attempt to govern and control. We see the impurity of man’s drive for hedonistic pleasures and self-aggrandizement. The Bible is about sorry and joy, poverty and wealth, destruction and reconstruction. It is about death and life.
Is there a right way for man to act? Can we, in our fallen state, do the right thing? And if so what is the right thing?
By its very nature the entrance of evil into the world blinded all of mankind. No longer would our physical lives be eternal. An earthly morality was thereby born of our disobedience. In effect we were forced to view life on earth and our survival as an important standard of value. We really have little choice but to think this way. Our mortality and our struggle to survive in large measure determine our behavior, our ethics.
But God gave us more than the urge to survive; he gave us something higher, something on a spiritual level. He gave us love, and it is love that softens our morality and invites us to consider things greater than merely our own personal survival.
LIVING WITH EACH OTHER
We were created to be social not solitary beings. Our nature intends that we live and work together, to love, and to procreate. After God created Adam, He saw that is was not good for man to be without a helper, and so He made Eve from the rib of Adam. Adam and Eve would be the world’s first friends and lovers. They would be the world’s first parents. In effect they would be the parents of all of mankind.
Adam and Eve were affectionate toward each other. And yet their first child, Cain, would show man’s true fallen state. Cain was a farmer and his brother Abel tended livestock. Born of envy, a hatred burned in the heart of Cain against his brother. And one day, while Abel was in the field tending sheep, Cain committed the world’s first murder, killing Abel. What was the source of such hatred?
Having been exiled from paradise, man would find his life to be full of insufficiencies. Guilt would forever stain him, and his conscience would tell him that there was nothing he could do by himself to regain eternal life on earth with God. The insufficiency of his own effort to return to the garden would forever haunt and pain him, and it would be common to blame another man for one’s own shortcomings.
Cain hated his brother just as entire nations of people would come to hate other nations. The insufficiency and inequality of resources for survival would push men to kill, steal and lie. The attempt to return to paradise with a hedonistic chase for luxury would prove also to be insufficient. And the unquenchable thirst of man for power and control introduced first by the serpent would forever plague mankind and create enmity among people. So how are we to get along in the world? How ought we to govern ourselves?
These are the questions of politics, and in a fallen world the answer will never be sufficient to return our heritage of an eternal life on earth with God. But we must govern ourselves. We must try to answer the question as best we can.
I believe there to be some governments that are more just than others. While some preserve the liberties of individual men, others enslave and, in effect, imprison men by forcing their actions and thoughts. I believe in a government that protects man’s liberties, giving him the freedom to work, to create and to own the fruits of his labor. I believe in private property, and I believe in a nation of laws. I believe that man should have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and that there is an injustice in heavy-handed government interfering with these basic rights.
The fall of man introduced gross inequality into the world. Disease, plight, starvation, and earthquakes would be scattered throughout the world and its history, frustrating social and governmental order. But achievements in the acquisition of knowledge and the education of the common man would result in producing invaluable benefits to individual men, providing too, it seems, the best protection against harsh or exploitive governments.
I believe that God intended for people to live together, closely connected. I believe, too, that the family is the most basic unit of social organization and that friendships are built on common interests, desires and struggles. I believe that the term interdependence is fitting of people and that people need each other both physically and psychologically.
It’s also true, I believe, that individuals are safer in groups – that we, in effect, protect and insulate one another from immediate and looming danger. Our proclivity to gather also gives us the opportunity to divide our labor and benefit from each other’s strengths while also protecting ourselves from the consequences of our weaknesses. I believe that God shows his mercy by enabling a weakened and fallen people to find ways to survive in a world made hard by our disobedience and our desire to be god(s).
Culture is the outgrowth and the effluvium of people living together. It is the collection of our language, our habits, our desires and our struggles. Art symbolizes this collective cultural experience and attempts to transcribe the sprit of our times. Art is a gathering of sorts – a knot of the spirit. And meaningful art says things that are ineffable, capturing the very core of our being. Much may be written about particular works of art, but words will never adequately describe the mysterious feelings aroused by such as the alluring smile of Mona Lisa.
I believe art to be an offering of man’s spirit as well as an invitation to sense something greater than himself. Art is an essential and beautiful element in culture.
(c) Copyright 2003, Levi Hill