January 9, 2012

Imago Dei

I'm reading a book (whaddya know?) called Noah's Three Sons. It is the first in The Doorway Papers, a series of essays on theology and anthropology by a Canadian named Arthur C. Custance, who is, I gather, not very well known. Probably the reason is that he thinks so very much outside the box, and that while I have thus far found him very orthodox, he challenges the norms of biblical interpretation. In Noah's Three Sons he traces God's plan of redemption through the lines of Shem, Ham, and Japheth and the impact that those three families (Semitic, Hamitic, and Indo-European) have had throughout the history of Mankind. While I will admit up front that I don't agree with all his theories, his major point is profound and well worth considering.

It is Custance's contention that Man has a threefold nature (not surprising, perhaps, when it is considered that Man was made in the image of a triune God) and lives in three realms: the spiritual, the physical, and the intellectual. He further argues that each son of Noah was entrusted by God with a particular responsibility relating to that - Shem, to Man's spiritual need; Ham, to the physical; and Japheth, to the intellectual. I could hardly do justice in one post to Custance's arguments in support of this, which span about 300 pages, but a cursory look at history tells in favor of it. Consider: the three major religions of the world (Islam, Judaism, and Christianity) are all Semitic in origin. It has been discovered that the vast majority of basic (and ingenious) inventions were created by Hamitic people, who, Custance postulates, were the first to spread and subdue the earth. And philosophy was cultivated by races of the Indo-European stock, most notably the Greeks.

Custance does not try to say that individuals of each stock can only focus on that one part of their lives. But he shows the way each race as a whole has carried the responsibility for the part of Man's nature that was entrusted to it, and further shows how the relations between Shem, Ham, and Japheth down the ages have been used as a vehicle for the workings of God. In laying out his arguments, too, Custance bears witness to the glory of God's prime creation, Man, even as he has been corrupted by sin. It is the belief of some that Christianity - or any religion at all - robs Man of his greatness; but while it is true that one of the basic doctrines of Christianity is that we are nothing outside of Christ, yet it is also true that in another way, Christianity exalts Man more than any other religion or "non-religion". He is created in the Image of God. He is a little lower than the angels, but crowned with glory and honor. He is capable of unimaginable things, good and, fallen as he now is, bad. He is a creative genius. His soul was made for God. He lives in time, but God has set eternity in his heart. It was for Man, that creation which God pronounced "Very good," that Christ was slain before the foundations of the world.

Man is all this, and more. Day to day it is difficult to see; one does not easily look at a stranger and remember that the image of God resides in them. Sin has done its corrupting work, and continues to do it. But the difficulty does not lessen the reality of the fact. Sin is not of the essence of Man, and by that I mean that when it has been stripped away, Man does not cease to be Man. Oh, no! In His essence Jesus was Man, but he was not sinful. Man as created is a glorious being, and even now that glory, derived from His Maker, remains.

O LORD, our LORD, how excellent is Your name in all the earth!

- psalm 8

7 comments:

  1. I want to read Custance's works too. I like thinkers who reverently challenge the prevailing mindset and dare to look outside the box. And I have always been interested in anthropology. Man is such a fantastic, this-and-other-worldly creature; it is very easy in the middle of humdrumity to forget what a magnificent thing he is, and was, and will be.

    Thanks for the post!

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  2. It's a really good book. I was uncertain at first because he seems to stretch some of theories toward the beginning, but the majority of what he has to say is very well-defended and thought-provoking. And in some cases it's downright fascinating. So all in all, I would heartily recommend it.

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  3. Custance's view (from what you said in the post... I've never heard of him before) sounds quite interesting, doesn't it! I don't know that I totally agree either about everything, but I do like that part about Man being created in the image of God, the crowning glory of God's handiwork. Thank you for sharing!

    P.S. I'll be e-mailing you today Lord willing!!

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  4. He is certainly challenging. Much as one's first impression might be to balk at some of his theories, though, I think you might find as you studied his reasons that he has a lot to back him up. I am constantly amazed by the amount of research he did for the essays. You can tell how much he devoted himself to his writing.

    Thanks for commenting! I'll look forward to your email.

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  5. Abigail, how do you do! I believe that this is my first real visit here, very exchange. It seems that you are engaged in some of Japheth's work, according to Custance. Your post is very thought provoking, and though I may never read the book, the post makes me realize again, the enormity of our Lord's world and undertakings for and in us.

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  6. Hello, Maria! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. Although I wouldn't recommend Custance's work for young believers, just because it's so challenging, I have found it amazing how much of God's glory the author displays merely in outlining the history of Man. He takes something like anthropology, which may seem quite mundane, and shows that it, like any other study, has an impact on life. I believe that is what keeps the book from being boring.

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  7. I see, Abigail! Then for a mature believer it can lead to wonder at the demonstration of God's story in the particulars, only partly known, of man's history. Yes, this wouldn't be tedious, especially for someone like yourself who is so open to studying history as a place to see the works of God.

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I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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