Man and woman were made in the image of God with individuality, the power and freedom to think and to do. Though created free beings, each is an indivisible unity of body, mind, and spirit, dependent upon God for life and breath and all else. When our first parents disobeyed God, they denied their dependence upon Him and fell from their high position under God. The image of God in them was marred and they became subject to death. Their descendants share this fallen nature and its consequences. They are born with weaknesses and tendencies to evil. But God in Christ reconciled the world to Himself and by His Spirit restores in penitent mortals the image of their Maker. Created for the glory of God, they are called to love Him and one another, and to care for their environment. (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:7; Ps. 8:4-8; Acts 17:24-28; Gen. 3; Ps. 51:5; Rom. 5:12-17; 2 Cor. 5:19, 20; Ps. 51:10; 1 John 4:7, 8, 11, 20; Gen. 2:15.)
This is one of the more philosophically-inclined Adventist beliefs. Unfortunately the high challange of defining the human proves a little too steep. But, beyond its plain approach, it ends with a call to the humane: love God and each other, and care for the environment. I could rest now since connecting belief to ethical action is the point of this series. However, let us scale anew the human, with a helpful quote from the eminent E. O. Wilson:
Humanity is a biological species, living in a biological environment, because like all species, we are exquisitely adapted in everything: from our behavior, to our genetics, to our physiology, to that particular environment in which we live. The earth is our home. Unless we preserve the rest of life, as a sacred duty, we will be endangering ourselves by destroying the home in which we evolved, and on which we completely depend.
Whether one cares for our environment because of the church or due to this sociobiological framework—it is a spiritual act.
This belief begins and ends with the metaphor of the image of God. Both men and women were created in it and then humanity is restored to it through Christ and the Holy Spirit. This has implications for the role of women in the Adventist church leadership. Others have made this point about men and women reflecting the image of God, but it would seem that anyone arguing for separate spiritual roles denies this fundamental belief. Not only should they not collect a salary from a church with which they fundamentally disagree, but one wonders if they also rob God? It seems logical that anyone— from pastor to caveman—who treats men and women unequally also must have an unbalanced image of God.
It would be interesting to interview Adventists in the social sciences to see what they really believe in light of this doctrine. The history of Western thought has chipped away at or buttressed to what was once called the doctrine of man. In fact, that’s the term that my 1988 copy of Seventh-day Adventists Believe: A Biblical Exposition of 27 Fundamental Doctrines employs. Beyond the Bible, it is interesting to see which non-Adventist thinkers are referenced. Of course there is no mention of Freud, Marx, Darwin, much less Claude Lévi-Strauss or Franz Boas. But it is telling to see who gets included beyond Ellen White and Gerhard Hasel. I count three theologians quoted to explain our belief: Louis Berkhof, James Orr, and Leonard Verduin. They all come from the Calvinist tradition, with its “total depravity” view of human nature. This might explain some of the stronger language in the belief as well as the intellectual project of those Adventists involved in its crafting. After all, James Orr was one of the fathers of Christian fundamentalism.
Unlike many Christian traditions, this belief on human nature also contributes to the Seventh-day Adventist understanding of holism. The human is an “indivisible unity of body, mind, and spirit.” Avoiding the modernist dualist frameworks, this sort of holistic thinking continues to attract contemporary thinkers even as it connects to early Adventist pioneers like Ellen White. A recent doctoral dissertation by a Finnish scholar, Harri Kuhalampi, titled Holistic Spirituality in the Thinking of Ellen White, highlights this connection. Kuhalampi summarizes:
Ellen White can be regarded as one of the foremost representatives of holistic spirituality for several reasons. First, her view of human beings is holistic, which means that in her view there is no separate soul apart from the physical body. Thus spirituality concerns the whole person and not only some individual and obscure inner realm. Secondly, her interest is not only in those individuals who have already made considerable advances on the spiritual path, but she also effectively guides those ones who have not even touched the rudiments of spirituality. She has important things to say to people at every stage of their spiritual journey. Thirdly, she sees spiritual significance and meaning in all experiences of life. The entire human life and its various experiences form an integral part of a balanced and fruitful spirituality. Fourthly, according to her, there is no separate location designated for optimal spiritual growth, but instead all our environments are equally part of God’s world.
Attention to relationships is essential to understanding what it means to be human. And that awareness of spiritual holism lies at the dynamic center of our consciousness. If the Adventist belief, Nature of Man, can logically ground its profound call to love and care, perhaps it is that whatever’s broken in the individual is saved in the plurality of the divine.
Image: Genis Carreras, Philographics project.