The Abolition of Man

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THE ABOLITION OF MAN. That is the title of a little book by C.S.Lewis of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe fame. But few have heard of this important book of only 48 pages. It was published in 1943 and must have been written in 1942. It was an attack on "relativism". Relativism says that nothing is absolutely right or absolutely wrong; and there is certainly no divine law. Nor was this just an academic exercise. For the Second World War was raging. And on the 20 January 1942, at a Nazi conference in Berlin, the terrible Final Solution was planned. That "solution" was to murder 11,000,000 Jews. The Nazis were saying that nothing is absolutely right or absolutely wrong. Nor was it just Hitler saying these things. Lewis knew that intellectuals were saying them in Britain and America and he knew that at the end of this road is, indeed, the Abolition of Man.

And people today are still (and even more than in the 1940s) saying that nothing is absolutely right or absolutely wrong. Robert Simon, a professor of philosophy, reported recently that one of his students said: "Of course I dislike the Nazis, but who is to say they are morally wrong."

He says that others make similar observations about apartheid, slavery, and ethnic cleansing. To pass judgment, they fear, is to be a moral "absolutist", and having been taught that there are no absolutes, they now see any judgment as arbitrary, intolerant and authoritarian. A different professor also reports that some of his students are similarly reluctant to pass judgment on the perpetrators of the Holocaust. "It all depends on your perspective," one said. And another, "I'd just have to see these events through the eyes of the people affected by them." And that is being said today!

So where did (and do) these relativistic ideas come from that lead (and still lead) to the abolition of man (as Lewis puts it)? Dr Victor Frankl survived the Auschwitz concentration camp. After the war he said it was the nihilistic philosophies of the 19th century that led to the death camps of the 20th century. And he warned that there is still, I quote: "a nihilistic tendency to devalue and depreciate that which is human in man."

How true he was - with abortion now on demand, embryo experimentation and moves to bring in euthanasia - in all of which the Nazis were experts and led the field. What then were these 19th century philosophies? Answer: they were the philosophies from atheistic philosophers who rejected not any and every God, but the God of the Bible as definitively revealed in Jesus Christ

There was Marx who said you must be an atheist because religion, he alleged, supports an unjust social order. There was Freud who said that religion is an illusion - the product of mere wish fulfilment. There was Darwin who said that the human race was a chance of impersonal nature and not the plan of a personal God. And there was Nietzsche who said that God is dead so all is permitted. Marx and Freud have been discredited. Darwin has been discredited as mixing philosophy with science. Nietzsche's legacy, however, is still going strong. But if you lose the Fatherhood of the God of the Bible, before long you loose the brotherhood of man and soon have the Abolition of Man.

But exactly how did these philosophers come to their rejection of the God of the Bible? After all Marx, Darwin and Nietzsche all had Christian upbringings. The Bible is clear. There is a bias in every human being against God. To try to understand that I now want us to think about Genesis chapter 3 - our Old Testament reading. And my headings tonight are simple - first, GENESIS 3 and that will have two parts - a) introduction and then b) the Fall of Man; and my second heading is THE WAY BACK.

First, GENESIS 3

a) By way of introduction I want to say this. The early chapters of Genesis obviously raise the issue of the creation of everything. They teach that God is the creator of this universe of space and time and of all men and women. How he created is beyond human understanding. That he created (and from nothing) is within human understanding. We can understand it means that God minus the world equals God; but the world minus God equals zero!

But someone asks, "is that reasonable?" Time doesn't allow me to go into great details. But I will say this: responsible reasoning always must distinguish between the possible, the probable, and the demonstrable. Nothing, of course, can now be scientifically demonstrable or verifiable as regards something so primordial and unique as the origin of all things and the beginning of this Universe. Unfortunately you cannot go back in time. So you have to decide between the possible and the probable. How do you do that? Well, you need to take account of certain facts or data that are demonstrable or verifiable - these include facts about the physical world; facts from human history; and facts about human psychology. Let me list some of these.

First, some facts about the physical world. Here is one famous modern Professor of Physics at Cambridge. He claims that for this universe to be able to support life, there has to have been a degree of accuracy in the balance of its physical forces. This balance is the same as, I quote, ... "... aiming at a target an inch wide on the other side of the observable universe, twenty thousand million light years away, and hitting the target."

Another professor, this time an American Biologist from Princeton University, has said: "The probability of life originating from accident is comparable to the probability of an Unabridged Dictionary resulting from an explosion in a printing factory"

He is saying that to assert that this universe is a random chance may be theoretically possible but hardly probable.

Secondly, there are two hugely significant facts about human history where the evidence "for" is stronger than the evidence "against". These are quite critical facts. One is the fact (that is hard to escape) of Jesus Christ and his birth, his life, his teachings, his miracles, his death, his real resurrection leaving an empty tomb and then the implications of that for his ascension and return again at the climax of history.

The other is the fact of the sacrifice and courage shown by so many Christian martyrs and missionaries. These have been people as diverse as Polycarp and Athanasius in the early centuries; John Wesley and William Carey in the 18th century; and great martyrs and missionaries in recent years. Of course, they all had their faults but they stand out as giants in the history of the world.

Then thirdly there are two facts of human psychology that need addressing. One is the fact that most people have a desire for their guilt to be dealt with. But what religion or philosophy other than the Christian faith is able to assure people of the forgiveness of sins? Islam, for example, does not believe that Christ died on the Cross bearing the punishment you and I deserve - so setting us free.

The other psychological fact is that most have a desire for hope after death. But what religion or philosophy other than the Christian faith with its confidence of a resurrection when Christ returns and the assurance of sins forgiven provides that hope?

Listen to what the atheistic philosopher Bertrand Russell says: "there is darkness without and when I die darkness within. There is no splendour, no vastness anywhere; only triviality for a moment, and then nothing."

In the light of these facts to say that our existence in this amazing universe is a great accident, may be theoretically possible but hard to believe as probable. As G.K.Chesterton put it: "If my children wake up on Christmas morning and have someone to thank for putting sweets in their stocking, have I no one to thank for putting two feet in mine?"

And do not forget that proof in matters like this has to be appropriate to what you are proving. There is one way of proving things in mathematics or logic. But to my satisfaction, I have proved and know that my colleague Jonathan Pryke (who was taking the service tonight) exists. I have done this not mathematically or by logic, but by originally meeting him and then talking with him and interacting with him. It is the same with the God of the Bible. As you have a relationship with him, so you prove him. Jesus once said:

"If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own" (John 7.17).

Trusting and obeying God is the way to spiritual knowledge and proof. So much by way of introduction.

b) We come now to Genesis chapter 3 itself where you have the account of the Fall of Man. For it is here that you have the answer to that question, "how is that people are against God?" On this chapter one commentator has said, "Leaving aside the probably unanswerable question of ... what we would have seen and heard had we been there to observe, we read Genesis 3 not only as narrating man's [original] fall from God, but as picturing the continuing human condition as it was yesterday, as it is today and as it will be tomorrow."

With that in mind we can see this chapter teaches us at least three things - something first about the Devil; secondly, something about the importance of God's word; and, thirdly, something about the man and the woman and their mistakes.

So first, something about the devil. And it is very simple - namely that the devil is "crafty". Look at verse 1:

"Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made."

The New Testament directs you to see the serpent as "the devil or Satan" (Rev 12.9) - a created spiritual being, not divine, but one who has rejected God. You then immediately say, "But can a modern man or woman believe in a real devil - or Satan" (devil, by the way is the Greek word for the evil one, Satan is the Hebrew word). The answer is, "yes!" It makes good sense to say that the totality of evil in the world is not accounted for by adding together the sum total of all the individual misdeeds of individual people. There is a "superplus" (so to speak) of evil. And that superplus is not some evil force - an "it"; rather it is a "he" with purpose and intelligence. Nor is the devil like his cartoon caricatures. The Bible tells us that "Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light" (2 Cor 11.14). He is "crafty". He uses people who may hardly realize they are being used and who can seem so plausible. Jesus warned of such people in the Sermon on the Mount - Matthew 7 verse 15:

"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves."

So the devil is crafty.

That leads us on to the second lesson in this chapter, about the importance of God's word. The number one target of the serpent was to undermine the woman's (and then the man's) trust in God's word. So God's word must be important. The devil's great strategy is to abolish God's word. Look at the end of verse 1:

"He said to the woman, 'Did God really say, "You must not eat from any tree in the garden"?' The woman said to the serpent, 'We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, "You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die."' 'You will not surely die,' the serpent said to the woman."

For us (apart from Jesus himself - the word made flesh and God's unique and final revelation) God's word is supremely the Bible. The Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England call the Bible "God's Word Written". There you have God's word through the prophets and through Jesus and his apostles whom he commissioned. And to abolish God's word is to abolish faith in God. The Bible says, Romans 10.17:

"faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ."

As a matter of history, in the 19th century key German theologians were denying and deconstructing the Bible in ways that are now seen to be illegitimate from a scholarly point of view. But that exercise validated those nihilistic philosophies which Dr Frankl said have a tendency "to devalue and depreciate that which is human in man".

Karl Barth, a very famous theologian, had a public sea-change in his own thinking when he saw these liberal theologians contributing to the First World War. He wrote: "Disillusioned by their conduct, I perceived that I should not be able any longer to accept their ethics and dogmatics, their biblical exegesis, their interpretation of history: that at least for me the theology of the 19th century had no future."

So God's word is vital and the devil will attack it.

And the third lesson this chapter teaches is about Adam and Eve and their mistakes. Here are some of them.

One, there was the desire to be like God. Look at verse 5 and what the serpent said:

"when you eat ... you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

This is the desire to be at the centre and to have the Universe revolving around you rather than around God. This is the sin of pride.

Two, there was the desire for making pleasure the primary aim rather than truth and what is right. Look at verse 6:

"When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it."

Three, they came to think that God is a "spoil sport" and does not want your good but your harm. Look at verse 5 again:

"God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened."

The serpent was saying that God is repressive. That is a lie. God had given the man and woman so much freedom. They could eat from every tree except one.

Four, there was the thought that the man and woman could escape from God and avoid the consequences of their wrong doing. How many people are like that today? Who tonight thinks they can escape God's eye and then his judgments. Look at verses 7-8:

"Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden."

And, five, they were unwilling to accept responsibility for the wrong they had done. The man blamed the woman and the woman blamed the serpent. Look at verses verse 12-13:

"The man said, 'The woman you put here with me - she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.' Then the LORD God said to the woman, 'What is this you have done?' The woman said, 'The serpent deceived me, and I ate.'

That is all so true to life. But the man and the woman couldn't escape God. They experienced God's judgment. As you read on you see how their rejecting God spoilt their relationship not just with God but with one another and even the created universe. What then?

That brings me to my second, heading, THE WAY BACK.

I will be brief. The rest of the Bible is the account of how foolish people were to carry on rejecting God; and how wise they were when they sought his forgiveness and his strength to live the sort of lives that he intended them to live. You read about Abraham and then Moses and the nation of Israel that God chose as a special people he could teach to reach others. But there was still failure. In the end there was one person alone who was a light to the nations, Jesus Christ, the divine Son who became a man. He then taught and commissioned others to reflect his light to the whole world, no longer just Israel. And they were to help establish a renewed people of God - that is the world wide church - the gathering of all those who have faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.

But Jesus was the light first and foremost because he alone has dealt with God's judgment on sin by dying for sins in our place. Nor is there (or will there be) any other way back to God. Like Adam and Eve, you and I have to realise we can't for ever pass the buck. At some point the buck stops with each one of us. So you have to admit you have failed God. Surely it is wisest to sort out the problems now while God, in his love, has given you a chance. The Bible is so clear - 2 Corinthians 6 verse 2:

"now is the time of God's favour, now is the day of salvation."

And Hebrews 9 verse 27 says this:

"man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment."

Nor is it unreasonable that there should be some closure, if it is the same for everyone. And it is. The closure is the day of our death. It is like an exam. If you are clearly told you have three hours, and you say "I'm going to answer my questions as though I have four hours", you can't blame anyone else when you find you haven't finished and the time is up and your paper is demanded.

So how do you become a Christian now? How do you accept God's favour and salvation now? On the Day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter said you are to repent and believe; to be baptized; and to receive the Holy Spirit. Repenting and believing is what you do. You are baptized through what the church does. You receive the Holy Spirit through what God does. Repenting means you change your thinking. You do the reverse of Adam and Eve. You recognize that God is good and wants the best for you; and you want to relate to him as he wants to relate to you. And believing is not only believing that Christ died for your sins and rose again but relying on him as your Saviour and obeying him as your Lord.

Then baptism is helpful and necessary as it anchors your faith in a simple ritual involving water. Yesterday we had a wedding here. At a key point in the service "rings" were exchanged. They didn't constitute the marriage but from now on, the Bride and Bridegroom will have those to symbolize and remind them of their wedding day and what they promised. So baptism symbolizes and reminds you of what Christ has done for you cleansing you from your sin and what you should now do for him. And importantly it makes public what otherwise is private.

And as you trust him and pray for his strength, you will receive the Holy Spirit, who already is at work giving you faith and new life.

I must conclude.

I am going to do so by reading again the last two verses of our New Testament lesson - Matthew 11. 28-30 - the words of Jesus:

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

And that invitation still stands.

So I am now going to suggest that we close tonight with silence. I do not know where you stand spiritually speaking. God alone looks into your heart. But I expect there are some here who just want to do more thinking about the things they have heard. If so you probably will find helpful one of our Christianity Explored groups. But some of you need to do something definite. You have done enough thinking. You need positively to "repent and believe" - to admit you need of forgiveness and new life and for the strength of the Holy Spirit. And then you need to go public - through baptism, confirmation or renewal of your baptismal vows.

You can pray, in your own words, in the light of that invitation of Jesus. At the simplest you can pray, "Lord Jesus Christ, on the basis of that invitation I now come to you as my Saviour and Lord." Or you can pray one of those New Testament prayers: "Have mercy on me a sinner" or "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"

And if, as many will be, you are a believer but you still need "rest for your soul" - not for that first time but there is something you need to go to Christ for now - remember his invitation always stands.

So let us pray.

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