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Philosophy is concerned about God’s nature and will, but it has never had much appeal to the vast majority of people. It is abstract and talks about God as the Ground of being and the Fundamental Force of the Universe. Most people need a concept of God that can be embodied in some kind of a mental image. This is why the Bible is filled with what is called anthropomorphism. That is a big word that simply means the picturing of God in the form of a man, and with characteristics of a man. God became a man in Christ, and Jesus said that when we see him we see the Father, and so our image of God is very manlike. Our highest revelation of God is in the man Christ Jesus. In Jesus God is a man.
Even before man knew of God the Son the Father was described in terms of human characteristics. The reason for this is obvious, for there is no alternative if man is going to have any intelligent concept of the nature of God. If anthropomorphic terms were not used to describe God He would be so abstract as to be almost meaningless, and He would certainly not be thought of in a way that would be of much comfort. God is infinite spirit, and all His attributes are so infinitely superior to ours that we cannot conceive of God at all in His essence. Our knowledge of God has to be on the level of the finite. This means we must be aware that even our highest concepts of God are fall short of what He really is. God has had to descend to the level of our finite minds in order to be known by us at all.
If you want to communicate with a dog you do so with meat and bones and scratching behind the ears. These are hardly the highest expressions of man’s nature, or of his love, but these kinds of things alone can be understood by the dogs intelligence. You would get nowhere in communicating with a dog by mathematics, art, or a lecture on biology.
These are above the dog’s capacity, and so rather than get no response at all you stoop to the dog’s level and speak his language. This is what God has done with man. He has revealed himself in man-like ways, and with man-like characteristics. The result is that many young people form the concept in their minds of God as an old man of great wisdom with a long white beard. Mature believer know this is not so, but as C. S. Lewis has said, it is better that God be seen this way than as a mere abstraction, which is even more false to reality. He wrote, “What soul ever perished for believing that God the Father really has a beard?”
It is essential to think of God in human terms, and it is harmless as long as recognize them as necessary symbols to represent God, but not necessarily what He actually is. The Greeks fell into this danger and had their gods on the same level with men, and this included all of their limitations and immoralities as well. Most pagan peoples have done this, and so they have a very poor concept of God. Any god who is too man-like is a partaker in man’s evils. God rebuked this in Ps. 50:21, “You thought that I was one like yourself.
But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you.” We must use the benefits of anthropomorphism, for the Bible uses them, but we must also avoid its dangers lest we make God in man’s image. God made man in His image, and so it is reasonable to assume that God is man-like in many ways. But we need to avoid any idea that God is like man in his fallen nature.
God has always been in heaven speaking the words that formed all or reality, but then we come to Gen. 3:8 and all of a sudden we see God walking on earth in the garden. He is now clearly in the image of man. Our very first concept of God, which we can visualize is of a man walking in the garden and talking with Adam and Eve. We cannot conceive of what He was before creation, but here we see Him as a man. What is of interest is that this is not just anthropomorphic, but is a literal description of what God actually did. He made himself in the form of a man and dwelt with man. Only the literal interpretation fits the total unity of the Bible. The ultimate goal is that God will again dwell with man.
It is not stated as such but it could very well be that this one walking in the garden could have been the second person of the Godhead. Jesus became a literal man in the incarnation, but here we see him taking on the form of a man. In the ultimate paradise that we see in the book of Revelation we know it will be Jesus who will walk with us in white, and we shall be like Him when we see Him as He is.
Anthropomorphism is justified because God began his relationship with man as a man. He chose to reveal himself in the form of a man at the beginning, and actually became a man in history.
It is implied that God had walked in the garden before this, for how could they have known the sound of Him walking if they had not heard it before? They did not see Him but heard Him coming, and if they had never seen God before in the form of a man walking, how could they ever suspect it would be God making the sounds they heard? The text implies that God actually dwelt on earth with Adam and Eve. This means that earth was once the dwelling place of God, and God had actually been on our world in the form of man before Christ. It could have been the pre-incarnate Christ who was here in the form of man. He did not come into flesh through birth, but merely took on the form of a man as we see He did on other occasions in the Old Testament.
We see that the Old Testament works away from an incarnation of God, which was lost toward and incarnation of God, which gave hope. It is no wonder that the Old Testament concept of the ultimate kingdom was earth centered, for this was the setting of the ideal in the beginning. Even in the New Testament where the eternal kingdom is pictured as heavenly, there is still the new earth as a part of it, and it appears that this small planet will be forever a place where God will dwell with His people, and walk in the beauty of paradise.
The picture of God walking in the garden was like Jesus centuries later walking in Palestine, for He was the only man on earth who was perfect. Adam and Eve had fallen and so they felt naked before God and they hid themselves. We see two frightened shameful people who do not want to be seen in their nakedness. God’s first question to fallen man was, “Where are you?” God was the great seeker of man, and Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost.
Everything about this first picture of God reminds us of Jesus. God finds them, hears their confusion, judges them, and then provides them with coverings and the hope of redemption. This whole account pictures God as Christ-like. We see God in man’s image as the God-Man.
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