Scripture defines man in a way that is disturbing to the rationalist. In Psalm 8:4 David asked the question, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man that thou visitest him?” This was, to a certain extent, a rhetorical question, as his point was his amazement at man in comparison to God, whose name is excellent (great, powerful) in all the earth.
In describing man’s calling to dominion, David did answer his own question “What is man?” He did not answer it in abstract or philosophical terms, but rather in terms of God’s revelation of man’s true purpose. David went back to Genesis to answer his question:
“For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
“Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.” (5–6)
First, says David, man is what he is because God made him. Second, authority was conveyed on him. He was made a little lower than the angels, or judges or magistrates. All men are thus lesser magistrates responsible for rule under God’s law-word. Third, this represents a crowning, a coronation, a conveyance of right and duty. This crowning represents the glory and honor of authority derived from that of God Himself.
David sees man in terms of Genesis 1–2. Much opposition to the dominion mandate by dispensationalists has focused on the change of status brought by the Fall. It is often claimed that the creation mandate to dominion was negated by sin. David certainly knew the effects of sin, both his own and that of others, yet he clearly saw dominion as the basic calling and purpose of man.
David did not see man as an abstraction to be defined on his own terms. David saw man in his day as being what Genesis declared him to be from the beginning, a creature made for a purpose, that of dominion. David, in Psalm 8, saw no change in the calling of man expressed in Genesis.
If we are defined by our calling, then we can know ourselves in terms of either faithfulness or unfaithfulness. This is precisely the theme of Scripture. Man in sin tends to want a definition and purpose other than his creation mandate. He also wants another moral yardstick than God’s law-word. Thus, good and evil are often seen as abstract concepts. Abstract concepts are, by definition, non-specific, difficult to comprehend, and more conceptual than specific and factual. If man can begin by self-definition, he can proceed to define all else as well. That which is abstract is easy to admit to, but impossible to identify with precision. All men can therefore speak of good and evil in abstract terms without ever having to come to terms with actually identifying anything as good or evil. Nothing can definitively be said to be good or evil if those are abstract concepts. The most that can happen is that some people can agree on examples of the application of the abstract.
There is nothing abstract about good and evil in Scripture, however. They are not concepts to be debated philosophically but a moral division that must be recognized and respected. Neither man, his purpose, nor morality are abstract concepts in Scripture. They are revelational truths. Each person has a calling, purpose, and law-word to which he is restored by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit.
The goal of modern man is still dominion, but the evil dominion of his own sinful desire for autonomy. The goal of modern man is to define himself, to find himself, to explore his own purpose and individuality. Modern man wants self-realization and self-fulfillment, but he seeks it in a rebellion against his Maker. Therefore, he explores sin; he seeks to find himself in rebellion; and he seeks fulfillment in his separation from God. Along the way he baptizes this or that as “good” or “evil” in his own eyes.
David saw fulfillment in being what he was meant to be, God’s man who praised his Maker for the privilege of exercising dominion over “all things.” To be fulfilled, we must be reconciled to our God and this calling.
Life, purpose, and ethics are not abstract philosophical questions. They are religious and moral questions answered by our reconciliation by Jesus Christ to God and His providence and decree.