The Enigma that is Man
‘Man is an enigma, whose only solution can be found in God.’ So wrote Herman Bavinck, the great Dutch theologian. What Bavinck wrote is immediately applicable to fallen men and women. Science cannot explain who we are and what we are. Science cannot tell us what will ultimately become of us. It cannot explain the mystery that is man. For we are a mystery, even a contradiction. When science (so-called) seeks to explain us in purely humanistic, evolutionary terms, we rebel. We know that we are more than a chance amalgam of sub-atomic particles. We know, even when we do not want to acknowledge it, that there is more to us than meets the eye! Man is an enigma whose only solution can be found in God.
What is less obvious to many Christians, however, is that what Bavinck writes is no less applicable to believers. There is, even in the most blessed of Christians, a perplexity that can at times be overwhelming. We get a glimpse of this perplexity in Paul’s confession in Romans 7:15ff:
I do not understand what I do, but what I hate I do . . . I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it . . . What a wretched man that I am!
Paul is an enigma to himself. He is deeply perplexed by the contradiction of his life.
Paul is not some abnormal, un-spiritual, Spirit-deficient Christian. He is acknowledging the inescapable tension that lies within the heart and life of every true believer. He is a child of God, but yet marked by frail, fallen flesh. He is an heir of God’s glory, but yet encompassed with weakness. He is united to Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, but living in an environment ruled and defaced by the devil. He is a sanctified Christian, but is troubled, and at times all but overwhelmed, by indwelling sin. The Christian is an enigma whose only solution can be found in God. This is Paul’s conclusion in Romans 7:24-25: ‘Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!’ The enigma and contradiction will not last forever. Our union with the glorified God-Man is the guarantee that we will all, one coming day, share in his ‘perfect resolution’. Now we ‘groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons’ (Rom. 8:23). The day has not yet arrived when our lowly bodies will be transformed to be like his glorious body – but that day is coming, God has ordained it! The triumph of the Saviour assures it!
Now we live in the intersection of two worlds – this fallen world that is passing away, and the world to come, which has already come in the Persons of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, both sent from the Father. There is therefore an inescapable ache in every truly Christian heart: we are not yet home. And that ache is at times heightened by the aggravations of indwelling sin and the assaults of the devil. So much so, that we can think that because we do not do what we long to do, but do what we hate to do, we cannot be Christians. If we are not grieved and humbled by this indwelling enigma, we should seriously ask ourselves whether indeed we can possibly be Christians. But if you are perplexed and humbled by your contradictions, and grieve over the inconsistencies and contradictions in your lives, I would suggest you evidence one of the marks of authentic saving faith.
I write these lines not to excuse our contradictions, but to cheer, hopefully, the heart of any saint who is burdened by their contradictions. One day the Lord will finally deliver all his people from their ‘body of death’. Then we will cease to be wretched men and women (who are at the same time sons of the living God), but be glorified saints, with all our enigmas and contradictions forever expunged from our lives, conformed perfectly to the likeness of our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Ian Hamilton is Pastor of the Cambridge Presbyterian Church.
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