The Wellspring of Life
The mysteries of the creation of human life
"In him was life, and the life was the light of men" (John 1.4).
Life is a mystery even though it pervades the whole of the world we know. On the land, in the sea, in the air, below the surface of the earth, live myriads of varied creatures animated by this mysterious power we call life. The land and the sea alike are replete with an almost infinite variety of vegetation which displays the same phenomenon. The structure of all these creatures and all these plants is composed of the materials which also form the planet on which they live but the possession of life puts them in a class apart. In the case of man the quality of intelligence adds a further unknown factor. What is life and where does it come from?
The Christian answer is that the source of life is in God, that He bestows life and withdraws it according to his Will. This is the Bible viewpoint and every writer whose words appear in the Bible takes his stand upon this principle; in the New Testament there is an enlargement of thought in that although life has its origin in the Father, it comes to man only through the Son. The whole explanation of the Divine creation and purpose and man's relation thereto which the Bible offers is built upon this thesis. Without God there cannot be life.
A good many in this modern age think otherwise. Failure either to believe in the existence of a supreme Creator or to comprehend the essential relation that must exist between the Creator and his creatures leads them to enquire elsewhere for the origin of life. A goodly number of biologists and other research workers are trying very hard to find the answer. Unfortunately, for them, they have not much to go upon, for all that is available for study is the finished article. The only book that so much as claims to furnish the information they seek has to be rejected by them on principle. So the biologists have been very busy, especially in quite recent years, separating bodies into cells and cells into molecules and molecules into atoms to find out, if they can, at what point life can be said to start. Not surprisingly, they have come up with some remarkable discoveries. Thus in 1953 it was found that by exposing a mixture of water, ammonia and methane to ultra-violet light some of the basic constituents of the cells comprising animal bodies were produced. There has been much construction of theories, aimed at explaining how such basic constituents could have come together in the form of living organisms able to grow and reproduce themselves. When all is said and done it remains that the investigators have only discovered or produced the material structure in which life is manifested; how life got into it or how life originated or what it is, no man knows. There is a fundamental difference between tracing out the origin of living creatures and the origin of life. So there is considerable discussion now going on as to whether life began as a chemical reaction between non-living matter and the surrounding environment, the sunlight, the air, the water and so on, or is the result of "seeds" or "spores" of life reaching the earth from outer space and entering into combination with elementary substances and so producing the first living things. In either case the origin of life remains unknown.
Against this admitted uncertainty and inadequate understanding, the Bible presentation speaks out with conviction and authority. The Apostle Paul declared that in God "we live, and move, and have our being"; that He "gives to all, life, and breath, and all things" (Acts 17.25-28). "The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life" says Elihu in Job 33.4. Even more to the point are the words of the Psalmist "With thee is the fountain of life; in thy light shall we see light" (Psa.36.9). All is summed up in the statement that the Most High alone possesses immortality ‑ inherent life (1 Tim. 6.16). It is impossible for us to comprehend God. The infinite Intelligence which created all things and sustains all things is forever beyond our understanding but we must accept the fact that in him is the source of life and the only means of continuation of life.
The New Testament presents the person of Jesus Christ as the means by which God is manifest to man, and the means by which He imparts life to man. The writer to the Hebrews describes Christ as the effulgence of God's glory and the delineation of his being (Heb. 1.3). We finite creatures, with our limitations, can see the Father only when we look at the Son; "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14.9). It follows then that what we receive from the Father comes to us through the Son. That is why Jesus taught that life, vital life, eternal life, can only come through him and be attained by acceptance of him. There is no other way and no other channel. The Gospel of John stresses this in a variety of incidents and sayings all the way from chapter 3 to chapter 6. The first Epistle of John continues in the same strain. "He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son shall not see life" (1 John 5.12). "The gift of God" says St. Paul "is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 6.23).
The patriarchs of Old Testament times had a simpler and more material idea of God and of course the person of Christ was not revealed to them, but they, many of them, had grasped this fundamental principle, that life is of God. The Old Testament presentation of God giving life to man by breathing his Spirit into man's frame is literally accurate even if intended metaphorically. In the story of man's creation, God "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul" (Gen. 2. 7). The necessity of the continual sustaining of that life by the power of the Almighty is recognised. "The dust" says the Preacher "shall return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it" (Eccl. 12.7). That principle obtains with the lower creation also. "You take away their breath, they die, and return to their dust. You send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth" (Psa.104.29-50).
The New Testament recognises these two aspects of life—life as it can be when lived eternally in union with God and life as it is manifested temporarily in an earthly body ‑ by its choice of descriptive words. Two Greek terms are used consistently throughout the New Testament. Life that is associated with an animal or terrestrial being, life in a fleshly body, is psuche. This word occurs some hundred times and is rendered sometimes "life" and sometimes "soul". The life which terminates when the body dies is psuche, a life that comes from God but is dependent upon the terrestrial organism to be conscious of itself and to find expression in its environment. That is why it is so often explained that the "soul" is the combination of the spirit of life with the earthly body; that is clear from the very beginning of things when "man became a living soul". Paul uses the same word in 1 Cor.15 when contrasting the two states of life of which we know, the terrestrial and the celestial. He says "there is a natural body and there is a spiritual body" where psuche is the word rendered "natural". But the life of man as we know it is only a shadow of the real thing. The life that comes to one who has entered into union with God through Christ, the vital force which so often in the Scriptures is called "eternal life", is Zoe This is the life of the everlasting future which awaits all who eventually find their place in the Divine purposes, life in all its fulness and with all its possibilities. Zoe occurs about a hundred and thirty times and in only about seven instances can it be made to apply to the earthly life animating the terrestrial body. All those Scriptures that speak of life as inherent in Christ, as coming to the believer through him, as awaiting the faithful at the end of their pilgrimage, all these employ Zoe. In perhaps no clearer fashion could the Scriptures indicate the profound difference that exists between life as it now is to mortal man and life as it can be. Thus it will be when man has entered into the fulness of his destiny, and yet preserves intact the fact that the origin of all life is in God.
So, all unknowingly, the advocates of what is called panspermia, the scientific theory that there are eternal seeds of life winging their way throughout the vast distances of space ultimately to fuse with non-living matter on earth and so give rise to living creatures, are not so very far from the mark once it is accepted that the power behind that continually pulsating life is God. The Greek philosopher Anaxogorus first suggested this theory in the 5th century B.C. and it has been revived in modern times now that men are bringing all their recently acquired knowledge to bear on the problem of life. But the Bible had the truth of the matter long before Anaxogorus, a truth which, if accepted, solves all the problems of the biologists, problems which those of them who are honest freely admit do exist. As, for instance, does Prof. J. D. Bernal in his book ("The Origin of Life" 1967) wherein, speaking as a convinced believer in evolution, he says "the problem remains as to how did the first organism know how to make itself?" and poses the question "how, from a set of fairly simple chemical substances, can the whole of the complete reproductory metabolic mechanism be evolved without the benefit of any preformed structure?" by which he means how could a complete living creature with all its wonderful powers evolve itself from the basic dead elements when there was no existing pattern to point the way. To which question he returns his own answer; "this is the major unsolved question of the origin of life".
Perhaps the glowing words of David in Psa.139.14-16 form the best commentary upon that rather despondent remark. It is not likely that David the shepherd-boy knew much about the origin of life but not much doubt that he was used as an agent of the Holy Spirit to express things which he himself would understand only in part. "I will thank thee therefore that I am so fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are thy works and that thou knowest right well. My being was not concealed from thee when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth. My undeveloped substance did thy eyes see, and in thy book were all of these written; the days that were formed for me when as yet there were none of them."
It is fairly evident that David was speaking representatively for man in general in this passage; this is a description of the forming of man, the handiwork of God. There is an atmosphere of gradual development as the words run their course; one might easily understand an evolutionist seeing in them a picture of the slow development of the human frame from more elementary forms of life. At the same time it could also quite reasonably be said that here is an expanded version of the story told briefly in one sentence in Genesis: "the Lord God made man of the dust of the ground". The important thing to notice here is that man is the workmanship of God; this terrestrial body of which nearly ninety-nine per cent consists of three elements only, carbon, oxygen and hydrogen, was put together by the incomprehensible power of the Holy Spirit to become the vehicle of Divinely bestowed life in a world specifically designed to meet its needs and aspirations. And the pre-existence of a Divine pattern for man before any action was taken to execute the work is implicit in the passage. "My being was not concealed from thee when I was being made"; God saw the finished product before one step in the process had begun. "My undeveloped substance did thy eyes see" ‑ the Hebrew word golem which appears only here in all the O .T. means, according to Gesenius, "rude or unformed matter, not yet wrought, as of parts not yet unfolded or developed". There is something here that runs parallel with the condition described in Genesis 1 when the earth itself was unformed and empty, darkness and chaos, and the Spirit of God came pulsing over the face of that chaos and brought an orderly earth out of those disorganised elements. So was it here with man. "The days that were formed for me when as yet there were none of them." A future for the creature of his making; days to which God looked forward knowing that man would eventually be worthy of the planned destiny although in that primal day none of them had as yet dawned.
This then is the only answer. God made man and gave him life. How the material body took shape, how the earth itself came into being, as expressed in scientific terms, is of minor importance against that tremendous fact. God made man, made him for a purpose, a purpose that is steadily becoming more obvious to us as our knowledge, not only of our relationship to God, but of the possibilities inherent in his creation, increases and expands. "For with thee is the fountain of life, in thy light shall we see light."