Where do we come from? How did we get here? Where are we going? What’s it all about? These are commonly asked questions, and the world has sought its own answers. Men of God in the early Christian era asked the same questions, and sought answers in Holy Writ, coupled with the logic of experience.
The Eastern Fathers, Jerome and Hilary, believed in Creationism, in other words that God creates each person at the time of their conception or birth. (They never could decide which!)
The Western Fathers, Gregory of Nyassa, and Tertullian, believed in Traducianism, in other words that Adam bore within him the germ of all mankind. His soul was the fountain head of all souls. As the body is derived from the parents’ bodies, so the soul is derived from the parents’ soul by natural generation.
The Alexandrine School, headed by Origen, believed in Pre-existence, in other words all human souls were created at the beginning, before all worlds, as spirit beings, who throughout the ages have come down to this earth to spend a brief sojourn in the “shadowlands” of the earth. The early church was mainly of Origen’s persuasion until AD 543, when it was thrown out by Justinian and a Council of Constantinople. Since then, the Traducian theory has held sway, as a result of Augustine’s scholarship. But most believers do not think this through, and when confronted by the three possibilities, are either bemused or thrown into a flat spin. Spare a few moments to consider.
If we are the sole product of our parents, then certain characteristics should logically follow. For example, there should be a distinct likeness between the children of large families, not just physically, but also in personality and temperament. But this is not found to be the case. In our own family of four children we have watched the development of vast differences in personality from their earliest years. Likewise, although all have a firm belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, their manner of displaying this belief is equally variable.
In the Old Testament, in the line of the Kings of Judah, we observe Jehoshaphat the son of Asa (a good king of a good king),Manasseh son of Hezekiah (a bad king of a good king), Josiah son of Amon (a good king of a bad king), and Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim (a bad king of a bad king). We also observe, going back further in history, the marked difference between Jacob and Esau, even though they were twins. And what about Cain and Abel? I suppose there are many other similar examples to cast doubts on the Traducian theory.
In more recent times we have been presented with the teachings of the French “Enlightenment School”, and in particular Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712 – 1778) who wrote the fictional story of “Emile”, (1762) with his “ideal unfallen human nature” which had to be nurtured in a perfect environment to produce Emile’s perfect manhood. But all such experiments fail dismally in practice. Faulty humans cannot produce perfect offspring, even in a perfect environment. (And what exactly is that?)
Mike Phillips, a popular Christian writer in the United States, thinks along Traducian lines, and has written books expressing concepts little removed from the secular mind-set of Rousseau. “Goodness is intrinsic to man’s nature, sin is not” he avers. “There are huge caverns of wonderful goodness within every individual you meet,” he says. Elsewhere he maintains that his sons are like lumps of clay for him to mould into whatever shape he wishes. “As parents they will largely determine many of the characteristics their child will grow up to manifest. They can mould him into any shape they choose.” And further – “If we want him to turn out a certain way, then we must visualize him that way, believe in that vision, and act so as to bring it to fulfilment . . . ‘loving’ our children is not a sufficient goal to yield a workable plan.” [Quotations from “Blueprint for raising a child”,(1978), “333 Good Things to Remember” (1993) and “A God to call Father.” (1994)]
All such theories lead to the faulty concept of “possession.” Phillips’ sons were considered his own property, to fashion as he pleased, because they derived from him, body and soul. But more reflective thinkers have realised that children are not our property, they are only lent to us by God for care and nurture until they fly the family nest. Dr Archibald Hart made the point admirably when he wrote “The old idea that a child is born tabula rasa, – a “blank slate” on which his or her environment “writes” a personality – is now out of date. Most researchers agree that each human being comes into the world with a distinct personality and a unique response to his or her environment.” [From “Stress and your child.” (1992)] Comes into the world? From whence?
Here then is the answer. Not that we understand the mysteries of human origin and development in anything like fullness, but at least we have been able to eliminate some illogical (and non-biblical) thought patterns. Each one of us is a unique creation of God. Each one will become part of a divine symphony consisting of untold numbers of musical instruments, and sweetly blending harmonies (rather than a boring single note produced by what some would view as a blessed “unity”.) Or, to change the picture, each one of us will ultimately be seen as a coloured thread woven into a magnificent tapestry of exquisite design, the art-work of our Creator God, (rather than just a piece of plain weave.)
Peter tells us that we are “Living stones for a spiritual temple” (1 Peter 2:5), and Paul refers to us as “Members of the body of Christ.” (1 Cor.12:12) But it is common knowledge that to build a temple, one needs stones of many different types, shapes, and sizes. Likewise, a human body is composed of myriads of cells, organs, blood vessels, glands, bones, and flesh, rather than all parts being the same. All this is part of the mystery of God’s creation, infinite variety within a complex unity too wonderful for us to comprehend.
The Lord told Job that when He created the world, “the stars sang together.” (Job 38:7) Daniel tells us, “those who turn many to righteousness will shine like the stars”. (Dan.12:3) Paul tells us that in resurrection many will shine like the stars, and “star differs from star in glory.” (1 Cor.15:41) And the Psalmist informs us that “God tells the number of the stars, and calls them all by name”. (Ps.147:4)
In “The Problem of Pain” [page 137, Fount paperback edition] C.S.Lewis says that overcomers will receive a white stone on which is a secret new name. “What can be more a man’s own than this new name, which even in eternity remains a secret between God and him? And what shall we take this secrecy to mean? Surely, that each of the redeemed shall forever know and praise some one aspect of the divine beauty better than any other creature can. Why else were individuals created, but that God, loving all infinitely, should love each differently? And this difference, so far from impairing, floods with meaning the love of all blessed creatures for one another, the communion of the saints.”
How precious is each one of us to our Creator God. How magnificent is the variety within humankind. We are told that each has a unique set of Fingerprints, and a unique pattern in the eye’s Iris, by which one’s identity can be vouched for with certainty. And so it is with our souls, our personalities, which although unseen, declare us to the world as individuals. How can anyone consider taking such material to try to mould it according to his own design, to fashion his children according to his own will? What a terrifying responsibility it is to become parents. How easy it is to disfigure the unique creation of God within a small child by unloving handling. How dearly God views and watches over his “little ones”, whose angels are constantly before the face of the Lord.
My wife and I believe there is more evidence for Pre-existence than Creationism. Maybe you would like to express your thoughts on this topic?