Table 2 Subject Category:
Man and the Universe

  • Christianity
  • Buddhism
  • Hinduism
  • Islam
  • Judaism
  • Primitive Religion

    Man and the Universe

    In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).

    Thou alone are the Lord. Thou hast made the heavens, the heaven of heavens with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. Thou dost give life to all of them (Nehemiah 9:6).

    For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:16-17).

    And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them (Genesis 1:27).

    So also it is written, "The first man, Adam, became a living soul" (I Corinthians 15:45).

    What is man, that Thou dost take thought of him? And the son of man that Thou dost care for him? Yet Thou hast made him a little lower than God, and dost crown him with glory and majesty! Thou dost make him to rule over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet (Psalm 8:40).

    And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good (Genesis 1:31).

    For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer (I Timothy 4:4-5).

    Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam (Romans 5:14).

    Through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners (Romans 5:19).

    Just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through death spread to all men, because all sinned (Romans 5:12).

    For even though they knew God, they did not honor him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations (Romans 1:21).

    Professing to be wise they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures (Romans 1:22-23).

    And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper (Romans 1:28).

    Then to Adam He said, "Cursed is the ground because of you--in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you" (Genesis 3:17).

    For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption (Romans 8:19-21>.

    As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years, yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; for soon it is gone and we fly away (Psalm 90:10).

    Man, who is born of woman, is short-lived and full of turmoil. Like a flower he comes forth and withers. He also flees like a shadow and does not remain (Job 14:1-2).

    Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? (Romans 7:24).

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    Man and the Universe

    Both the beginning and the ultimate nature of the world are left unexplained by the Buddha--once again, those questions are not helpful to consider. The Mahayana school speculates unsystematically about a vast series of heavens, sort of half-way houses on the road to nirvana. But in the end even those heavens are illusory. Mahayanist teaching at least implies that the powers of the universe will see to it that all creatures will eventually find salvation.

    Buddhism does begin with an analysis of the world of appearances and especially of man. As with Hinduism, Buddhism sees the cycle of reincarnation as shot through with pain, largely because life is characterized by impermanence.

    The Buddha added the notion that all creatures, including man, are fictions: there is really no "self," only a series of occurrences that appear to be individual persons and things. Once the so-called person is broken down into his component parts and his different actions and attitudes analyzed during the course of time, it is seen that there is really nothing holding it all together. (The question of how there can be both reincarnation and striving for salvation without a self has occupied Buddhist philosophy from the start.) The notion of no self is difficult, and much effort is spent trying to grasp it fully.

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    Man and the Universe

    The material universe is not the creation of a personal God but is rather a sort of unconscious emanation from the divine. As such it is (1) beginningless, and some would say endless, and (2) unreal, an illusion because the only true reality is Brahman. Hindus believe that the universe "pulsates," recurrently being destroyed and recreated over periods lasting about 4 billion years. The world is seen as a huge series of repeated cycles, each cycle being nearly a copy of the last.

    Man is compelled to play a part in this gigantic, illusory, and wearisome universe. Each human soul is also beginningless and has gone through a series of reincarnations. Hinduism "solves" the problem of the existence of suffering and evil in a fairly neat manner: all present suffering, it says, is exactly deserved, being the paying back of one's karma, the accumulation of deeds done in past lives--and all present evil will be exactly repaid in the form of suffering in future lives. As a result traditional Hinduism often has not paid much attention to relieving the suffering of people, although social reform movements have arisen in the last century.

    Life is seen as basically painful, full of distress that is only temporarily masked by earthly pleasures. But underlying the unreality and misery, the human soul is identical with supreme Brahman, who has no part of this sorry universe.

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    Man and the Universe

    Muslims see the universe as created by the deliberate act of a personal, omnipresent God. The universe is not considered an illusion in any way and is basically good, being given for the benefit of man. Muslim respect for the world order led to the development of sciences in Arab countries long before developments in Europe.

    Muhammad did not produce miracles but simply proclaimed the message of Allah. Thus the presence of God in the world is seen not through supernatural signs but through the wonderful order of nature and the one great miracle, the Koran. Muslims generally do not expect miraculous deliverance from suffering in this life but believe that good deeds will be rewarded in the next life.

    Man is considered a sort of vice-regent, in charge of creation under the authority of God. His purpose--and the goal of Islam--is to make a moral order in the world.

    Man is endowed with taqwa, a sort of divine spark manifested in his conscience that enables him to perceive the truth and to act on it. Conscience is thus of the greatest value in Islam, much as love is the greatest value to Christians.

    But Islam is in no way pantheism. Man may cultivate his taqwa and so live according to the way of Allah, or he may suppress it. Man thus deserves or is undeserving of God's guidance.

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    Man and the Universe

    The material world is considered on the whole "very good" (Genesis 1:31), and man has a unique responsibility to order it according to God's purposes. Some Jews go as far as to say that all people, animals, and things contain a "divine spark," which man is assigned to call forth to completeness through loving action.

    The personhood of God and His need for relationships form an analogy for man's most pressing need: to live in harmony with other men.

    History is the arena of God's purposeful activity, and Jews often look for signs of His approval or judgment in historical events.

    The great responsibility of man as well as his frailty and wickedness are emphasized. The distinguishing mark of humans is their ability to make ethical choices; it is to those choices that Judaism most often addresses itself directly.

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    Man and the Universe

    Because of their lack of technology and scientific understanding, primitives trust that the universe is in control of the gods.

    Droughts, illnesses, and death pose great threats to primitive man, and his religion provides him to a certain degree with a feeling of security and a sense of control.

    It is thought that ancestors and the gods associated with them control human destiny, handing out rewards and punishments for actions that help or hinder the group. Usually those gods and ancestors are themselves as mysterious and fearsome as the natural world.

    Like Hinduism and Buddhism--and unlike Christianity, Islam, and Judaism--the primitive world view is cyclical. There is no purpose to history; various ages repeat themselves with no final goal. That view arises from observation of the natural cycles of nature. Often primitives believe that only through their own ritual actions will the world order be maintained.

    Many primitives report that they follow customs and rituals without knowing why; tradition simply tells them that it has worked in the past.

    Taken from: The Spirit of Truth and the Spirit of Error 2. Compiled by Steven Cory. Copyright 1986, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Moody Press. Used by permission.

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