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Sartre, choosing to look like a philosopher.


So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

Genesis 3:6

Although created good, with wisdom, holiness, righteousness given God, the human beings in the Garden were yet capable of further development. That development was possible in two different directions: development which takes place in accordance with the instruction given by God, or “development” in contravention of that ordinance. Kuyper explains this in terms of development consistent with the “position of image-bearer” or not. 

To think this through, the instruction of God was to lay out the manner in which the humans would work-out their status and obligation to image God in the creation. This is a different matter than the capacity of the humans to act as image bearer. If we think of image bearer as a sort of mirror, the instruction would be as to how to keep the mirror directed toward God as the original (or conversely to turn away). 

A separate issue would be the functionality of the mirror as a mirror (is the mirror cracked, dirty, cleansed, et cetera).

Kuyper speaks of this functionally as a mirror-original relationship (although he does not use the precise word “mirror”): “Anyone called to resemble another’s image should, in order to keep bearing that image, want to turn toward him. By turning away from him the image is lost.” 

I do not think we have (or can) fully realize the profound effect which takes place to a human being when we – as mirrors (those who are to bear a particular image) – turn away from that which we are to re-present. The Paul, in particular, notes that is by gazing upon Christ that we are conformed to his image (2 Cor. 3:18; Col. 3:10) The change which is wrought in us by this work is the renewing of our mind. (Eph. 4:23; Rom. 12:2)

We were created to exhibit this image, but we can only do so in a dependency relationship. We do not have this image as a matter of sovereignty, but as a creature assigned a position. Kuyper notices something extremely interesting here: The image we are to project is one of sovereignty, but we have that image by derivation of another. We are not inherently sovereign, in the sense that we can exercise some sovereignty in an independent manner. We are certainly not autonomous, a law to ourselves. 

And yet we have to misuse our capacity to dependently exhibit that sovereignty: “. In that contradictory notion of a dependent trait of sovereignty lies the whole mystery of our religious moral being: created in the image of God, consequently possessing the moral choice of our will. This moral choice of will as a trait of the image of God, and therefore dependent.”

In thinking through this moral capacity, Kuyper comes to a concept which was made much of by existential philosophers: the determining nature of our choice: “Sartre’s slogan—“existence precedes essence”—may serve to introduce what is most distinctive of existentialism, namely, the idea that no general, non-formal account of what it means to be human can be given, since that meaning is decided in and through existing itself. Existence is “self-making-in-a-situation” (Fackenheim 1961: 37). Webber (2018: 14) puts the point this way: “Classical existentialism is … the theory that existence precedes essence,” that is, “there is no such thing as human nature” in an Aristotelian sense. A “person does not have an inbuilt set of values that they are inherently structured to pursue. Rather, the values that shape a person’s behavior result from the choices they have made” (2018: 4). In contrast to other entities, whose essential properties are fixed by the kind of entities they are, what is essential to a human being—what makes her who she is—is not fixed by her type but by what she makes of herself, who she becomes.”

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Existentialism. 


By now means do I see a straight equivalence between Kuyper and Sartre. Rather, I note that they both see an importance in the act of choice (albeit from quite different perspectives and for quite different ends) than is recognized by others: “Everything of God that is reflected in us is so incomparably glorious, but also so fearfully terrible. We make a choice without fully thinking it through and that choice determines our whole existence. And yet, we cannot do otherwise. It must be so.” Sartre would not grant God in the manner voiced by Kuyper, but both would agree that a choice has “terrible” effects. 

Kuyper says that this power is “frightening”. 

Adam created with this “terrible” power of choice could not a creature whose end point was reached at creation. Rather, the placement in the Garden, the receipt of counsel from God, were the bare starting place for his development. It could not have been otherwise when Adam was armed with such an extraordinary moral power: choice.

Kuyper then answers the objection: Why didn’t God just make human beings good – morally perfect without the ability to fall, and in so doing save us the terror of Hell? 

This is the cost of being created in the image of God. Were we created without this power to choose, we have been something else. 

Without this power of choice, we would not be those who preserved. He does not use this analogy, but perhaps it is apt. Imagine to men aged 25 and alive. One man went through a war and lived. The only merely lived. We could not say they were identical. There are aspects of the man who lived through the war which could not exist for the other. They are both alive at 25, but there lives are very different.

And so, God places in the Garden two trees, the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (which Kuyper also calls the Tree of Conscience). The Tree of Life will be in Paradise. The Tree of Conscience will not be seen again; it has done its complete work.

How then does this Tree of Conscience produce an effect upon the soul of Adam? It is merely by eating as if the fruit eaten transversed the body and enter the soul directly. The power in the fruit came from the command of God prohibiting the eating coupled to the choice of eating. The Tree of Life need “merely” keep one alive. But the effect of conscience requires something greater than the bare fruit to achieve its end.