We can think of the creation of humans by God as coming in three flavors: physical, spiritual, and anthropological. As a metaphor for this, when we consider our own creation, we can use an image of Neapolitan ice cream. This ice cream, of Italian origin, consists of three blocks of ice cream placed together in a single container. For American consumption, the flavors are vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. Like the ice cream we consist of three types of creation in a necessarily intimate relationship.
The vanilla can represent our physical creation. We have bodies composed of the same kinds of matter as the rest of the universe. These operate by the same principles that govern all living creatures. Chocolate can stand for our spiritual life and strawberry for the unique characteristics that make us human.
Most discussion of the coming into existence of people focuses on our physical creation. We are described in Genesis chapter 1 as being created much like all the other parts of God’s creation. This can lead to us regarding ourselves as primarily physical beings. Physical creation began with the bringing into existence of energy, matter, space, time, and all the laws that govern their interactions. If we were fully described simply by our being embedded in and part of the physical universe we Christians could still claim God as a marvelous Creator.
However, there is far more to us than can be encompassed in a physical existence. We are told of one additional component of our being in Genesis 1:26. That verse tells us that we were created in the image of God. At that time God had no body. It can only be the creation of our human spirits that allow the Bible to say that we are created in the image of God. After all, God the Father and the Holy Spirit only exist as spiritual beings and Christ did not have a physical body and human soul until the Incarnation.
Spiritual existence requires a place for it to occur. Since it cannot take place in the physical realm then of necessity there must a spiritual realm. This spiritual space is a larger realm than the physical since it contains all that takes place spiritually on the earth (in the universe) and also all that occurs in Heaven. It may also be regarded as a realm to which our access to knowledge and our theological understanding are both limited by the quality of our present spiritual existence. It can be noted here that our knowledge and understanding of the physical and anthropological realms are also limited, though in other ways.
You probably do not have any problem with the reality of physical and spiritual creation. Anthropological creation may be a new idea to you. It is the coming into existence of everything that makes us specifically human. We might look for evidence of anthropological creation in an unlikely place—genetics, or more properly, the lack of evidence of it in genetics. It is frequently written that we share 97 percent of our genes with some primate. It should be evident that, to throw out a number, 97 percent of our culture is different than that of primates. Thus it cannot be reasonably claimed that our anthropological nature is a product of our genetics—it is outside the physical realm. It is also not to be adequately explained as a product of our spiritual nature since it relates only to our life on earth.
The early part of Genesis provides us with much information on God’s creation of our anthropological natures. We are told of language, music, religion, psychology, invention, community, government and far more. All were created by God to add to our richness of being. Thus was added to our uniqueness what we might call an unexpected taste of strawberry flavor.
It takes these three types of creation to define what we are as human beings. And (quite plausibly) it takes a God in three Persons to have conceived of creatures such as us.