Creation: A Divine Piece of Work (SBD 3)

[Note: I am attempting to keep these SBD installments under 2000 words each, but that is–of course–quite inadequate for the topics covered. Consequently, these contributions are more programmatic than they are explanatory or defenses of the positions stated. You may access the whole series at my Serial page.]

The divine community enjoys communion with the created community as God rejoices over and rests within the creation that reveals the glory of God.

A Triune, Sovereign and Gracious Act

The Triune community creates the human community and places them within the creation. The Father is the fountainhead and origin of creation. The cosmos originated with the Father, but it came into being through the agency of the Son (1 Corinthians 8:6) as the wisdom and principle of creation (Proverbs 8). The Spirit is the dynamic breath of God who gives and preserves life within the creation. The Father created through the Son by the power of the Spirit.

The act of creation testifies to the “infinite qualitative difference” between the Creator and the creation; creation ratifies God’s transcendence and sovereignty. Psalm 33, for example, moves from creation to sovereignty with theological ease. God created what was intended; nothing frustrated the divine purpose.

The sovereign act of creation testifies to God’s aseity. This means that God is God before and without the creation. God is not dependent upon anything outside of the divine life itself. The divine community is sufficient in itself; it is full and rich without anything or anyone else. Besides God there is nothing else before God created. This excludes any kind of metaphysical dualism, panentheism or pantheism.

The act of creation testifies to the love of God; it was a gracious, free act. God was not compelled by some inner necessity to create as if some hole had to be filled in the divine life or for that God created so that God might become fully God. God was not lonely; the Triune God has lived in eternal communion. Rather, God freely chose to create. That gracious act was one of self-giving–not by compulsion or grudgingly.

To Enjoy and Develop

The divine community created a human community within the creation. Why did God create? The root answer is not power or ego, but love. While sovereign power enabled creation, love moved it. While God created for glory, God experiences this glory as the divine community delights in the creation and the fulfillment of God’s telos. The glory of God is not ego-driven but moved by love for the other. God is glorified through communion with the creation.

This movement is rooted in God’s own ontology. God subsits in the communion of the Father, Son and Spirit; God is being-in-relation. This mutual indwelling of the divine life is the fullness of divine communion. God created to share this communion—this mutual indwelling—with others. The act of creation was other-centered; the divine community chose others rather than the satus quo of its own communion.

The prayer of Jesus in John 17:20-26 glories in the love the Father has for the Son, but the goal of this love, though mutual, is not self-focused. On the contrary, the telos of God’s self-revelation is to share the mutual love between the Father and Son with the creation. God draws humanity into the orbit of the Triune love so that we might participate and share in the divine communion which existed before the world began.

This is God’s joy. As the story constantly reveals, God delights in the communion of those created by his power for the sake of love. Moreover, God delights in the creation itself. Psalm 104 describes God’s care and joy for the creation (inclusive of animals as well as the stars). God rejoices over the works of creation and the earth is full of God’s faithful love.

God did not create the cosmos in order to annihilate it, but created it to live within it—to dwell within the creation. Scripture often describes the creation with architectural imagery—the creation is a divine temple in which God lives even though it cannot contain the fullness of divine presence. The earth was created as the temple of the Lord in which God would dwell in peace, joy and community. This is a significant theological trajectory in Scripture.

When God had finished six days of creating, God rested within it. The creation became God’s “resting place” (Isaiah 66:1). The creation—filled with shalom—is the divine sanctuary in which God rested. The divine Sabbath rest is not merely about cessation from work but about enjoying what was created. The Sabbath rest—both divine and human Sabbaths—are the experience of communion, joy and peace. God not only rests from creating but also rests within and with the creation. God invites the creation—both human and animal—to share the divine rest.

The creation is good but not perfect. The goodness of creation means that that it fits what God intended–it is shalom-filled, serves the divine purpose and there is no inherent evil within in (Genesis 1). But this is not a Platonic perfection that resists change. On the contrary, God created something that would grow and develop, that would mature, adapt and change. The creation was intended to develop into the fullness of the future—to become all it could be. The creation is only the starting point; it was not the goal. The creation, under God’s sovereign care and in partnership with humanity, would emerge, grow and develop till the divine telos was reached. God created something dynamic rather than static.

To Reveal

The heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1). What God created and how God sovereignly rules the creation proclaims the glory of the divine community.

Creation is God’s own self-disclosure but it is not full disclosure. The creation cannot enclose the fullness of God’s own life but it does testify to it. Creation is an act of revelation. Some call this “general revelation” because it is generally available to all humanity while others call it a “natural knowledge” of God because this knowledge comes through the natural constitution of things.

As creatures living in a creation generated and indwelt by a Creator there is an innate awareness of a presence that transcends us; ther is an awareness of the infinite within our finitude. A divine presence—as if fingerprints on the creation—is immanent within the created reality. This is not so much a “natural theology” as a “creation theology.” God is manifest within the creation (Romans 1:19-20). Humans have a pre-reflective (Rahner) or immediate (Van Til) knowledge of God; this intuitive knowledge of God is the sense of divinity (Calvin’s sensus divinitas) within every human being. It is an openness to transcendence (Pannenberg). God created a world in which humans would know the divine, where they would seek beyond themselves for something to ground their existence and give meaning to it. The divine is revealed rather than obscured.

This revelatory work of God is not simply a past act of creation. Rather, God is immanently at work in the world to seek a people and acts within creation and history to evoke a response. Paul’s sermon in Acts 17:22-31 describes God as the creator and ongoing giver of life as well as the founder and ruler of nations. The divine purpose creates an environment in which humans will seek, grope after and find God. Human existence and history have a divine telos. The one in whom we live and move and have our being is the one who reveals life through creation and history.

God has left a witness not only in creation but in history as well. Consequently, we listen for God’s work in history as part of his witness to us. This entails a certain amount of openness to how other religions speak the truth about God in the feeble, fallible manner of human reason, experience and culture. Since there is an immediate awareness of God within the creation and God is active in human history, an openness to a history of divine disclosure within the history of religions is appropriate despite the degenerative dimensions of the human condition that distort God’s revelation.

Further, the goodness of creation entails a certain openness to the human sciences of anthropology, psychology and sociology as avenues of insight into the human psyche and an openness to science as a divine gift for understanding and caring for the creation. This divine presence within human nature, religions, disciplines and history is called “common grace” by Reformed theologians because it recognizes these as moments of revelatory grace whereby God leaves a witness within the creation.

But that witness is not left only to creation and history as a process of divine providence and sovereign care. More particularly, God entered history in the person of Jesus, the crucified and raised one, as a witness of and means to the divine telos. He is the good news of God. This divine revelation is specific, historic, and personal—sometimes called “special revelation.” This revelation in Jesus is the exegesis of God whereby God gives us an interpretative lens through which to see the divine telos more clearly, more decisively and more personally. God has a “Word” (Logos)  for humanity that transcends the creation even as it given within the creation as a part of the creation. Paul, in Acts 17:30-31, appealed to the resurrection of Jesus as evidence of God’s enagament with the creation.

So What?

The ground of worship is creation (Psalm 148:5; Revelation 4:11). We worship the Creator because the one who created is infinitely and qualitatively different from us. Creation evokes doxology because of the goodness and grace—not merely the power—revealed by God’s act. We worship because we are part of the creation rather than the Creator ourselves. The doctrine of creation defends against all forms of idolatry—nothing or no one can stand in the place of the Creator.

Since God is ontologically communal, being-in-relation, his creative act is relational in character. God creates to be-in-relation rather than simply to put omnipotence on display. God desires worship not because of some egocentricity but because of the desire to be-in-relation as God experiences mutual joy with the worshippers in the moment of worship. God intends to commune with his creation rather than subjugate it as tyrant or annihilate it as destroyer.

The creation is a divine dwelling-place; it is God’s sanctuary. The creation, of course, is not God, but the creation is valued, loved and enjoyed by God. The divine intent is to dwell among humanity within the creation. This entails a deep ecological theology whereby human beings value, love and enjoy the creation just as God does. It also entails a strong sense of immanence—not panentheism or pantheism—whereby God reveals himself through the birds, the trees, the sunlight and other “messengers” (Psalm 104) of creation. God conveys his presence through the sacrament of creation itself.

Matter—the created reality—flows from the hand of God. Materiality is good, not evil. It is not an inherently inferior mode of being for creatures. In fact, it is the creaturely mode of being itself. God created matter, enfleshed our spirits, incarnated himself in matter (flesh), and intends to redeem matter (resurrection of the body and the renewal of creation). God intended the created world—the material world—to be inhabited (Isaiah 45:18) and filled. His purpose has not changed.

The goodness of creation has significant implications for ethics. As creatures who are created to represent and imitate the Creator, what God created expresses the divine intent and norms human behavior. The ethical value of creation is not only about ecology, but also about sexuality, family, stewardship (divine ownership and human management of resources), work and rest, and vocation among many other concerns.

Conclusion

Creation is not only the first act of divine revelation; it is the beginning of the story. As far as the narrative of Scripture is concerned, creation is where our story begins. It identifies us, defines us and invites us to participate in God’s story as all creation moves toward the divine telos. Our first identity is creaturehood and our mode of being is creatureliness. We are not God; the Creator is.



25 Responses to “Creation: A Divine Piece of Work (SBD 3)”

  1.   rich constant Says:

    john mark
    sence you thinkin real hard…
    or not :-).i know that’s a compaired to what…
    question

    does the question i ask…of truth.

    is christ righteous under law…if so
    how is god righteous to curse his son .

    that takes into consideration this does not concren fulfillment and not to be cofused with that.also gal 4.3-4

    christ was cursed and was in hades acts 2
    took away the power of him that had control by overcoming death….
    ect.
    now then

    the question is does this not set up the
    Law of Contradiction,as far as TRUTH is concerned
    i think it does for theoologolical thinkers.
    how my brother
    is this not an eather or
    for contemporary theology or does god just “reverse the curse” or does he make through the curse a new man.

    blessings
    :-)
    rich constant

    •   rich constant Says:

      john mark

      every time i ask this question ….

      every one loses it…. it is kinda funny to me…
      although,i have issues as we know.
      i just think it is a simple question.
      and if dumb ole me can answer the thing what,s the problem’ ya know it’s just a simple question.
      i ask the senor pastor that question he
      ran the men’s group for two weeks.
      i ask him that question after assembly one Sunday…
      of course no one wants to stay on track.
      but to deviate into catch phrases,which do not apply.
      and i bring them back on track.
      which was no fun for him…
      so…
      the second week of him being there,
      i brought it up again.
      i said if i were you and you knew the answer
      i would say:
      RICH. that question is nonsequater,
      but then watch out now
      you gotta know why
      and i do…
      just kinda-sorta funny…to me….

      blessings john mark

      •   rich constant Says:

        now then to take away fulfillment is to strip Christ of his faithfulness to the word of god
        as the servant for the purpose of the promise
        through grace also rom 15.8.
        and to lay bare the work’s of
        law to the attainment of righteousness by
        merit. which is contrary to scripture
        hence it is grace(gods promised blessing)by
        faith,(my righteous one by faith shall live)
        rom 10
        gods righteousness which is by faith
        and god being no respector of a person’s race

        blessings
        etc. we are called to bring the Christ’s faith
        through the gospel and receive the spirit
        by acting as Christ according to the light of the love of Christ in us
        the law of god is nullified through that faith
        of Christ in each of us
        zealous of good works
        reciprocating the love of god through faith

  2. Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    I think that question is more appropriate down the line in this series. Let’s come back to it. We have not even talked about the “curse” as yet. :-)

  3.   rich constant Says:

    ok thanks john mark
    :-)

  4.   randall Says:

    Wonderful post. Takes me back many years to a study of systematic theology. That field of study has been criticized in our churches for things like addressing the ontological argument for the existence of God, but you have just demonstrated what a wonderful study it truly is. I look forward to more!

  5.   Howard Holmes Says:

    Under “So What?” you express three reasons for worshipping God. None do anything for me:

    1) Power – Does something more powerful than us evoke worship? If so, why? There is a lot of things more powerful than me. I am not inclined to worship any unless it would be out of pure fear.

    2) Goodness – I might have the same response as to power. If God has more goodness than me, it is certainly not through any merit of his own. He apparently just found himself with more goodness (whatever that means) rather than making himself good (whatever that means). Whatever goodness I possess I (in like manner) found myself with and don’t feel I need any special recognition for it. Why should God? Should I again rank everthing that exists in order of goodness and worship those above me on the ladder and expect worship from those below me?

    3) Grace – To the extent God gives me anything me he gives up nothing to do it. Since he ends up just as rich after the gift as before, it is hard to see how his graciousness exceeds the graciousness of some of us ordinary Joe’s who have a little less after we toss our twenty spot into the Salvation Army bucket.

    Thanks.

    Howard

  6. Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    Howard, I’m sorry that the reasons I offere are not helpful to you. That’s ok; you may search for your own.

    The infinite qualitiative difference between God and creation entails, for me, that the kind of reasoning you imploy is problematic as you assess God’s own power, goodness and grace on the ground of human exercise of power, goodness and grace. God’s power, goodness and grace is, in some sense, wholly other but yet shared with the creation for the sake of the creation and mutual delight. That is why I praise the good giver who is able to share beyond my imagination.

  7.   rich constant Says:

    ,
    Howard
    if i may john mark
    everything that you have said is predicated on the fulfillment of the word of god by his Prophets speaking of a future through servant Priest king,and new relationship(covenant) and events concerning that yet present now past time.
    this becomes a tipping point of belief. god is faithful to his word ROM.3
    there is no logical explanation and random theory is
    mathematically inclined to call scriptures acclumated future events now past a exponential number so high as to be a mathematical impossibility. there is no explanation other than denial(not the river).
    anyhow
    there my two cents

  8.   Howard Holmes Says:

    John Mark,

    It is words created by man and understood by man which we are using. You used the words to mean God’s power, grace and goodness to explain why we worship him. I was saying I do not see anything in those that would cause one to want to worship. If these words mean nothing to us, we could then propose some other reason for worshipping God using some other word that is “beyond meaning”. Why do we worship then? Because of God’s Njpxyab. Just as well if we aren’t going to admit our other words mean anything.

    Rich,

    Your reply seems to be to me, but I have no idea what you are trying to say. Just come right out and say it in plan english. The subject I meant to discuss was why we worship God, not math or rivers in Egypt or whatever.

    Thanks,
    Howard

    • Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      Howard, we may be coming from very different frames of reference and thus misunderstanding each other. My point is that the Creator/creature distinction entails that whatever words we use of God are inadequate to describe the reality of God. The words power, grace and goodness point beyond our human experience to embrace a reality beyond our imagination. We are creatures and God is Creator, and thus we honor and acknowledge that reality through words that only approximate God’s own life.

      I understand that may not help you see a rationale for worship. It helps me and perhaps others. Where do you locate the rationale for worship or the ground of worship?

      John Mark

      •   Howard Holmes Says:

        God is a reality beyond our imagination as you say. This imaging which we cannot accomplish would include imaging Him with words. Hence the problem.

        I am wondering, “Why try?” If it “makes sense” to think that God’s power and grace and goodness “evoke” worship we could at least discuss it. But it does not make sense. If it made sense, you would be able to answer my three original points about the concept. There is nothing about power or goodness or grace which evokes worship. So why talk about it in this way? If it does make sense at least try to explain it in a way that makes sense to me. If it doesn’t make sense, why pretend it does?

        For instance, you say in your most recent reply that the facts that we are the creatures and God is the Creator evokes honor and acknowledgement of this reality. Why does it so evoke? How does it so evoke? Again, if it had happened the other way around and if I had happened to have been God and he would have happened to have been me, how is what we just happen to be in any way worthy of special acknowledgement. The reality that I am my childrens’ parent does not (IMHO) evoke a necessity for them to honor me.

        FYI, I do not see a rationale for worship. If there were one which made sense I would see it, or at least entertain discussing it. If there is not a rationale which makes sense, how can anyone be expected to worship?

        Howard

        • Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

          Howard, it seems we come at this from very different points of view. I think the distinction between parent/child and Creator/creature is qualitatively different though the analogy is often used to communicate something of the relational connection involved. Children do not worship parents as you note, but–as it appears to me–creatures acknowledge and honor (thus worship–attribute worthiness to) their Creator as the ground of being itself.

          If worship does not make sense to you, I respect that as your assessment. It makes sense to me, however. Feel free to respond should you like and you can speak a concluding word to this thread.

          Thanks for offering your perspective in response to the post.

          John Mark

        •   Howard Holmes Says:

          Thanks also for your response. As you said, the parent/child thing was just a metaphor and not intended to be more than it was. It appears you are wishing to end the discussion. We are ending it with “It makes sense to me” and “it doesn’t make sense to me.” My purpose in making those comments was to ask for clarification from you as to how it makes sense. Again, in your most recent post you use other words to convey what it is that evokes acknowledgement, honor or worship: He is the ground of being.

          If I were to say it makes sense to worship a worm because he is long and slimy, how is that different from saying it makes sense to worship God because he is the ground of being. The worm IS long and slimy and God IS the ground of being. These things are true, but what is there that evokes worship in one and not in the other?

          There seems to be a missing part of the argument, like a statement B.

          A: Worms are long and slimy
          B: long and slimy things should be worshipped
          Therefore……

          We have the A: God is the ground of being and we have the conclusion: He should be worshipped. What is the B?

          Howard

        • Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

          Howard, I thought a few back-and-forths were sufficient, and thought I would leave to readers to decide for themselves. I will offer this small response in honor of your persistence. :-)

          It seems to me that the predicate “is” says something quite different when we say “God is” than when we say a “worm is.” The worm is contingent being but God is the ground of Being. As the ground of Being we owe our continued existence to God, and by his grace and intent we have our being. Thus, we honor God as one who gives to us our being unlike we might honor a worm who has no relationship to our being. The “B” is the meaning and nature of our being as rooted in God’s own Being.

          I hope that helps explain where I am coming from. Blessings on your journey, Howard.

  9.   rich constant Says:

    p.s.
    Howard
    don’t tell me PLEASE OF THAT COMPUTER garbage in garbage out… :-)

    anyway john mark

    a p.s.

    to # one remark
    in my opinion :-) a high % of the tension in systematic theology is due to the cultural/conceptional interpretation of a theologian’s root concept of justification.
    my question is to acknowledge that.
    and thus deal with what i consider the root systemic contradiction of truth.
    i do not intend to deal with the effect of the Christ being raised from the dead.(creature’s atonement)
    what i am looking for is specifically god dealing with THE death and the law and not in anyway compromising righteousness or law.
    TO NULLIFY,THE WAY,etc.
    THE RIGHTOUSNESS OF GOD ROM 10.3-4…and giving life to the dead,and dead because of deviation from gods good.
    thus Adam, Able, are faithful yet separated and condemned.
    anyway john mark
    eph.2.3-4
    we believe
    thus mk4.21-25.
    we both know there is nothing wrong with being wrong,my brother, i can’t loose on this.
    i ether give you a little incite or you fix my doctrine..:-)
    for over forty years i have been called a hieratic over this in one form or another.
    aand i think they protest to loud…
    we i imagine have a few things in common..:-)
    blessings
    john mark
    rich constant

  10.   rich constant Says:

    sorry Howard my bad
    forgive me
    i am wrong a lot…
    blessings rich

  11.   Nick Gill Says:

    Howard and JM,

    If I might venture a few words?

    A: The Creator God, revealed by and in Jesus Christ, is the ground of being.

    B: I am.

    Therefore, I should worship Him, because that is the most natural way to live. Since he is the most solid and trustworthy foundation, and since I need support (because I’m a train-wreck when I operate on my own), it is best that I submit to his support.

    His power inspires worship because He alone is trustworthy to wield it.

    His goodness inspires worship because it is whole and complete, unlike any other ‘good’ thing in existence. This is why the rabbis had what I think was a healthy practice — striving to use the word ‘good’ only to describe YHWH.

    One thing John Mark helped me understand (I’m sure he hasn’t the slightest recollection of this; he taught a class on Praying the Psalms at the Lipscomb summer lectures about 8 years ago) was that part of the reason I was having such a terrible struggle trusting God was because I deeply misunderstood what He called worship.

    Maybe we could have a healthy conversation about what we mean by worship, or rather what we believe God means by worship?

    • Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      Nick, I don’t remember. What did I say? :-) Seriously, what did I say? My memory is not that good. Thanks for your kindness.

      At some point, I think it would be helpful to think about “worship” since some notions are so servile rather than envigorating and life-filled. Perhaps we can move to that topic in the near future. But first I have to teach this class in May. :-)

  12.   Howard Holmes Says:

    Nick,

    If we tie the ground of being thing to our being, it starts to make some sense as in worshiping the ground of being is like worshiping ourselves.

    As to your point regarding power and God’s trustworthiness to wield it. Of course, power is rather useless if he cannot wield it. I assume by “trustworthy” you must mean something like “we can trust him to use it in our best interest.” (Don’t know what else you could mean?) I suppose this sort of also justifies honor to God since there is some reason (self-interest) to do so. Of course, I assume I can trust him to use it in my best interest regardless of my worship of him, so worshipping seems a waste of effort.

    As to goodness, it was always conceded that God’s goodness exceeds our own. It seems you are saying that goodness itself does not evoke worship, maybe not “an excess of goodness” and maybe not even “all good” evokes worship, but SURELY “whole and complete goodness” evokes worship. What is there about “whole and complete” goodness which evokes worship where plan old “goodness” would not do the trick?

    Have enjoyed the discussion. Leaving right now on three day trip without internet access, so when I don’t respond further, don’t think it is because I am beaten! :)

    Howard

    • Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      I don’t think in terms of winning and losing, but growth in understanding. But I appreciate the humor.

      Actually, to tie the ground of Being to our being is not to identify ourselves with God but to recognize that we do not have within ourselves the ground of Being–we do not ground our own existence but we depend on someone(thing) else. We worship that which gives us our being and we don’t give that to ourselves…it is much too fragile to identify it there.

      Have a good trip. Blessings on your journey.

  13. Profile photo of johnnymelton  Johnny Melton Says:

    Isn’t worship in some sense a spontaneous response? The word simply means to ascribe “worth” to something. Don’t terrific displays of power in and of themselves “evoke” worship of some kind? I think of the description of a thunder storm in Psalm 29 and the response to the thunder, lightening, and violent wind is “Glory.” Now, some may worship “Nature” as a result of witnessing the storm; but that, it seems to me, is unsatisfactory. There is something within us that wants to worship “nature’s God.” So we search for explanations and we swwk to refine our worship. In that regard, we choose what (or whom) we worship. I think, however, with C. S. Lewis, that “we delight to praise what we enjoy (or moves us) because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment (experience); it is its appointed consummation.” The question is not “Is it possible for something or someone to evoke worship from others?” The answer to that question is apparent: the objects of worship are too numerous to list. The question is this: “Does what we know/believe about God as revealed in nature and in the Bible sufficient for us to direct to Him the worship/praise that has been provoked in us by what we have seen and experienced?” I believe it is, and therefore, I worship Him.

  14.   Nick Gill Says:

    I can’t remember precisely what you said, but you were teaching about the imprecatory and lament psalms, and grounding them in reality — real prayers by real people who were really broken and scared and angry.

    I was still living in the Star Trek Bible paradigm, where Scripture was beamed down from heaven all leather-bound and gilt-edged and red-lettered.

    What you offered us was a glimpse of a God who doesn’t have to be tip-toed around, who cares more about dirty hands than raised ones, and who is so close that you can yell at Him.

  15. Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    Thanks, Nick. I appreciate your memory….and I have often said stuff like that. :-)

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