[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.
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.
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.
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.