Wednesday, 10 April 2013

God as Creator

The idea that God is creator seems to be a simple Christian belief, it's a clear part of all Christian confessions. It forms the beginning of the most famous creed, the Apostle's creed famously starts this way:

"I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth"1

This may seem obvious, almost unneeded, but in the early church the role of God as the creator of all things was integral to both their doctrine and worship. This action of God was inextricably linked to His divine attributes, therefore ascribing this work to the eternal Son, Jesus Christ, was evidence of His deity. A few examples would suffice to prove this point:

"The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." (Colossians 1:15-17)

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made" (John 1:1-3)

"In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe." (Hebrews 1:1-2)

In these passages Jesus Christ's deity is connected naturally with His role in creation. The constant link with creation is produced, for one point, to show that He is the real deal, He is truly the Son of God and ought to be glorified and worshipped.

Now what does this have to do with anything?

Well, a lot. God's creation ex nihilo (or, from nothing) is a precious part of the Christian proclamation  It shows God's power, sovereignty and dominion over the created order. The 2nd and 3rd century Christian teachers Tertullian and Iraneus both discuss these issues at length, in their attempts to combat the teaching of various false teachers who aimed to separate God off from the world, suggesting that God simply used pre-existent matter.

Could God create through evolution?

There is an assumption that the Creator God of scripture could never create through the random, death-filled, haphazard process of evolution. Leaving aside the inaccuracy of the adjectives usually invoked to discuss evolution, the assumption appears valid. But let's see, does the scriptural definition of creation even allow for God to use evolutionary processes to meet His aims?

The Fact vs The How

The focus of the New Testament is on the fact that God created (Hebrews 11:3; Revelation 4:11) over against the world being created by impersonal other forces. When we go to the Old Testament texts like Genesis 1 tells us more about God's specific actions in the creation of the heavens and the earth. But the focus is actually still on the fact that God created, rather than a focus on the how. John Walton, professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, points out that Genesis 1's focus is not material origins e.g. how things came to be. (find more details here)

This may seem counter-intuitive given the modern stress on the crucial origin debates (young earth/old earth/evolutionary creationism), with Christians and the secular world battling it out over how the world began, in which Genesis 1 is useful ammunition for both sides. Walton's interpretation will not be discussed at this juncture but his thoughts underlie what I believe to be the accurate approach to the text.

In general Genesis 1:1-2:4a appears to be a celebration of the fact of creation. Whether or not you accept this as a valid lens through which to view the text, we all have to admit that Genesis says very little about the how of creation. Examine the chapter, God speaks and there is light (Gen 1:3), an expanse (1:6), dry land (1:9), vegetation (1:11), the sun and moon (1:14), sea creatures/birds (1:20) and humans and animals (1:24-26).
Within Genesis 1 there is no description of how these things were done. God says it. It happens.

A key example of this is God's operation on creation day three. In verse 11 God commands the ground to bring forth vegetation. But what takes place in the next verse? In the words of the ESV "The earth brought forth vegetation...". So, did God bring forth vegetation? Yes. Did the earth bring forth vegetation? Well, according to the text, yes. (Anyone wanting the Hebrew phrase for 'bring forth' can go here)
There's no discussion of the method by which vegetation was produced. There is no discussion of the how here, the point of the text is simply that God spoke and it happened, God said, and it was. If you want to discover how God created the plants you will have to go elsewhere.

Many people at this point will want to move to Genesis 2, which presents God creating the plants by sending rain on the earth, creating men and animals from the dust and producing a fully formed garden. This will be addressed in a future post, God willing, but what must be noted is that in the Genesis 1 account the manner in which God created is not at issue in any way.

This is further evidenced in the creation of human beings on creation day six, there is a lengthy discussion of God's creation of humans in his image (Gen 1:26), the male and femaleness of his image bearers (1:27), God's blessing and commission (1:28) then God's provision for them (1:29-30). This longer description of God's actions focus on the purpose of human beings and not how they were created.

What does this mean for God's role as Creator?

What I have attempted to demonstrate in this very short piece is that God's role as Creator is one that operates over and above the specific questions of how God acts. God is the Creator, whether you observe the growth of grass or study abiogenesis and the beginning of life on our planet. God is not creator because we can prove His intervention. God is not Creator because He is the best explanation for illogical or complex living organisms. God is not Creator because we believe He is.
God is Creator because He declares Himself to be such.

What could does this mean for God's role in evolution?

I accept evolution as God's mechanism for bringing about life on earth, maybe you do not, maybe you do. Regardless of your viewpoint, God's role as Creator as presented in Genesis 1 shows us that whatever takes place in the world is His action, His creative work and He deserves glory for it. Whether you believe God created human beings in a minute through a miraculous act or through natural production, do not see evolution as some kind of enemy. If evolutionary theory is true, and I believe it is, then what we find in the natural world must be controlled by God, even more - evidence of His action.

"Let all the earth fear the Lord;
let all the people of the world revere him.
For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm."
Psalm 33:8-9

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