Monday 4 September 2006

Theology for beginners (10): Creation

Summary: As an echo of the Son’s distinction from the Father, God creates the world for its own sake, and endows the world with meaning through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Within the eternal life of the triune God, the Father has sent the Son, and the Son has freely gone out from the Father. Within God’s triune life, the Son has thus distinguished himself from the Father. He has freely decided to be God in a human mode – that is, he has decided to be a creature. Thus before ever the world had existed, the Son had distinguished himself from the Father as a creature. Before the world existed, the Son had already existed not only within the triune fellowship, but also outside this fellowship as a genuine other. Already the Son had related to the Father not only as God in relation to God, but also as a creature in relation to God. Already God had existed not merely in isolation, but also alongside a creature which is different from himself.

In this way, the Son’s relationship to the Father is a relationship of both the greatest possible nearness and the greatest possible distance. In the Son’s free obedience to the Father, God himself has distinguished between God and not-God, between creator and creature. It is thus here, within the self-giving fellowship of God’s triunity, that creation has its source. And so in perfect freedom, God chooses to echo his own self-distinction by bringing the created world into being.

Because God has already affirmed creatureliness within his own triune life, God also declares the created world to be “very good.” The created world does not, therefore, simply exist as a stage or theatre upon which God will enact his own purposes. Rather, the creature truly exists for its own sake. Its existence is utterly unnecessary. Indeed, all creaturely reality is characterised by extravagance and surplus – we might almost say wastefulness. God does not create a machine or a mechanism that can simply carry out his purposes – no, he creates a universe overflowing in riches, extravagant in beauty and diversity.

And God truly loves this created world – not with the sober satisfaction of a watchmaker viewing his handiwork, but with the authentic love that rejoices in the other purely for its own sake. The world is not part of God; it is not necessary to God; it does not emanate naturally from God’s own life; and it is not a machine that God uses. The world exists for its own sake – it exists by grace! God creates the world out of sheer goodness, out of the freedom of his own love. And this love cannot be explained by recourse to any deeper reason: love is its own reason, it is grounded only in itself.

In just this way, the creation is an expression of that same love which is the life of God’s eternal triunity. In God’s own life, the Father sends the Son and the Son distinguishes himself from the Father. And the picture or analogy of this self-distinction is the world’s difference from God. The extravagance of the Father’s love for the Son is echoed in the extravagant beauty of creation – not merely in particular instances of beauty, but in the primal beauty of sheer thereness, the beauty of reality, the beauty of being. The world does not have to exist; God does not need it. But it does exist, it is real, it is there – and this is its true beauty; in this it echoes the Son’s loving self-distinction from the Father.

When God creates, then, he is painting a picture of that distinction which exists already within himself. And by doing so, he is making room for the Son’s obedience, creating a space within which the Son’s creatureliness can be carried out. In other words, although creation exists for its own sake, it also travels towards a specific goal – towards the history of Jesus.

This doesn’t mean that all created reality is somehow squeezed down and reduced to the history of Jesus – as though the entire cosmos should pass through the eye of a needle. Rather, it simply means that the story of Jesus provides all created reality with its final context. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead provides the conclusion to the story of created reality – and this conclusion throws its light back on everything else in time and space. In just this way, the space-time universe is seen at last for what it really is: the good creature of God.

Further reading

  • Barth, Karl. Dogmatics in Outline (London: SCM, 1949), pp. 50-58.
  • Hart, David Bentley. The Beauty of the Infinite (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), pp. 249-318.
  • Jenson, Robert W. Systematic Theology, Vol. 2 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 3-28.
  • McGrath, Alister E. A Scientific Theology, Vol. 1 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2001), pp. 135-91.
  • Mascall, E. L. He Who Is (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1943), pp. 95-112.
  • Moltmann, Jürgen. God in Creation (London: SCM, 1985), pp. 53-98.
  • Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Systematic Theology, Vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), pp. 1-35, 136-46.
  • Ratzinger, Joseph. In the Beginning… (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995).


::aaron g:: said...

I was surprised that no Henry Morris or Ken Ham texts appear in your suggested reading list!


Anonymous said...

I know this is idle speculation, but would the existence of conscious life (of a kind different from humanity) on another planet affect anything in this (very eloquent) description of creation in terms of God for "us"? I realize we can only speak from within the story we know, but still....

byron smith said...

Ben, beautiful post. I was moved.

Two thoughts: (a) is the resurrection only the conclusion? Is it not also the new beginning, the eight day of the week?

(b) I am intrigued by the idea of the Son's creatureliness being prior (logically if not chronologically) to the rest of creation. I appreciate that you have characterised the relationship between the Son's creaturehood and our as an echo, but I guess I wonder at the distinctions within the continuity. We did not choose (even in submission) to become creatures. For us, this reality is thrust upon us as gift (your bit on grace was excellent!) - is the Son's creaturehood gift? If so, in the same way as ours?

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this, Ben; I like your style. But is there no (explicit) place for the Spirit in all this?

Anonymous said...

Is Jesus creatureliness/humanity logically or chronologically prior to the fall? cf eg John 1:14

MM said...

Excellent, as ever! What great summaries.

I am a bit with Byron...ought we not say that God "creates" the world, in the sense of critical RE-creation, through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead?- rather than the Resurrection merely "investing the world with meaning?"

Also, it seems to me that St. Paul seems to think of the world as having been created for the sake of Christ, rather than for its own sake.

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