06 July 2011

Uncommon Grace: Creative Love

WHEN GOD LOVINGLY and self-sacrificially assigned functions1 to the cosmos, to the satellites, to the earth, its creatures, and its vice-regents in Genesis 1, he saw that it reflected his glory, that it was made for him and that therefore it was “very good.”

The act of creation was loving and self-sacrificial because God didn’t have to do it. This means that he was not coerced, either from without or within, to do so. It’s not the same as saying that God can still be God and not be faithful, for faithfulness is characteristic of who God is. He does what he says he’s going to do (he doesn’t have to say he’s going to do anything, of course) precisely because he is himself faithful. If he did not, then he would not be the God revealed to us in the Scriptures (Isa. 49:7; 1 Cor. 1:9; 1 Thess. 5:24).

But the same doesn’t apply to his creative act of calling the earth and all that is in it to fulfill the purposes he has planned. He could have done otherwise (like not create) and still remain God. So it is that creation itself was a free act of God, and as such, it was a gracious and kind act. Creation therefore has no claim on him; it can’t demand anything from him, nor does his deity, his “Godness,” depend upon the earth, the sky, the stars or anything else. This leads us to one more (hopefully obvious) point about the creation: it is not God.

God is not on one end, the holy end, of the spectrum, while his creation is at the other end. The two are distinct, yet creation depends upon God; indeed, all things exist “by his grace, his will, and his word . . . so that they can even cease to exist, if the creator so wishes” (Athanasius, Against the Arians, 1.20). While good, the creation itself was nevertheless fashioned bearing the marks of transience. Now, that transience (like the decay of autumn and the new life of spring) itself points us to a further purpose for creation, which humans, according to Genesis, were to help bring about. (So much for that.)

The creator has his own characteristics that are his alone, and the same holds true for the creation (both of these come together, of course, in the God-man, the Messiah. See the Definition of Chalcedon for more about this). This Creator-creature distinction has the benefit of keeping us mindful of our place in this universe. God is in control; the creation serves him by serving its purpose.

In all of this, we must remember that it was the material world and the functions he assigned to it that the creator God was referring to when he called it good (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31); he is not as concerned with things that we cannot touch, taste, hear, see or smell as much as we might think. Proof of this is seen in the fact that God so loved the world, the groaning creation (Rom. 8:22) and all the fallen people in it—not wispy, ethereal shadows—that he sent his one and only son. In fact, we know from Revelation 21 (where the new Jerusalem descends to earth) that God’s plan doesn’t end with people dying and going to heaven, “graduating” to some spirit world with wings and harps on clouds. Rather, it ends in a glorious picture of bodily resurrection on a renewed and material earth.2 This picture, this glimpse of future hope, is precisely why God continues to be kind to his world. He has plans for it.

This last point is important for a lot of reasons, not least because God’s act of creation was not an end in itself. It was one act, indeed—as it turned out—the first act, of God’s redemptive purposes. Such purposes are hinted at in the event of Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God’s commands. What happened when they disobeyed? The creator didn’t drop them—he didn’t kill them immediately like we would’ve thought (Gen 2:17, though they did die in one sense that day); he didn’t turn his back on them, nor did he discontinue his care and concern for the entire universe. Creation and redemption go together. But that’s getting ahead of what we need to look at next if we’re going to stop thinking that the Almighty is against us when life doesn't go our way: God’s providential care for the world. We'll take up this theme in the next part of this series.

1. See John H. Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One (IVP Academic, 2009) for more on this idea of “created” as “assigned functions.”
2. See Cornelis P. Venema’s The Promise of the Future (Banner of Truth, 2000), pp. 454–88 and Tom Wright’s Surprised by Hope (HarperOne, 2008).

*This is part two in what I'm thinking will be a five-part series.


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