Recovering the Doctrine of Creation, Part 3
This is the third post in a series taken from Robert Bishop's scholarly essay "Recovering the Doctrine of Creation: A Theological View of Science", which can be downloaded here. The first part can be found here.
Personal Involvement of the Trinity
We’re used to thinking about how God is personally involved in the lives of His people, but we rarely think about how the Trinity is personally involved in creation.1 Personal involvement is pictured at the beginning of Scripture: “On the day the LORD God made the earth and heavens…” (Gen. 2:4b). The Hebrew phrase translated as “LORD God” is Yahweh elohim, God’s personal name revealed to Moses. So early in the second creation account we have an indication of personal involvement with all aspects of creation, humanity in particular. Moreover, the fact that God’s action in creation is mediated through Christ and the Spirit implies God’s involvement in creation is intimate and loving. This is pictured beautifully for us in Psalm 139:13: “For you created my inmost parts, wove me in my mother’s womb.”
In addition to the origin of all things, the Trinity is personally involved in preserving and sustaining creation: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by His powerful word” (Heb. 1:3). “…the LORD our God, who gives autumn and spring rains in season, who assures us of the regular weeks of harvest” (Jer. 5:24b). As well, God is personally involved in governing and guiding creation to its destiny in Christ: “The LORD has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all” (Ps. 103:19). “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom. 8:20-21). Here Paul indicates that the ultimate destiny of creation is tied to our destiny! Admittedly, it’s difficult to understand fully what it means for creation to participate in the Fall, but Colin Gunton points out that, “in some way or other the created order suffered a primal catastrophe of cosmic proportions, and that human sin—a disrupted relation with the creator—is in some way constitutive of it.”2
Purpose for Creation
Although we may not have exact details, the Scriptures reveal that God has several purposes for creation. Of course, one of God’s purposes is to exhibit His glory: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made” (Rom. 1:20). “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands” (Ps. 19:1).
Another of God’s purposes is for creation to serve as His temple: “And He built on the heights His sanctuary, like the earth He had founded forever” (Ps. 78:69). “The LORD reigns…Yes, the world stands firm, not to be shaken. Your throne stands firm from of old” (Ps. 93: 1-2). “This is what the LORD says: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool’” (Is. 66: 1a). The idea of creation as God’s temple and His rule are explicitly linked in Gen. 2:2: “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.” In ancient Hebrew culture as in all other ancient Near East cultures, a god “rests” by occupying the temple throne and ruling (an understanding that contrasts sharply with our modern notion of resting from work).3 So an ancient audience would have immediately understood Gen. 2:2 to be declaring that God was filling His temple and seated on the throne, where all of creation was God’s temple!
Another of God’s purposes, that we’ve already seen, is for creation to become uniquely what it is called to be in Christ. For example, God’s action in creation accommodates itself to the nature of what He has created. God doesn’t say “Be,” but “Let there be…” and “Let the earth bring forth…” Moreover, God gives grace to creation to be a reality other than God (as in the creator/created distinction). Finally, God, through the Spirit, graciously enables creation to become itself. God’s grace towards creation is much like His graciously enabling you to become uniquely who you are called to be in Christ.
A further purpose of God is to populate creation with life: “It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it” (Is. 45:12). “He did not create [the Earth] to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited” (Is. 45: 18b). And inhabited not just with human life! In Genesis 1 we see that God intended a diversity of life.
And last, but certainly not least, God intends for creation to be an arena for comprehensive redemption—human as well as the rest of creation (Rom. 8:20-21). Christians sometimes think about redemption only in terms of saving souls, but God’s redemption is for the whole human—body and soul—as well as the entirety of the created order: “which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. (Eph. 1:9b-10). “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col. 1:19-20). God is working redemption out here and now and everywhere!
It’s unlikely that God’s personal involvement in and purposes for creation are scientifically detectable. After all, scientific methods aren’t particularly good at discerning purpose. Nevertheless, the authors of Job, the Psalms and the various New Testament letters had no problems seeing God’s activity and purposes in creation. Although those wedded to scientism likely will only think that what is scientifically detectable exists, the DoC affirms otherwise. Whether we can always see it or not, God is as intimately involved in creation now—from quarks, to kingdoms, to the entire cosmos—as at its beginning.
1. Thinking of God’s personal involvement in creation largely went out of fashion in the eighteenth century (see Turner Without God, Without Creed: The Origins of Unbelief in America, Johns Hopkins University Press ).
2. Colin Gunton, The Triune Creation: A Historical and Systematic Study, Eerdmans (1998), p. 172.
3. Temples in ancient Near East cultures were miniature copies of the world from which their gods ruled.