Recovering the Doctrine of Creation, Part 4
This is the fourth 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, and subsequent posts are listed in the right sidebar.
Another element of the DoC is the idea that God’s action in creation parallels His action in salvation and sanctification. For instance, creation, salvation and sanctification are all mediated by Jesus and the Spirit. When examining the Bible, we see these parallels show up in numerous ways. For example God saves in space and time, and God creates in space and time. Genesis 1-2 largely focuses on one place—Earth. The Hebrew word yom, translated as “day” in Genesis 1, indicates that the original creation was not instantaneous but extended in time. Moreover, compare Genesis 1 with the description of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt in Exodus 14: 21-22. In these two accounts, Scripture uses identical language of spirit or wind blowing and of the separation of waters from land, among other parallels. The very same elements seen in the creation account are involved in Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian slavery. For another example, compare Isaiah 40:26, where God creates the stars calling them by name, and Isaiah 43:1, where God redeems His people calling them by name. Historically, the earliest attempt to distinguish God’s activity in creation from salvation is found in the doctrine of the second-century Gnostics.
God also sanctifies in space and time: “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose” (Phil. 2:13). “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17). In particular, the Spirit renews and restores in space and time. We see this in the Spirit’s role in restoring of Israel in the vision of the valley of bones (Eze. 37:1-14). As well we see this in Jesus’ resurrection: “…the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead…” (Rom. 8:11). “[Jesus] was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit” (Pet. 3:18b). In sanctification, the Spirit of Christ works in our lives to bring about growth and change at a pace suited to our nature, never moving us faster than our nature can accommodate (though sometimes it feels like He does!). Similarly, in creation the Spirit of Christ works with and through natural processes suited to their nature, never moving faster than those processes can accommodate.1
A particularly important parallel between God’s action in creation, salvation and sanctification is God’s patient action (not that God sits around and waits; rather, God is always at work in patient, intentioned ways). We’re used to thinking of God as love (1 Jn. 4:8) and that love is patient (1 Cor. 13:4). And we’re so thankful that God patiently worked in our lives and drew us to Himself! But God’s patient action isn’t limited to salvation and sanctification. Think about God creating in time and space. If God’s relationship to creation is fundamentally one of love, then this means that God is not in a rush. Space and time are arenas for patient action: “For you created my inmost parts, wove me in my mother’s womb” (Ps. 139:13). Nine months is lots of patient action!
God’s patient action in creation is related to His intention for creation to become itself. God loves creation enough to give it the patience and grace to become what it’s called to be in Christ and the Spirit enables creation to fulfill this calling. Furthermore, God’s patient action in creation is related to His activity in creation being ministerial (“Let the earth bring forth...”). God is active in creation so that it participates in becoming itself under the superintendence of Christ and the enabling of the Spirit in a time frame suited to the nature He’s given it.
Creation Is Meant to Be Limited
The DoC also teaches us that God intends for creation to be limited. For example, this follows from the creator/creature distinction. Creation is different from God! God is infinite in being but creation is finite in being. God is self-existent but creation is dependent. The finitude of creation is also connected to God’s purpose for creation to be itself. God intends for creation to be something other than divine. God is all-powerful while creation is limited in power. God’s intention for creation to be limited is also connected to God’s creating in time and space: Creation has a beginning! And the limited nature of creation is also connected to God’s personal involvement in preserving creation. If creation had infinite being, it wouldn’t need God to sustain it and there would be no need for God’s patient action in creation.
We see in the Scriptures that creation is limited rather than unlimited. For instance, Genesis 1 pictures creation in need of divine guidance and shaping. The limited nature of creation also shows up in such powerful passages as Psalm 104:2b: “He stretches out the heavens like a tent.” Or in the cycles and seasons of creation: “There is a time for everything…a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot” (Ecc. 3:1-2).
The limited nature of creation isn’t a bad thing (though American Christians seem to chafe at the idea of limits). God desires to accomplish His purposes through limited creatures (e.g., the first three kings of Israel). Indeed, God created all finite, limited things and pronounced them good! Most impressively, in the incarnation, God in Christ took on limited, finite human nature, conferring the highest imaginable honor on finitude and limits!
The fact that creation has a limited nature is important for scientific inquiry. If creation had infinite being like God, its nature would be unintelligible to our finite minds. There would be no possibility of investigating and understanding creation’s processes.
1. At least regarding His normal dealings with creation. An important category of miracles are instances where God does things that are outside the nature of creation’s processes (e.g., the Spirit’s work in Jesus’ conception in Mary’s womb or Christ’s resurrection).