This is the second 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.
God’s Action in Creation Is Mediated
This element of the DoC is more subtle and sophisticated than the previously-described ones but still crucial to understanding how God is at work in creation. What does it mean for God’s action in creation to be mediated? That God’s activity in creation is shaped by or takes place through something else. Theologians identify three forms of mediated divine action: divine command; the involvement of Jesus and the Holy Spirit; and a ministerial form through creation itself.1
God’s action in creation is mediated through divine command. This form of mediated action is probably the most familiar to us as we see God issuing commands in Genesis 1 and creation responding to those divine commands.
God’s “Two Hands”
Often forgotten in Christian thinking about creation is the fact that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are intimately involved in creation (Irenaeus famously referred to them as God’s “two hands”). For instance, we see Jesus involved in creation in various ways: “For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…” (Col. 1:16a). “Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made” (Jn. 1:3).
Similarly, the Spirit is also involved in creation: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Gen. 1:1-2). “When You send Your Spirit, they are created, and You renew the face of the Earth” (Ps. 104: 30). Biblically the Spirit is always involved where there is life, renewal, creativity and diversity (e.g., in the Psalms, Eze. 47:1-12, I Pet. 3:18), as is captured in the Nicene Creed, “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The Spirit enables creation to fulfill the Father’s purposes of consummation in Christ Jesus.
A third form of mediated divine action shows up in Scripture: Some parts of creation are called and empowered to serve as mediators or ministers to other parts of creation, so that creation participates in becoming what God calls it to be. For example, in Genesis 1, “God said, ‘Let the earth grow grass, plants…’” (Gen. 1:11) and “God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures…’” (Gen. 1:24). God calls and enables us through the Holy Spirit to minister to others. Similarly, in these verses we see God calling and enabling creation through the Spirit to minister to creation. The great creation psalm, Psalm 104, is filled with examples of creation ministering to creation under divine call, guidance and enabling: trees and mountain crags providing shelter for animals; grass and water providing sustenance and refreshment for plants and animals; cycles of day and night and the seasons for sustaining the livelihoods of plants and animals; lions looking for their food from God by hunting for it, etc. Or think of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount where He says, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (Matt. 6:26). The diets of birds are quite varied, as various species eat seeds, plants, insects, worms and more. Different species deploy different strategies for finding food, but all of these feeding behaviors are described by Jesus as the Father feeding them—by being active in creation so that creation provides the foods needed by birds (compare with Job 38: 39-41).2
The ministerial nature of creation implies that God has endowed creation with the capacities to bring about creation in participation with Jesus and the Spirit. This kind of cooperation in fulfilling God’s purposes shows up in the first chapter of Genesis:
And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of each kind, cattle and crawling things and wild beasts of each kind.” And it was so. God made wild beasts of each kind and cattle of every kind and all crawling things on the ground of each kind, and God saw that it was good (Gen. 1:24-25).
Note that verse 24 has the earth bringing forth living creatures in response to God’s call while verse 25 depicts God as making these creatures. Genesis isn’t schizophrenic here saying that the earth is bringing forth and sustaining creatures and then that God is bringing forth and sustaining creatures! Rather, these verses are telling us that God and creation are both at work fulfilling God’s purposes in bringing forth and sustaining living creatures.
God’s Ongoing Activity in Creation
These three forms of God’s mediated action in creation don’t take place only at the origin of creation. They are ongoing expressions of God’s involvement in creation.3 For instance, divine command certainly is present at the beginning of creation (“And God said…”) giving structure, order and function to creation. But God’s activity mediated through command is also involved in the ongoing sustaining and guiding of creation (“Let there be…” and “Let the earth [seas] bring forth…”). So divine word continues to give structure and order to creation. Indeed, God’s command bringing forth creation is the same command that is sustaining and guiding creation:
Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created. He set them in place forever and ever; he gave a decree that will never pass away (Ps. 148: 5-6).
…long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed…By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire… (2 Pet. 3: 5, 7).
Similarly, the activity of Jesus and the Spirit are in the origin as well as the ongoing sustaining and guiding of creation to its destiny in Christ.
God’s divine word structures the ongoing development of creation and what God started “in the beginning” God is finishing in Christ through the Spirit. Here are two implications of taking God’s mediated activity in creation seriously. First, Genesis 1 is by no means a picture of a finished, completed creation. This text describes the beginning and ongoing nature of God’s project of creation (compare with Ps. 104) that is being consummated in Christ. Second, the regularities God established in creation that minister to and provide the capacity for creation to become what God calls it to be are the same regularities that scientists study. From the perspective of the DoC, physicists, chemists, biologists and geologists are studying God’s regular activity as it is mediated through command, through God’s two hands and ministerially through creation.
Various sectors of Christianity conceive of science as offering alternative explanations for God’s activity in creation. In contrast, the DoC helps us see that science actually investigates God’s activity, both past and ongoing (whether or not scientists realize this). Instead of seeing science as somehow competing with Christianity or the Bible, the DoC enables us to view science as revealing aspects of God’s mediated activity in creation which can inspire our praise as surely as the psalmist in Psalm 104 praises God for such mediated activity.
1. For example, see Colin Gunton’s very useful survey, The Triune Creation: A Historical and Systematic Study, Eerdmans (1998).
2. Here, we have important overlap between God’s ongoing work of creating life and His providential sustaining of life.
3. Again, there is significant overlap between the DoC and divine providence here.