How radical is the Christian Doctrine of Creation?

imagesGod, according to the Christian doctrine of creation, is the maker of heaven and earth. All that exists distinct from God is created by God. Certainly this includes the physical world—the contingent reality of electrons, mountains, and stars. If there is a distinct non-physical realm— a necessary abstract realm and/or further contingent immaterial beings (such as souls and angels)—then it is reasonable (say I, but not all) to think that God is the creator of that as well.

Thus, the most fundamental distinction in all of reality is that between creator and creature. God and that which God has made are distinct; One has made the other; One rules and the other obeys; One exists a se (from himself), the rest ab alio (through another).

To our modern ears, it is easy to miss the significance—the radicalness even—of the Christian view of creation. In the ancient world creation stories were often viewed as religiously unimportant. As C.S. Lewis states, ancient creation stories “are on the fringe where religion tails off into what was perhaps felt, even at the time, to be more like fairy-tail”[1] For example, in one Egyptian story a god called Atum came out of the water and begot and bore the two next gods. In a Babylonian myth, before heaven and earth were made beings called Apsu and Tiamat begot and bore further gods, which in turn begot and bore further gods, and we eventually learn of the creation of the heaven and the earth through the strife caused by all these gods. Greek mythology starts with the heaven and the earth already in existence. When considering the ancient creation stories, Lewis observes:

When the curtain rises in these myths there are always some “properties” already on the stage and some sort of drama is proceeding. You may say they answer the question “How did the play being?”[2]

But the Christian doctrine of creation asks a very different set of questions:

“How does a play originate? Does it write itself? Do the actors make it up as they go along? Or is there someone—not on the stage, not like the people on the stage—someone we don’t see—who invented it all and caused it to be?”[3]

These questions are rarely asked and answered in ancient creation stories. We do of course find in Plato a clear theology of creation in the Christian sense, “but this is an amazing leap . . . by an overwhelmingly theological genius; it is not ordinary pagan religion.”[4]

This is a radical doctrine—a doctrine of creation unheard of in the ancient world—and its importance cannot be underestimated for at least two reasons.

First, the doctrine of creation empties Nature of divinity.  To say that God created Nature is to separate one from the other. What makes and what is made are two things. Thus, to pay reverence to the sun or moon or stars as the ancients (innocently enough) did, is now properly understood as idolatry. It is the worship of created things instead of the creator. The Psalmist cries out:

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters. (Psalm 24:1-2)

God owns it all—it is all His, and to worship some created thing as a god is to ascribe divinity to the non-divine. It is a kind of stealing, taking something that only belongs to God—worship worthiness—and ascribing it to another.

Second, the doctrine of creation makes Nature a symbol, a manifestation, of the Divine. Nature is full of manifestations of God—ever revealing His “eternal power and divine nature” (Romans 1:20). We see God’s handiwork all around us—the beauty of a sunset, the majesty of the mountains, the ferocity of an earthquake or a tornado, the peace of a cascading waterfall, the rhythm of the seasons and the song of the animals in a field. They one and all point to their maker. As Lewis states, “By emptying Nature of divinity—or let us say, of divinities—you may fill her with Deity, for she is now the bearer of messages.”[5]

And what is that divine message that cries out from all God has made? It is an invitation: “Come to me” (Matthew 11:28), God beckons, for “you are mine already.”

For my post on the inescapability of the creator-creature relation, see here.

For an excellent discussion of the biblical doctrine of creation, see Paul Copan and William Lane Craig’s Creation out of Nothing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York: Harcourt, 1986 ed.), 78.

[2] Ibid., 79.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 80.

[5] Ibid., 82-3.

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