The work of God in re-creation is the basis of our understanding of creation. The life-giving activity of the Spirit in the here and now of salvation is the basis of our thinking and speaking about the life-giving activity of the Spirit in the there and then of conception and formation. Our encounter with the power and authority of the Word of God today is the basis of our understanding of God’s work in the beginning. Creation is neither more nor less than the field of God’s self-determinative life-act, the space and time, dimension and sequence of His bringing being out of nonbeing.
Creation is the object of God’s charity, the room opened up by the fullness of His love or the execution of His will, which is the same thing. It is the event corresponding to the act by which God exists as Lord, the stage on which He lives out His decision to bring about life in relationship to Him, and to be the sustenance, nourishment, and fulfillment of that life.
We don’t really know what we are saying if we begin at some other point in our attempt to understand the world, its entities, and its happenings. We cannot start with general cosmology, as if the world is neither more nor less than the outcome of a massive explosion roughly 15 billion years ago, from which emerged not only matter and energy, but also the boson by which there is mass and distinction. We cannot begin with living creatures, as if nature is neither more nor less than the substance and means of evolutionary recombination, the conditions by which life gives way to life. We cannot begin with the existential moment, as if creation is neither more nor less than being there, the readiness or to-handedness of reciprocal definition .
Each of these lines of inquiry might yield a great deal of true and important information in its rightful place. Cosmology, biology, and philosophy can tell us a lot about creation, the creature, and the potency of existence. Their findings are worth exploring and, whenever possible, freely using and celebrating.
But their findings are always penultimate, never ultimate, always secondary and never primary, because they take place within the life of God as the predicate of His activity. Creation, however compellingly described and profoundly grasped, is never the basis by which we may know and understand God, but the other way around. He is the basis according to which we may know and understand creation. God’s revelation supplies the content and sets the parameters not only of what we must confess of Him, but also what we must confess of our world, our selves, and our dealings.
The comprehensiveness of God’s act for our every knowledge of creation is made known in Genesis 1. In fact, teaching the comprehensiveness of God’s act seems to be the point of Genesis 1, rather than, say, providing a timeline of the world’s origin, a sequence by which its defining features and contents came about, or a complete record of the world’s objects and beings.
In the beginning, says Genesis 1:1, God is the subject of action. All things that exist other than God, expressed in the merism “the heavens and the earth” (ha shemayem v’et ha aretz), come into being as a consequence of His act. They possess no existence apart from this act, but only have being as the outcome and object of God’s work. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
It is not that there is some kind of primordial bouillabaisse preexisting with God, which also might be the subject of action “in the beginning.” It is not that in eternity the heavens and earth persevere on their own, according to an unnamed, innate potency for life. No, their power for life is named. It is “God.” There is nothing that self-determinatively preexists with this one. Existence in the realm denoted by “the beginning” is exclusively His. The text attributes eternity to God alone by making Him the acting subject by which not just some things come into being, not just part of time and space, but the entirety of space-time, fully all things come into being. The existence of everything that is not God derives entirely and exclusively from His self-determination in the beginning to bring it into being.
God alone creates, and He creates everything. Each idea works off the other. Because there is nothing that exists next to or apart from God, He alone is the Creator. He preexists alone; He alone is eternal. And because He alone is the preexistent, eternal Creator, everything that exists does so from Him and by Him.
This is not to force a doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, “creation out of nothing” on to Genesis 1. Biblical scholars have helpfully observed that this doctrine is not a concern of the author of this text. But creatio ex nihilo presents itself as a logical deduction necessitated by the comprehensiveness of God’s lordship in creating, which Genesis 1 does teach. Unless we wish to introduce a potentially rival subject to Genesis 1:1, we must confess that creation has no basis for its existence except God’s willful determination. Externally to God in the beginning, there is nothing.
The comprehensiveness of God’s act of creating is further demonstrated by the structure of the chapter. The earth that God creates is described in verse 2 as “formless and empty” (tohu v’vohu). God is depicted as standing over a shapeless void, bearing upon chaos or unruly nothingness, which unruliness was exemplified in the Ancient Near East by water.
Civilizations were built near great rivers, which provided for the needs of life but which also flooded, changed course, and destroyed life. The sea supplied food and enabled trade, but also raged and sunk ships. Over the chaotic waters blew the Spirit of God. By the Spirit, creation receives not only substance, but also shape and order.
It is no accident that the six days of creating in Genesis 1 are evenly divided between three acts of forming and three acts of filling; three acts of giving shape and three of giving substance. The separated realms of light and dark on day one are filled with the lights on day four; the separated expanses of water and sky on day two are filled with the fish and birds on day five; and the separated ground on day three is filled with the animals and, ultimately, humankind on day six. In this regard, the text gives the picture of sculpting, which typically informs Ancient Near Eastern creation accounts, but definitively establishes God as Lord over the sculpture, both its substance and form.
In other words, two things are clearly being communicated about creation in Genesis 1. One, God is Lord over the world in its every feature and detail. How it is that God has brought about the heavens and earth, what use He has made of given acts of creation in bringing forth further acts of creation, thus what timeframe He has been following in establishing time and what space He has been delineating in establishing space—with such questions the text has no interest. But that God is Lord of the heavens and the earth, that He is comprehensive ruler of space-time, that the substance of our world and shape derive from His decree—the text teaches these things without modesty or reserve. Thus the psalmist says,
“The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Ps. 24:1).
Two, the world that we have is the one that God intended us to have and not another. Because there is nothing in heaven or earth that is not answerable to this God, nothing that derives from a power alien to Him, everything that exists does so at His ordaining. There is nothing that exists, which is not called forth by His voice. There is, in turn, no potential to creation, nothing that it might be, which is not given in the actuality of what God decrees, the factual substance and shape of what He wills in His Word.
There is no point in speculating about other possible worlds, which might seem preferable to this one. It is this world that God has ordained, this that He has called “good” in its every fact and potential. It is this world with which we must concern ourselves when we think of life before God, life as it is intended to be, this world and not an imagined other world that is the object of God’s love and attention, this space-time that is at once the condition by which we live out our being and the stage on which we think, speak, and act as God’s children.
Creation is the theater of God’s being Lord over every force of unruliness and nonbeing. It is the field and form of His life-act in the Word, the place in which and series of incidents according to which He bestows being, shines light, and gives life. It just is the event of being corresponding to God’s being.
There is a lot to this, but in the scope of this lecture we will focus on only three matters. These are the event-character of creation, creation’s total dependency upon God yet differentiation from Him, and the nature of God’s providential rule over creation.
First, creation is best understood as the event of being corresponding to God’s being. Creation is the coordinated series of occurrences that serve as the textiles of God’s rule, the co-sequence of happenings that provide the framework of His being Lord, or the consequence of His being the source of all being.
Creation simply is the means by which God lives as God, and the product of this living.
We must say such things, which I admit sound strange at first, if we are to think and speak consistently in terms of God’s Word, and in light of the fact that creation has no basis for existence apart from God’s Word. We cannot start with the world as we think we know it or of creatureliness as we think we have experienced it or of the potential for being as we think we perceive it. What world there is, creatureliness there is, and potential for being, all of this is given by God being who He is. It all comes to be with His being Lord over nonbeing, refusing it, making life out of it. All things as they are, seen in their true light and endowed with their genuine possibility—all things real and potential arise from the radiance of God’s glory shining in the formless abyss, His light emitting into indistinct darkness and refusing the darkness to rule, rejecting every power of nothingness, its every murk, shadow, and destructive spirit.
If we were to claim that creation is anything other than the theater of God’s life-act, anything other than both the means of His living as God and the outcome of that living, then we would imply some kind of self-existence to creation, some way of being and source of being given in itself, as if it stood there for God as a thing alongside God. Creation must correspond in every way to the living decision of God, or else He is not God but one power among others in the beginning, and creation seeks in vain to live under another lord. If creation was in any way something other than the substance and shape of God’s lordship as well as the object of that lordship, then its substance and shape would owe at least in part to another source and its loyalty would be divided among masters. This divided loyalty would subject creation to frustration and convulsion, perpetually given to the lure of false lords, casting about for an alternative way of being than that given by God, as in fact it is subject in and through the disobedience of the creature (Rom. 8). But its true being is in and through the Word, its true existence established and directed by Christ Jesus from first to last.
What we know is the world, the creature, and the potential for being given by God in and through His decree. We know the world, the creature, and the potential for being in the Word. If our existence is in the Word, if we come to true being only here, then our every thought is taken captive to the Word and we serve no other master (2 Cor. 10:5). We have no other source of thought and speech or means of existing than the Word. We are caught up in the event of God being this God, the speaking and relating God, Immanuel, and exist as the object and active partner of His speech and relation. We therefore have no choice but to confess responsively the truth that makes and sustains us: that all things are from God and through God and to God (Rom. 11:36); that creation is from His glory, exists in His glory, and is for His glory!
Concretely, the space-time in which we find ourselves and according to which our lives take structure is the raw material of God’s covenant history and therefore subject to His will. Space-time is not some given construct that constrains God. It is not a container within which He is forced to work. Rather, space-time is the means that God has ordained to be in covenant relationship. It is the cooperative instrumentality of His self-determinative life-act, that is, the medium and process by which He speaks and relates, the history of His living and acting as Lord of all. God does not simply place Himself within space-time but wills space-time to be the realm of His self-giving. It exists at His leisure, for His pleasure, and is thus malleable. It can be changed, and in fact is even now being brought into conformity with God’s covenant designs. We will talk more about that next time.
Because space-time is not a given construct but the cooperative instrumentality of God’s self-giving, it is, secondly, utterly dependent upon God. Once more, creation is simply the event of being corresponding to the event of God’s being. It comes from no other source than the Word of God and exists by no other endowment.
Yet that does not make God bound to creation by anything other than the continuing exercise of His sovereign will and decree. We must say that creation has no being outside of God’s being; it does not exist in either substance or shape beyond the execution of God’s singular, eternal, self-determinative decision to bring being out of nonbeing and to live in unassailable, vivifying relationship to it, which is to say, to reiterate His eternal decision a second and third time, to bring light to dark and life to death, to reconcile and redeem. Thus we have been saying, as again we must, that God has His being entirely in the decision to be God-with-us. There is no creation beyond the God who is Immanuel, and there is no God beyond this God either! But that God is this God, that He is eternally being to nonbeing, light to darkness, and life to death, is a matter of His living lordship. It is given in His rule over Himself, His freedom to be God neither in abstraction from creation nor in confusion with it, but in remaining its source and means precisely as He calls it forth, lives among it, and unites it to Him.
God’s being principally and the corresponding, secondary being of the world are coordinately grounded in God’s election. His decision to be God in Christ Jesus is the substance and determinative shape of all being. That creation is grounded from first to last in God’s decision means that it makes no claim upon God beyond the claim that He makes upon Himself. It is grounded in the promise of God to be this God, with us, and not in any fixed characteristic of its own or that it demands of God.
I’m confident that, as you dedicate thought to it, you will realize that the promise of God is a surer foundation of existence than any fixed characteristic we could imagine. If nothing else, I hope that it will provide a means of confidence and security in the face of the fluid foundations occasionally put forward by cosmology, biology, and philosophy, which fluidity modern cosmologists, biologists, and philosophers seem almost to rejoice in as they circularly develop from their respective findings incessant predictions of creation’s impending demise.
Creation’s future will be in Christ Jesus just as its past has been in Him and present is in Him. God brought the world about in the Word, and He will bring it to its appointed end also in the Word. The work of the Spirit is, again, to make Christ Jesus Lord, as in fact He is. Thirdly, then, God’s providential rule is defined also by his self-election.
“Providence” does not mean minute control on the one hand or the detached operation of natural laws on the other, but moment-by-moment loving care of creation by its eternally loving Creator. God places the world in authentic, active relationship to Him. He neither controls every nanosecond and quantum modality, as if creation was a kind of body of His own living, nor does He turn the world over to an alien lordship by which it might determine its own end, but endows it with faculties by which He is genuinely known, served, and loved as the condition and means of its existence.
Being a cooperative instrumentality, the event of creation is concursive. This word shows up in a few dogmatic locations, but in the context of the doctrine of creation it refers to the reality that creation is codetermined by the directive decision of God to make and sustain this world and not another, and the responsive operations of the world and its creatures. God’s governance is a living governance, His rule an active rule, His kingdom an advancing kingdom, taking place in and through obedient, authentic response of the agents and agencies He has made.
God is God in the act of giving life, neither, that is, in withholding life to Himself nor in ceding it to alternative power, but in the moment-by-moment movement to what He is not, taking it up without losing Himself in it. He forms and fills the chaos by breathing upon the waters, dispels the dark by shining among it, and conquers death by dying. God rules the world by the world. He is so much God that He can do this, that He is not constrained by the need for minute control, as if creation might otherwise be too free, or by the distant application of natural laws, as if it might otherwise not be free enough. Rather, God’s sovereignty is made known precisely in the moment-by-moment reality of creation’s concursive obedience: its coming to Him as its Lord in response to His coming to it as its Servant.