Why is the doctrine of creation so important?

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So far, we have sketched out the story of Creation as we find it in Scripture and we have compared it to other Creation accounts, both historical and contemporary. Now, we can start to think through the implications of Creation.

First of all, we want to look at the doctrinal implications. What are the important truths we must believe about Creation and how do they relate systematically to other beliefs, especially to what we have seen so far about how we know God (revelation) and who God is?

We will then move from this to thinking practically and pastorally. How does a right doctrine of creation and Fall affect how we live?

So, in this section, we will highlight some of the key doctrinal beliefs that the Bible teaches about the Creation. We will then go on in the next section to look at the Doctrine of the Fall.

Creation and God’s Revelation

Creation is an act of Revelation. As we saw in “How do I know?” God reveals who he is both through Special Revelation (Scripture, Christ) and General Revelation. Creation gives us General Revelation.

This General Revelation happens because the Universe itself is a declaration of God’s glory, his goodness and power.[1] General Revelation shows God’s loving providence[2] so that no-one is without excuse for ignoring him.[3] If we fail to see the truth about God in Creation, it is not that the Revelation itself is defective (although a full understanding of God’s purposes needs Special Revelation). The problem is with us because we are deaf and blind to God and suppress his clear revelation.[4]

Creation, subjected to the Fall, also reveals God’s wrath and judgement on sin[5] and something of the hope we have as we look forward to Christ’s return.

“18Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. 19 For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. 20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. 22 For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. 24 We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. 25 But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.).”[6]

God’s General Revelation is also seen specifically in the Creation of human beings, made in his image. Dan Strange says,

“All human beings are created in the imago Dei and ‘sons of God’ are created as ‘religious’ beings, revealing God, representing him and built for relationship with each other and the rest of creation.”[7]

We reveal him in our concern to create and to order things. We reveal something of his character in our desire for relationship, reflecting both the God who chooses to make us to relate to Him and the God who is eternally relational through the Trinity.

However, whilst Creation itself is revelatory, that revelation is limited. It is only through Special Revelation that we can know and understand Creation both in terms of its origins and purpose. This is seen right from the beginning when God provides commentary on his creation as he declares it good. It is seen in our need to turn to Scripture to discover the truth of our origins.

Creation and God’s Greatness

When we looked at who God is, we saw that God is great and sovereign. His sovereignty is seen in his independence.  In John 5, we are told that both Father and Son have life within themselves. They are not dependent upon anything outside of themselves for their being, identity, status or value.

The Independent God Creates

This is portrayed in God’s effortless creation simply by his Word. God is not dependent on any other being or matter when he creates.  He creates from nothing, sometimes referred to as Creation ex nihilo. We see this in John 1 and Revelation 4.

Dan Strange puts it this way: “Not only is the Lord personal but he is absolute or self-sufficient.”[8]

He sees this view of God the Creator as an essential starting point to our understanding of the world and life.

“The first building block of a Reformed Christian worldview is a doctrine of Creation ex nihilo that preserves the Creator-Creature distinction.”[9]

God Creates everything

Note that the Creation of everything from nothing really does include everything. This means that, historically, Christian writers took time to emphasise that the description of Creation in Genesis 1 includes the Heavens and Earth and therefore within that creation are other spiritual beings including angels.

Bavinck puts it this way,

“According to Holy Scripture, creation is divided into a spiritual and a material realm into heaven and earth, into ‘things in heaven and [things] on earth, things visible and [things] invisible (Col 1:16).”[10]

He goes on to observe that,

“The existence of such a spiritual realm is recognized in all religions. In addition to the actual gods, also a variety of demigods or heroes, demons, genii, spirits, souls, and so on have been the objects of religious veneration.”[11]

It is important to recognise this because, throughout history, there have always been reductionist tendencies so that life is seen purely in terms of what we can touch, smell and hear in the present time. Such scepticism about other spiritual beings goes back to New Testament times with the Sadducees, who denied both the Resurrection and the existence of angels (c.f. Acts 23:8) and continues with various philosophers and theologians throughout history who either have seen angels as metaphorical extensions of God’s actions or as humans.[12] Modern day materialists and empiricists deny outright the existence of a spiritual realm:

“In modern theology… only little is left of angels. Rationalists… while they do not deny the existence of angels, do deny their manifestation.”[13]

One problem with this is that the reaction to materialistic empiricism is often to go to the other extreme of spiritualism because,

“Ever and again we thirst for another world that is no less rich than this one. By the way of a reaction to it, materialism evokes spiritualism. But the spiritism in which this spiritualism today manifests itself in the lives of many people is nothing other than a new form of superstition.”[14]

In fact, so called spiritual manifestations are often seen to be just phenomena that can be explained away psychologically.[15] However, we cannot take this lightly because,

“One thing is certain: in numerous cases spiritism has a very injurious effect on the psyhcic and physical health of its practitioners, and it follows a path that is prohibited by Scripture (Deut 18:11 ff.). Between this world and the world beyond there is a gap that humans cannot bridge. If they nevertheless attempt to cross it, they lapse into superstition and become prey to the very spirits they have conjured up.”[16]

This is why it is so important that when we talk about angels, demons and the spiritual realm, we come back to what God reveals through Scripture rather than going along with speculation.

Exactly where angels appear in the Creation order isn’t stated and Calvin argues that it is unwise to argue about the exact timing of their creation.[17] Whilst Augustine notes,

“Where Scripture speaks of the world’s creation, it is not plainly said whether or when the angels were created; but if mention of them is made, it is implicitly under the name of ‘heaven’ when it is said, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,’ or perhaps rather under the name of light.”[18]

He goes on to insist that It can’t be prior to this because “before heaven and earth God seems to have made nothing”[19] whilst it must also have happened during the 6 days of Creation because angels are involved in praising God at creation (Job 38:7).[20] His personal view is that they were created when God created light.[21]

Angels have two types of ministry according to Bavinck: an extraordinary one and ordinary one.

“The extraordinary ministry of angels consists in accompanying the history of redemption at its cardinal points. They themselves do not bring about salvation, but they do participate in its history. They transmit revelations, protect God’s people, oppose his enemies, and perform an array of services in the kingdom of God.”[22]

In other words, their presence functions as a sign to what God is doing at a key point in history.

“Scripture also speaks of an ordinary ministry of angels. The primary feature of that ministry is that they praise god day and night (Jon 38:7; Isa. 6; Ps. 103:20; 148:2; Rev 5:11). Scripture conveys the impression that they do this in audible sounds, even though we cannot imagine what their speech and songs are like.”[23]

Their ministry is, on the one hand, designed to help and encourage us, as Calvin says:

“the point on which the Scriptures specifically insist is that which tends most to our comfort and to the confirmation of our faith, namely that angels are the ministers and dispensers of the divine bounty towards us. Accordingly, we are told how they watch for our safety, how they undertake our defence, direct our path and take heed that no evil befall us.”[24]

However, as we see in Bavinck’s comments, their role is not human-centric, even though we benefit; rather, their chief end, like ours, is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

And this brings us to a vital point. What we see about the greatness of God’s Creation should bring us to our knees in awe and wonder as we worship God.

God’s Creation reveals his Lordship and calls us to worship

Our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. We were made to worship. We saw this earlier when we discovered that the language of work in Eden (serving and keeping) is Temple or worship language.

God’s Lordship is shown through Creation because Creation itself worships Him (c.f. Palm 19).[25] Creation shows that God is Lord because it demonstrates his “control”[26] over it.  He is the Lord who “establishes his ownership of all things.” (Psalm 24:1-2)[27] His authority is demonstrated [28] because it comes into being through his word.[29] So Creation brings glory to God as we see his power, his majesty, his worth.

Creation causes worship because human beings were made to worship God. Dan Strange describes how we were made to be “religious.” He says,

“This religious nature…is not merely the capacity we have for relating to, worshipping, obeying or disobeying something or someone we consider ultimate, what we might call a generic religiosity, but is rather a particular religiosity: our relationship, worship and obedience or disobedience to the self-contained ontological Trinity, the living God of the Bible.”[30]

In other words, our only right response is to worship the true and living God. We were not made with a mere general awareness of deity, of the “something more”. We were made to know and be known by the Triune God. This is why idolatry is serious.

Creation and God’s Goodness

If Creation is an outflow of God’s greatness, then it also is an outflow and reflection of his goodness too. In Creation, we see God’s beauty, holiness and wisdom. For example, we see his holiness as God makes distinctions separating light from darkness, day from night, land from sea, sea from sky. This is the same God who will separate a people out for himself as a holy nation. This is also the God who, in his wisdom, creates an ordered and structured Universe. 

This good God cannot be the God who stays at a distance. As Calvin puts it, “It were cold and lifeless to represent God as a momentary Creator, who completed his work once for all and then left it.”[31] God’s goodness, kindness, compassion and love are reflected in his providence.

God’s Providence shows his love and wisdom

Calvin describes the mind where he says,

“On learning that there is a Creator, it must forthwith infer that he is also the Governor and Preserver, and that, not by producing a kind of general motion in the machine of the globe as well as in each of its parts, but by a special Providence, sustaining, cherishing, superintending, all the things which he has made, to the very minutest, even to the sparrow.”[32]

So, God did not stop working when he completed the days of Creation. This helps us to understand what Genesis 2 means when it describes God as resting on the 7th day. “As Scripture also makes very clear (Isa. 40:28), this resting was not occasioned by fatigue, nor did it consist in God standing idly by.”[33] This ‘rest’ represents a change in the specific nature of God’s work. “God’s ‘resting’ only indicates that he stopped producing new kinds of things. (Eccles. 1:9-10)”[34] Rest points us to the effortlessness of God’s reign over his creation; he is enthroned over it.

“The whole world with everything that is and occurs in it is subject to divine government.” This includes the seasons and the weather[35] as well as animals. “Scripture knows no independent creatures; this would be an oxymoron. God cares for all his creatures, for animals… and particularly for humans.”[36]

Providence describes the way in which God is concerned for the well-being of his creatures and so orders and sustains the very detail of Creation. Providence is a consequence of God’s Will and Decrees. In other words, everything happens because God predestines it.

This includes God’s direct actions, so that miracles are

“not a violation of natural law nor an intervention in the natural order. From God’s side it is an act that does not more immediately and directly have God as its cause than any ordinary event, and in the counsel of God and the plan of the world it occupies as much an equally well-ordered and harmonious place as any natural phenomenon. In miracles God only puts into effect a special force that, like any other force, operates in accordance with its own nature and therefore also has an outcome of its own.”[37]

However, it also includes the way in which God works through subordinate causes in order to accomplish his will. This is known as concurrence.[38] It means that just as God can be the direct author of our salvation but work through intermediate means (the sending of preachers), so God can be the direct provider of or daily bread whilst using the processes of the water cycle and crop generation to bring this about. This means that we should not think in terms of “the God of the gaps” who steps in to provide where natural processes cannot. Rather, God is in and over those processes.

It also helps us to understand why God created a “mature” Universe with all the necessary processes in place from day one.

“The world was not created in a state of pure potency, as chaos or a nebulous cloud, but as an ordered cosmos, and human beings were not placed in it as helpless toddlers but as an adult man and an adult woman. Development could only proceed from such a ready-made world, and that is how creation presented it to providence.”[39]

Providence encourages us to trust God’s provision and to depend on him every day. 

Providence distinguishes the true God from false Gods

Providence is different and opposed to pantheism[40] and to deism.[41]

As Bavinck explains,

“The providence of God, thus distinguished from God’s knowledge and decree and maintained against pantheism and Deism, is -in the beautiful words of the Heidelberg Catechism – ‘the almighty and ever present power of God by which he upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures and so rules them that… all things, in fact, one to us not by chance but by the fatherly hand.”[42]

It is distinguished from Deism because God is personal, active and imminent. He is not the impersonal first cause of a Universe that continues to run itself.  It is different to pantheism because the Universe is dependent upon an external person to rule over it. It does not have life within itself.

Providence also distinguishes Christian faith from polytheism. In polytheistic religion, the gods look to humans to provide for them: food, labourers, etc. Providence points us to the God who cares for and provides for his creatures.

[1] Psalm 19:1.

[2] Acts 14:17.

[3] Romans 1:20.

[4] Romans 1:21.

[5] Romans 1:18.

[6] Romans 8:18-25.

[7] Strange, For their Rock is not as our Rock, 71.

[8] Strange, For their Rock is not as our Rock, 58.

[9] Strange, For their Rock is not as our Rock, 58

[10] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation (Vol 2. Trans John Vriend, Ed John Bolt. Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker Academic, 2004), 444.

[11] Bavinck, God and Creation, 444.

[12] Bavinck, God and Creation, 444-445.

[13] Bavinck, God and Creation, 445.

[14] Bavinck, God and Creation, 446.

[15] Bavinck, God and Creation, 446.

[16] Bavinck, God and Creation, 446.

[17] Calvin, Institutes, I.xiv.4. (Beveridge 1:144).

[18] Augustine, The City of God, XI.9. (Dods:352).

[19] Augustine, The City of God, XI.9. (Dods:352).

[20] Augustine, The City of God, XI.9. (Dods:353).

[21] Augustine, The City of God, XI.9. (Dods:353).

[22] Bavinck, God and Creation, 463.

[23] Bavinck, God and Creation, 464.

[24] Calvin, Institutes, I.xiv.6. (Beveridge 1:145).

[25] Frame, Doctrine of God, 292.

[26] Frame, Doctrine of God, 292.

[27] Frame, Doctrine of God, 293.

[28] Frame, Doctrine of God, 293.

[29] Frame, Doctrine of God, 293.

[30] Strange, For their Rock is not as our Rock, 71.

[31] Calvin, Institutes, I.xvi.1. (Beveridge 1:171).

[32] Calvin, Institutes, I. xvi.1.  (Beveridge 1:172).

[33] Bavinck, God and Creation, 592.

[34] Bavinck, God and Creation, 592.

[35] Bavinck, God and Creation, 592.

[36] Bavinck, God and Creation, 592.

[37] Bavinck, God and Creation, 610.

[38] Frame, Doctrine of God, 287.

[39] Bavinck, God and Creation, 609.

[40] Bavinck, God and Creation, 599-600.

[41] Bavinck, God and Creation, 600-604.

[42] Bavinck, God and Creation, 604.

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