STUDY THREE: GOD – THE CREATOR
© Rosemary Bardsley 2013
‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth’ – Genesis 1:1
The fact that God is the Creator is the foundational truth upon which all that God promises and all that God commands are based. If he is not our Creator and the Creator of everything that exists then his promises are meaningless for he does not have the power to honour them. If he is not our Creator then his commands are irrelevant for he has no right of ownership or authority over us.
Here also we stand face to face with the fundamental question. This fundamental question is not ‘Is there a God?’ but ‘Why did God, who is complete in himself, create us and the universe?’ The surprising and unexplainable fact is not that God exists, but that we and the universe exist. Creation – our existence - is an action of unnecessary and incomprehensible grace on God’s part. It is sheer gift.
A. CREATION EX NIHILO BY THE POWER OF GOD’S WORD
The biblical concept of creation is that of creating something out of nothing. It does not mean taking something already existing and making something else out of the already existing substance. The Hebrew word bara – create, is used in the Bible only with God as the subject. Whatever is signified by the word bara it is something that only God is reported to have done, and that only the eternally existing God could have done. While there is some debate about its meaning, the clear and strong consensus of opinion is that this word means create out of nothing. The fact that asah and yatsar are also used to refer to God’s creative actions in Genesis 1 does not negate the ‘out of nothing’ meaning of bara. Rather, bara gives more precise definition to the creative action indicated by asah and yatsar.
John Calvin comments:
‘He moreover teaches by the word “created”, that what before did not exist was now made; for he has not used the term yatsar which signifies to frame or form but bara which signifies to create. Therefore his meaning is that the world was made out of nothing. Hence the folly of those is refuted who imagine that unformed matter existed from eternity; and who gather nothing else from the narration of Moses than that the world was furnished with new ornaments, and received a form of which it was before destitute. This indeed was formerly a common fable among heathens, who had received only an obscure report of the creation, and who, according to custom, adulterated the truth of God with strange figments; but for Christian men to labor (as Steuchus does) in maintaining this gross error is absurd and intolerable. Let this, then be maintained in the first place that the world is not eternal but was created by God.’ [Commentary on Genesis, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom01.vii.i.html]
In these comments Calvin rejects any concept of an eternal fundamental dualism in which both God [who is spirit, not matter] and matter co-existed without beginning. As we have seen God is eternal, without beginning. He existed in the perfection of the Trinity. At some point God brought into existence something distinct and separate from himself, out of nothing.
This fact that God created out of nothing raises the question: how did God do it? How does anyone create something out of absolutely nothing?
The biblical answer: God did it by the sheer power of his word. [In some theological writings this creation by the word of God is termed ‘by divine fiat’.]
Task #1: Describe the role given to the word or the speech of God in creating the world.
Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24
2 Peter 3:5
‘Because (God) is infinite, he created originally out of nothing – ex nihilo. There was no mass, no energy particles, before he created. We work through the manifestation of our fingers. He, in contrast, created merely … by his word. Here is power beyond all that we can imagine in the human, finite realm. He was able to create and shape merely by his spoken word. … the primal creation goes back beyond the basic material or energy. ‘ [p.28, ibid]
Henry Morris comments:
‘The use of the word ‘create’ here in Genesis 1:1 informs us that, at this point, the physical universe was spoken into existence by God. It had no existence prior to this primeval creative act of God. God alone is infinite and eternal. He also is omnipotent, so that is was possible for Him to call the universe into being. Although it is impossible for us to comprehend fully this concept of an eternal, transcendent God, the only alternative is the concept of an eternal, self-existing universe; and this concept is also incomprehensible. Eternal God or eternal matter – that is the choice. The latter is an impossibility if the present scientific law of cause and effect is valid, since random particles of matter could not, by themselves, generate a complex, orderly, intelligible universe, not to mention living persons capable of applying intelligence to the understanding of the complex order of the universe. A personal God is the only adequate Cause to produce such effects.’ P40, The Genesis Record, Baker Book House, 1976,
B. CREATION AND THE WORD OF GOD
There are two verses in the above table that draw attention to the fact that creation of all things by the word of God is acknowledged or denied by a deliberate human choice: Hebrews 11:3 states that ‘by faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command …’ and 2Peter 3:5 speaks of those who ‘deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed …’
The Bible further clarifies our understanding of creation by the word of God, by identifying Jesus Christ, who is called ‘the Word’, as the agent of creation.
Task #2: Study these Bible verses. How do they describe the role of Jesus Christ in creation?
1 Corinthians 8:6b
These verses affirm that God the Father is the Creator and that he created through Jesus Christ.
Leon Morris comments on John 1:3,4:
‘John is saying that everything owes its existence to the Word. He does not say that all was made “by” Him, but “through” Him. This way of putting it safeguards the truth that the Father is the source of all that is … There is a careful differentiation of the parts played by the Father and the Son in 1Cor. 8:6. Creation was not the solitary act of either. Both were at work … The Father created, but He did it “through” the Word.’
‘A feature of Johannine style is the enunciation of a proposition in positive form, and then immediately its repetition in the negative. We see this here. The second expression is emphatic, and we could render, “without him there was not even one thing made”. The whole of creation is included in one broad sweep. Nothing is outside the range of His activity. There is a change of tense. “Were made” (aorist) regards creation in its totality, as one act. But “hath been made” is perfect, and this conveys the thought of the continuing existence of created things. What we see around us did not come into existence apart from the Word, any more that what appeared in the first day of creation.” [p79,80 The Gospel According to John]
‘What exists exists, because it exists not of itself, but by God’s Word, for His Word’s sake, in the sense and in the purpose of His Word. God upholds all things (ta panta) by His Word (Heb.1:2; cf. John 1:1f and Col 1). … By the Word the world exists. … The world came into being, it was created and sustained by the little child that was born in Bethlehem, by the Man who died on the Cross of Golgotha, and the third day rose again. That is the Word of creation, by which all things were brought into being. That is where the meaning of creation comes from, and that is why it says at the beginning of the Bible: “In the beginning God made heaven and earth and God said, “Let there be …”. This unheard-of utterance of God in that uncanny first chapter of the Bible! Think of this utterance, not as a magic word of an Almighty, who now let the world go forth, but listen: God speaks concretely, as Scripture attests; and since this was God’s reality from the beginning, everything that is came into being – the light and heaven and earth, plants and beasts, and last of all, man.’ [p57,58 ibid]
Oscar Cullmann comments:
‘ … the Gospel of John emphasizes very strongly the participation of the pre-existent Christ in creation – even more strongly than the other New Testament writings in which we have found the same idea. The creation belongs to divine revelation just as does salvation through him who became flesh. We must not overlook the fact that the Gospel of John begins with the same words as the first book of the Old Testament. If we, like the first Christians of the Diaspora, were accustomed to read the Old Testament in Greek, this would immediately attract our attention. Genesis begins with the words en arche; John 1:1 begins with the words en arche. We read in the Old Testament: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In the Gospel of John we read: “In the beginning was the Word, the Logos … all things were made through him.” The evangelist gives a new Genesis account, now presented in the light of the Mediator of revelation’ [p250, Christology of the New Testament].
Task #3: From what is taught in the scriptures and quotes above, answer the following:
Describe the relationship between God the Father and God the Son in the creation of the world.
What are the implications of creation for the continuing power and authority of Jesus Christ over all that exists?
C. CREATION AND REVELATION
In the last quote above Cullmann refers to the act of creation as an act of ‘revelation’. Here, in his act of creation, God makes himself known.
Task #4: How do these verses teach that creation reveals God?
Yet, for sinful man, this revelation of God as Creator is not automatically known. Although creation is blatantly broadcasting the glory of God, man, blinded and darkened in sin and unbelief, neither hears nor sees it. Belief in God as Creator is just as much an act of faith as belief in God as Redeemer.
Hence Barth comments:
‘When we approach the truth which the Christian Church confesses in the word “Creator”, then everything depends on our realizing that we find ourselves here as well confronted by the mystery of faith, in respect of which knowledge is real solely through God’s revelation. This first article of faith is God the Father and His work is not a sort of “forecourt of the Gentile, a realm in which Christians and Jews and Gentiles, believers and unbelievers are beside one another and to some extent stand together in the presence of a reality concerning which there might be some measure of agreement, in describing it as the work of God the Creator. What the meaning of God the Creator is and what is involved in the work of creation, is in itself not less hidden from us men than everything else that is contained in the Confession. We are not nearer to believing in God the Creator, than we are to believing that Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. … In both cases we are faced with the mystery of God and His work, and the approach to it can only be one and the same.’ [p50, ibid].
‘Knowledge of creation is knowledge of God and consequently knowledge of faith in the deepest and ultimate sense. It is not just a vestibule in which natural theology might find a place. … it is not the existence of the world in its manifoldness, from which we are to read off the fact that God is its Creator. The world with its sorrow and its happiness will always be a dark mirror to us, about which we may have optimistic or pessimistic thoughts; but it gives us no information about God as the Creator. But always, when man has tried to read the truth from sun, moon and stars or from himself, the result has been an idol.’ [p-52, ibid]
Task #5: In what way does Romans 1:18-23 confirm or deny Barth’s denial of man’s ability to know God as Creator apart from knowledge of Christ?
Romans Chapter 1 makes it clear that although the created world clearly and powerfully reveals God, sinful man [which is what each of us is] will never know the true God simply through looking at the creation. The truth of Barth’s comment – ‘always, when man has tried to read the truth from sun, moon and stars or from himself, the result has been an idol’ – is evident both in the scripture and in experience. Man, inevitably, makes a god of his own choosing and his own definition. This is also confirmed by 2Peter 3:5:
‘…they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed …’
It is only through Jesus Christ that we know the identity and the being of the Creator. Apart from him we do not and cannot know God. Once we do know God by knowing Christ, then we know God as Creator and then his splendour shines forth for us in the things that he has made.
Also through Christ, through his incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection, we now begin to know and understand something of the high cost and the deep grace involved in this act in which God, who is complete in himself, with extravagant love chose to create both us, and the world.
The coming of Christ, in whom God is known and seen, means that we now know that creation is not an arbitrary thing; nor is it a careless thing that God did without knowing the consequences; nor is it the action of a sadistic and unloving God. In the light of Christ’s coming, and all that that coming involved, we can now have a faith in God as the Creator that stands in the midst of all the questions, both deep and flippant, that are raised about his goodness, his love and his power. These questions are all disempowered here. [See Study Eight]
Here, in Christ, we may not yet fully understand, but we know.
Because of the incarnation we know both who the Creator is, and that this Creator is for us:
We know that all the incongruencies of this world do not deny his goodness.
We know that all the sufferings of this world do not deny his love.
We know that his seeming powerlessness and inaction is but an evidence of his patience and grace.
D. CREATION, SOVEREIGNTY AND DEPENDENCE
‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth …’
This opening statement of the Bible is the foundation upon which the whole of the Bible rests. In these few simple words we are told who God is, what the world is, who we are, and what the relationship between us and God is.
God is the Creator. We are created beings. The relationship between us and God is this: that we are totally dependent on him and answerable to him. In the original creation this was a relationship of freedom and joy – a gift, not a burden.
This opening statement highlights both the incongruence of sin and the necessity for trust. It points to the foolishness of rebellion against God and the wisdom of obedience to God.
Those who call this statement ‘myth’, and those who deliberately or ignorantly deny it altogether, undercut the whole of the scripture.
If God is not the Creator, nor can he sustain us and the world.
If God is not the Creator, nor can he be the Sovereign Lord.
If God is not the Creator, nor does he have the authority to interfere and intervene in the lives of men.
If God is not the Creator, nor does he possess power over nature.
If God is not the Creator, nor does he have authority over the nations.
If God is not the Creator, nor does he have any say about what is morally right and what is morally wrong.
If God is not the Creator, nor does he have authority over life and death.
If God is not the Creator, nor are we dependent on him.
If God is not the Creator, nor are we accountable to him.
If God is not the Creator, nor do we get our significance from him.
The eternal One, the Holy One, the personal, triune God, who existed before the beginning of time and space, is the Creator of the world and of us, and as such, is the Sovereign Lord of all, and of us.
This powerful God cannot be ignored. He is not an optional extra to be included in our lives only when we find nothing else works. To ignore him is not to escape him. To deny him is not to rob him of existence. To reject him is not to avoid his authority.
Whether we acknowledge it or not, he is the Sovereign Lord.
Rejection of the concept of God as Creator, and of the createdness of everything else, is at the root of the darkness, despair and disintegration observable in our society today. Schaeffer comments:
‘It is either not knowing or denying the createdness of things that is at the root of the blackness of modern man’s difficulties. Give up creation as space-time, historic reality, and all that is left is what Simone Wells calls uncreatedness. It is not that something does not exist, but that it just stands there, autonomous to itself, without solutions and without answers. Once one removes the createdness of all things, meaning and categories can only be some sort of leap, with or without drugs, into an irrational world. Modern man’s blackness, therefore, rests primarily upon his losing the reality of the createdness of all things (all things except the personal God who always has been).’ [p30, ibid].
When we remove the personal Creator God we leave ourselves without identity, without significance, without meaning, without purpose and without boundaries. And we strive to live without the one factor that makes life rational and possible. In assuming independence we jettison all that makes us truly and distinctively human.