Most believers in God, if they’ve given our world more than a cursory glance, must come to the conclusion that we serve a creative God. The Maker of heaven and earth filled it with everything from aphids to the Aurora Borealis. Canvas after canvas is filled with the glory of our God’s infinitely fecund imagination. What we don’t often give thought to is the creative way in which God is creative. Let me rephrase that: God is not simply creative as to his works, but also in the way that he works.
Robert Letham notes at least three ways that God works to shape the our world in the creation account in Genesis 1:
In particular, he forms the earth in a threefold manner. First, he issues direct fiats. He says, “Let there be light,” and there is light (v.3). So, too, he brings into being with seemingly effortless command the expanse (v. 6), the dry ground (v. 9), the stars (vv. 14-15), the birds and the fish (vv. 20-21). Each time it is enough for God to speak, and his edict is fulfilled.
Second, he works. He separates the light from the darkness (v. 4), he makes the expanse and separates the waters (v. 7), he makes the two great lights, the sun and the moon (v.16), and sets them in the expanse to give light on the earth (v. 17), he creates the great creatures of the seas and various kinds of birds (v. 21), he makes the beasts of the earth and the reptiles (v. 25), and finally he creates man–male and female–in his own image (v. 26-27) The thought is of focused, purposive action by God, of divine labor accomplishing his ends.
But there is also a third way of formation, in which God uses the activity of the creatures themselves. God commands the earth to produce vegetation, plants, and trees (vv. 11-12). He commands the lights to govern the day and the night (vv. 14-16). Here the creatures follow God’s instructions and contribute to the eventual outcome.
–Robert Letham, Union with Christ: In Scripture, History, and Theology, pp. 10-11
God might be described as a king, a craftsman, and a delegator in his threefold creation. He issues decrees that are immediately fulfilled, gets his hands dirty by getting the job done himself, and giving creation itself tasks to accomplish. There are a number of observations that can be made on this basis, but I’ll limit myself to three.
For one, it begins to set the stage for understanding God in a more fully-personal fashion. We see the Father acting by what Ireneaus called his two hands, the Word and the Spirit, to bring about a varied-but-united order. “This God loves order and variety together” (pg. 11), because he himself is the Triune one who is One and yet Three.
We also see in this threefold activity an incipient theology of multiple-levels of causality. Sometimes God’s action is a direct, creative word which needs to mediation. Sometimes, God acts through creaturely means in ways that can be properly ascribed both to God as primary cause, and creature as a secondary, but no less real, cause. It gives God no glory to ascribe to him strict mono-causality in an effort to secure his sovereignty. (Which good Reformed theologians shouldn’t do.)
Finally, something of the nature of redemption is prefigured here. First, God speaks by fiat a declarative word in justification that brings to life those who were dead. God also separates out a people, making them holy by his Word and Spirit. Finally, he uses creaturely means such as the preaching of the Word, water, bread, and wine to save and recreate his people.
Our Triune God is not only creative, he is creatively creative.
Soli Deo Gloria