Many of us tend to think that ‘grace’ is only a redemption word; God is gracious to us because he decides to forgive us and save us through the redeeming work of Christ. While the grace of redemption is deep and glorious, three authors point our hearts to understand the grace of God in Creation as well.
Following Paul’s lead in Colossians 1:15-20, Athanasius points out that it is God’s kindness which leads to our existence, for he holds the world together through the Word:
But the reason why the Word, the Word of God, has united Himself with created things is truly wonderful, and teaches us that the present order of things is none otherwise than is fitting. For the nature of created things, inasmuch as it is brought into being out of nothing, is of a fleeting sort, and weak and mortal, if composed of itself only. But the God of all is good and exceeding noble by nature,—and therefore is kind. For one that is good can grudge nothing: for which reason he does not grudge even existence, but desires all to exist, as objects for His loving-kindness. Seeing then all created nature, as far as its own laws were concerned, to be fleeting and subject to dissolution, lest it should come to this and lest the Universe should be broken up again into nothingness, for this cause He made all things by His own eternal Word, and gave substantive existence to Creation, and moreover did not leave it to be tossed in a tempest in the course of its own nature, lest it should run the risk of once more dropping out of existence; but, because He is good He guides and settles the whole Creation by His own Word, Who is Himself also God, that by the governance and providence and ordering action of the Word, Creation may have light, and be enabled to abide alway securely.
Athanasius lyrically reminds us that in itself, creation is not self-sustaining, having been made out of nothing, but must receive its coherence and existence from without. This is exactly what God gives it through the gift of creating through the Son, the Word, who gives the world his own order because “the God of all is good and exceeding noble by nature,—and therefore is kind.” God’s grace is seen in that he doesn’t even begrudge us our existence, but gives it to us freely and under no compulsion.
Robert M. Adams proposes another way in which grace has a role to play in creation. Many have suggested that if God is perfect, his creation must necessarily be the best of all possible worlds. But given the presence of evil in the world, many doubt this could be the best of all possible worlds. Channeling Augustine’s argument in, I think, Book 3 of On the Freedom of the Will, Adams suggests that it’s not necessarily the case that a perfect God must create the best of all possible worlds:
A God who is gracious with respect to creating might well choose to create and love less excellent creatures than He could have chosen. This is not to suggest that grace in creation consists in a preference for imperfection as such. God could have chosen to create the best of all possible creatures, and still have been gracious in choosing them. God’s graciousness in creation does not imply that the creatures He has chosen to create must be less excellent than the best possible. It implies, rather, that even if they are the best possible creatures, that is not the ground for His choosing them. And it implies that there is nothing in God’s nature or character which would require Him to act on the principle of choosing the best possible creatures to be the object of His creative powers.
-“Must God Create the Best?” in The Problem of Evil: Selected Readings, pg. 281
Contingent beings that we are, it seems that God exercises his grace in creating less than perfect creatures like you and me. Writing in the same vein, Miroslav Volf tells a story that claims rabbinic origins:
Before setting out to create the world, the Almighty took a moment to look into the future of creation. God saw beauty, truth, goodness and the joy of creatures, but the All-Knowing One also saw a never-ending stream of human misdeeds, small, large, and horrendous, a trail of sights, tears, and blood. “If I give sinners their due,” though the Just One, “I’ll have to destroy the world I am about to create. Should I create just to destroy?” And so God decided to forgive the world in advance so that the world could be brought into being. Creation owes its very existence to God’s forgiveness.
–Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace, pg. 136
While the story is certainly extra-biblical and a bit speculative, Volf rightly contends that it contains a truth testified to in the Scriptures that Christ is “God’s Lamb” destined “before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:20), to be sacrificed to bring sinners into the family of God. For the All-Knowing One, grace towards sin has to be extended even before creation.
God’s grace then, is the foundation, not only of our redemption, but our creation. We would not exist if it were not for the unmerited and unrestrained bounty of the Triune God pouring forth blessing upon unworthy creatures such as us.
Soli Deo Gloria
Was just writing part of a chapter on this very idea last week. I realized that we tend to define grace very narrowly and simply equate it with “forgiveness” when forgiveness is actually the result of a generosity that already exists in the very nature of God. I’ve been reading through “On the Incarnation” but really appreciate the tie-in with the other two excepts. Thanks for this.
Yeah, a proper theology of creation is the foundation for our theology of redemption. Only the God who creates freely and graciously can redeem as freely and graciously. Sounds like you’re reading the right people for that chapter!
I have been meditating on this sort of thing a lot lately in regards to Creation itself foretelling redemption specifically in regards to the Trinitarian work of God – God the Father sending forth His Son (Word) as a mechanism administered by the Holy Spirit to bring the creation and re-creation of His creatures. Nothing particularly new as Athanasius gives us an example of, but it has led to a lot of personal meditation and worship of God in His work as Creator and Redeemer and His Triune nature. (and meditation on the meaning of a lot of those theological terms tied to it such as His aseity, self-glorifying, and the eternality of His love in relation to that)
Combining that with Jesus’ prayer in John 17 for us to be in Him as He is in the Father has led to conviction about the things I pray for and how little I think about walking in unison with the Father on a moment by moment basis. It is fairly difficult to say “only what I hear the Father saying” and do “only what I see the Father doing” if I don’t even take the time to stop and listen and watch.
But anyways, all of that to say, thank you for posting a good meditation today.
Dude, thank you for this comment. That’s a meditation in itself!
I’m really not sure how one goes down this path without obscuring the active obedience of Christ; thus the real wisdom of our Reformed forefathers who clearly and correctly articulated that the Adamic covenant is a pure covenant of works. Meredith Kline’s article “Covenant Theology Under Attack” (readily available online), does a very nice job of explaining the problematic (to say the least) implications for the gospel when we postulate a pre-fall grace principle.