The Simplicity of God and the Diversity of Creation

compendium

I’ve been working my way through Aquinas’s late, brief summary of his system, Compendium Theologiae, and it’s been a dense, instructive dive so far.

Early in his series of questions on creation, he treats the matter of why there is plurality, or a diversity of things in creation. Why are there trees and monkeys and mountains and starfish, instead of only, say perfectly spiritual beings like angels? Why stars of various shapes, colors, and sizes, instead of one, perfect, massive orb? Why diversity instead of simple, orderly, uniformity?

Well, as with most things in Aquinas, he finds the answer in God who is their creating and sustaining cause. Even more than that, he roots this diversity in the simplicity of God.

How so?

Any active cause must produce its like, so far as this is possible. The things produced by God could not be endowed with a likeness of the divine goodness in the simplicity in which that goodness is found in God. Hence what is one and simple in God had to be represented in the produced things in a variety of dissimilar ways. There had to be diversity in the things produced by God, in order that the divine perfection might in some fashion be imitated in the variety found in things.

Furthermore, whatever is caused is finite, since only God’s essence is infinite, as was demonstrated above. The finite is rendered more perfect by the addition of other elements. Hence it was better to have diversity in created things, and thus to have good objects in greater number, than to have but a single kind of beings produced by God. For the best cause appropriately produces the best effects. Therefore it was fitting for God to produce variety in things. (1:72)

One might think that the indivisible, simple being of God would stifle diversity. Thomas reminds us, though, that the simple being of God is infinite. A mere repetition of the same finite effects will not do. In order to begin to communicate the fullness of his refulgent glory by way of finite creaturely reality will require a diversity of finite causes!

Despite it’s philosophical garb, I think this really functions as a metaphysical gloss on Scriptural teaching. Consider what the Psalmist tells us:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world. (Ps. 19:1-4)

Or again:

How many are your works, LORD! In wisdom you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number— living things both large and small. (Ps. 104:24-25)

Thomas tells us that all this marvelous diversity is a reflection, a testimony to the wisdom, glory. and beauty of the simple God. In the creation of diverse effects, it is as if the pure, undivided brightness of the infinite divine light is refracted before our eyes as through a prism as broad and as wide as the universe itself.

Soli Deo Gloria

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things (Or, Dim Reflections)

beautyI don’t know where I first heard it put this way, but one point that has stuck with me and that I regularly preach to my students is this: God is better than anything he’s made. Now, as soon as you say it, you’re struck with how utterly obvious that should be. Whatever produces something ought to have more beauty, intelligence, power, and so forth, than its production. As beautiful as a Monet is, Monet himself is the far more remarkable creature. But we don’t often think through the implications for our worship of God.

Whatever you love most–sunsets, the taste of your favorite burger, sides aching from laughter with your best friend, the lingering sense of fulfillment after a job well done, the feel of a crisp winter morning–takes its goodness from the goodness of the God who made it. He is the creative and sustaining current source of its being–how could he not surpass it? What’s more, how could that not impact the way you engage with the world around you, leading you to greater depths of worship and devotion?

Thomas Watson, in his section on God’s creation, reflects on the way we ought to makes use of this point:

Did God make this glorious world? Did he make everything good? Was there in the creature so much beauty and sweetness? Oh! then what sweetness is there in God? Quicquid efficit tale, illud est magis tale; ‘the cause is always more noble than the effect.’ Think with yourselves, is there so much excellence in house and lands? Then how much more is there in God, that made them! Is there beauty in a rose? What beauty then is there in Christ, the Rose of Sharon! Does oil make the face shine? Psa 104:15. How will the light of God’s countenance make it shine! Does wine cheer the heart? Oh! what virtue is there in the true vine! How does the blood of this grape cheer the heart! Is the fruit of the garden sweet? How delicious are the fruits of the Spirit! Is a gold mine so precious? How precious is he who founded this mine! What is Christ, in whom are hid all treasures? Col 2:3. We should ascend from the creature to the Creator. If there be any comfort below, how much more is there in God, who made all these things! How unreasonable is it that we should delight in the world, and not much more in him that made it! How should our hearts be set on God, and how should we long to be with God, who has infinitely more sweetness in him than any creature!

God created the world to display his glory. If you, then, find your worship of God weak, or desire for him failing, reflect on those things that you love most in this world. Now compare them to God and strive to understand the way that your enjoyment of that good–that rose, that old, well-worn path, that beloved friend–is just a dim reflection of it’s author. Look at the world, then, with new eyes, attuned to the infinitely greater beauty, delight, goodness, justice, and power of its Author and Sustainer.

Soli Deo Gloria

When the Trinity said, “Let there Be Light”

lightOne of the problems with reading Augustine as a blogger is the pain at not being able to write about every little choice tidbit or argument you run across. Unfortunately, it’s not possible without simply turning your blog into a commentary on City of God (a not unworthwhile proposition). For now I simply want to highlight one fascinating bit of trinitarian theology Augustine does in his discussion of creation in book 11.

In this section, he begins to treat the truth of the Christian faith against the pagans and so moves to discussing the reality of the world, God’s creation ex nihilo and the fact that creation had a beginning. At one point he sets himself to meditate on the statement, “God saw that it was good” after declaring “let there be light.” He argues that this doesn’t mean that God found out after creating that he’d managed to do a good job. Scripture indicates God’s delight in what he has made according to his own eternal wisdom and will. God’s thoughts are not successive or time-bound like ours. He knows all with a perfect knowledge we cannot imagine. After some elaboration in this vein, he concludes by reflecting on the way Scripture communicates the truth of God’s creation in Genesis 1:

For this reason, if we were merely being asked, ‘Who made the light?’ it would be enough to answer, ‘God.’ If further information regarding the means by which it was made had been intended, it would have sufficed to say, ‘And God said, Let there be light, and there was light,’ that we might know not only that God had made the world, but also that He had made it by the Word. But there are three things above all which we need to know about a created thing, three things we must be told: who made it, how he made it, and why he made it. That is why the Scripture says, ‘God said, “Let there be light, and there was light.  And God saw the light that it was good.”‘  If, then, we ask who made it, it was ‘God.’  If, by what means, He said ‘Let it be,’ and it was.  If we ask, why He made it, ‘it was good.’  Neither is there any author more excellent than God, nor any skill more efficacious than the word of God, nor any cause better than that good might be created by the good God. (Bk. XI.21)

Three questions give three answers. Who made the world? God. How did he make it? His Word. Why did he make it? Because a good God makes good things. Where is the Trinity is all this? Well, just a couple of chapters later he concludes a section critiquing Origen by asking:

As I suggested above, there are three questions to be asked in respect of any created being: Who made it? How? and Why? I put forward the answers: ‘God’, ‘Through His Word’, ‘Because it was good.’ Now whether this formula is to be regarded as a mystical revelation of the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, or whether there is anything which prevents this interpretation of the passage in Scripture is a question meriting extended discussion; and we are not to be forced to unravel every question in a single volume. (Bk. XI.23)

So it seems he might be shutting the question down. But then he moves on to discuss the revelation of the divine Trinity in Creation in the very next chapter, suggesting an answer to the question. He begins that section by affirming the Father’s eternal generation of the Son and the Holy Spirit’s procession from both so that we have these three who are co-eternal and consubstantial with each other, one, undivided, distinctive according to the persons, but inseparable according to the divine nature and action. He then begins to connect some interesting dots by way of examining the Holy Spirit’s relationship to the Father and the Son. He says this:

As for the question whether the Holy Spirit of the good Father and the good Son can rightly be called the goodness of both, as being common to both, I should not dare to hazard a rash judgment about that. I should however be more ready to risk the statement that he is the holiness of them both, not as a mere quality, but being himself a subsistent being — a substance — and the third person in the Trinity. What lends probability to this suggestion is the fact that although the Father is spirit, and the Son is spirit, and the Father and the Son are both holy, it remains true that holiness is the distinguishing attribute of the Spirit, which suggests that he is the holiness of both, in substantial and consubstantial form. Now if the divine goodness is identical with the divine holiness, it is evidently not a rash presumption but a reasonable inference to find a hint of the Trinity in the description of God’s creative works, expressed somewhat enigmatically, so as to exercise our speculations. This hint we may find when we ask the questions. Who? How? and Why? (Bk. XI.24)

Now we come to the heart of Augustine’s speculative investigation of whether God’s act of creation points us to God’s Trinitarian being.

It was, of course, the Father of the Word who said, ‘Let it be made.’ And since creation was effected by his speaking, there can be no doubt that it was done by means of the Word. And the statement, ‘God saw that it was good’ makes it quite plain that God did not create under stress of any compulsion, or because he lackes something for his own needs; his only motive was goodness; he created because his creation was good. And the assertion of the goodness of the created work follows the act of creation in order to emphasize that the work corresponded with the goodness which was the reason for its creation.

Now if his goodness is rightly interpreted as the Holy Spirit, then the whole united Trinity is revealed to us in its works. Hence comes the origin, the enlightenment, and the felicity of the Holy City constituted by the angels on high. If we ask whence it arises, God founded it; if whence comes its wisdom, it receives light from God; if whence comes its bliss, it rejoices in God. It receives its mode of being by subsisting in God, its enlightenment by beholding him, its joy from cleaving to him. It exists; it sees; it loves. It is strong with God’s eternity; it shines with God’s truth; it rejoices in God’s goodness. (ibid.)

All of this may seem a bit far-fetched and strained to modern readers and exegetes. And that may be. Staring at the sun too long can strain the eyes, and Augustine as known to strain a bit in his ardent desire to see the glory of the Triune God in all things. Of course, we might stop and consider that it is our eyes are weak from lack of effort to penetrate beyond the shallows into the depths of Scriptural texts by reading it in light of the broader confession of the Canon and the Church.

In either case, Augustine has given us hints at a rich vision of activity and purposes of the Triune God in creation. God does not create in some impersonal, mechanistic fashion, but via his powerful, personal Word. Father and Son are good with the goodness that is the Holy Spirit. For that reason, God does not make in order to fulfill some existential gap in his own being, but because the good God makes good things. It is from the fullness of his own Triune life that God says, “Let there be light” and rejoices in the good work of his Word.

Soli Deo Gloria

“What Season Was Adam Created in?” And Other Questions That Make Us Giggle

lego-adam-and-eveIt’s been a couple of weeks since I blogged in Turretin, so I figured I’d get back at it before Scott Swain loses heart. To be honest, I was working my way through his section on the decrees and predestination of God. Apart from the usual density of Turretin’s prose, mucking about with God’s eternal decrees which are actually one decrees and will, only multiply distinguished according to our own conceptions…Well, you get the picture. My hubris in theological writing only extends so far.

In any case, I’ve begun Turretin’s section on Creation and things have predictably smoothed out a bit. Given that much of the heavy lifting has been done earlier, Turretin is mercifully clear, and there is quite a bit of interesting biblical exegesis. Actually, I really found a few sections of his examination of the days of creation to be beautiful. What’s more, I’m continually shocked at the broadness of Turretin’s learning as well as the sources he’s willing to draw on. In one paragraph alone, he appeals to the Targum Onkelos, another rabbi, Rashi’s commentary, and caps it off with a quotation from Augustine.

What’s really struck me in this section, though, is the oddness of some of his discussion questions. For instance, there are a number of the discussions on subjects you’d expect. He has a longish question on whether creation is eternal or not, or whether it could theoretically have been eternal as Aquinas argued. Not only is that a famous debate in the middle ages, for those paying attention to current discussions around creation, that debate is still live. For people exploring panentheist theologies, or versions where God is something like the emergent property of the universe, Turretin’s discussion of whether anything besides God could be eternal can easily become relevant.

On the other hand, there are times when four hundred years distance in terms of culture and scientific cosmology show their colors.

How many of you would think to ask the question and argue at length over the question of “What season was the world created?” I mean, really, was it spring, fall, winter, or summer when Adam popped up in the Garden of Eden? Were the leaves just turning red, gold, and brown, or were they newly in flower? Was it harvest time, or were the flowers just blooming? Would Adam have to knit a sweater soon, or were things nice and balmy? Or maybe Eden was just perpetually living in summer–kind of like Orange County?

I’m going to assume that if you’re like me, this question simply never occurred to you. But apparently this was a lively enough debate for Turretin to devote four pages of dense prose to the matter.

Another section that made me giggle a bit, was his segment on the nature of the waters above in the heavens. This is the 1600s so they’re not working with our modern cosmology, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t have learned discussions based on the best observation and scientific theories of the day–theories that we might still find plausible and with sufficient explanatory power to convince us if we didn’t have computers connected to telescopes floating about in space.

What’s interesting is how these paradigms played a role in their theological disputation. For instance, the “waters of the heaven” debated became relevant in Turretin’s debate with the Lutherans because apparently some Lutherans were asserting that a layer of water would interfere with the type ascension of Christ and believers the Reformed asserted. They then used that premise to strengthen their arguments for their views of the Lord’s Supper which depends on the omnipresence of Christ’s physical body. See how quickly that goes from bizarre preoccupation to important sacramental debate? (For the record, Turretin believed that they referred the clouds on the basis of scientific theories and exegesis.)

Or again, among other reasons, Turretin reasoned that Adam was created in a part of the world that was in Autumn at the time because it was the most hospitable season for man. This is important because it gives testimony to the benevolent care of God for his human Image-bearers. It also points us to the fact that humanity is the crown of creation–the world was made for man, not the other way around. In other words, in the middle of this rather odd discussion–to our minds–there’s a profound humanism at work that still speaks a biblical word to us today.

Of course, all of these raises the question: which debates and discussions will give our spiritual and theological descendants a bit of a giggle? Which of the hot topic issues that currently exercise us, or fascinate us will pass entirely out of the theological discussion in the coming decades and centuries? We need to remember that our own age is not the summit of theological development. Being farther down the timeline doesn’t necessarily mean we’re farther along in the discussion. At times contemporary concerns can end up being little more than distractions in the long run. Distinctions can be discarded and lost for a time as unnecessary or out-moded, only to be discovered as crucial after the damage of their loss has been made painfully apparent by the failure of theological discussion without them.

Only time will tell, of course. May God give us the grace to struggle faithfully for the truth in all of our discussions and the humility to know the provisional, time-bound nature of all our creaturely labors.

Soli Deo Gloria

The Spiritual Value of Mortgage Banking

houseIn some churches, guys are often fed the lie that unless they’re a pastor, or doing some ‘secular’ work that can be quickly linked to some moral or spiritual value, it’s 2nd-class work. Or if you’re in a church where the whole ‘man of adventure’ thing is being pushed, unless you’re out chopping down wood, or fighting some battle, it’s ‘just a job’ that you have to suck it up and work it for a paycheck. Mike Erre addresses this myth in his book Why Guys Need God: The Spiritual Side of Money, Sex, and Relationships, by talking about his buddy who’s an average, un-sexy job in the mortgage industry:

How should my friend see his job? As simply a means of paying the bills? Or as something much more?

The first thing we might say to this friend is that he must see his job within the big, epic, story we talked about…[creation, fall, redemption]. It is part of being human and being a man. And he must find a way to name the animals in his current occupation in order for him to see its place within the larger story. This is absolutely critical if he is to discover God’s purposes for him in his job. How does he do this?

We might begin by saying that human beings need shelter. That is not optional. Owning a house, then, is a good thing. Helping people to live in a way that brings comfort and security is an important thing. Not only that, but because of the legal and financial gymnastics involved in buying a home, my friend is offering a valuable service to his clients by guiding them through the bewildering maze of numbers, points, and payments.

This man also does his work with honesty and integrity. He genuinely seems to put his clients first and tries to bring Jesus glory by speaking kindly and considerately to all around him. He truly does his work “as unto the Lord.” Is this not worship? Is this any less spiritual than pastoral work or missionary work? Of course not. Many have come to faith because of this man’s life and work. He demonstrates what Jesus is like through his kindness and honesty. And he is generous with his money. He works to remedy injustice around him, and he supports several ministries as well as his local church. (pg. 68)

This is an ordinary man following God’s call. Through the way he carries out his daily work as a mortgage broker he is living as an Image-bearer and a disciple of Jesus, on mission in the world.

Honestly, whatever you’re doing (excluding the obviously immoral), you can do as part of your call as an Image-bearer and a disciple of Jesus. Do not be fooled into thinking that the only ‘spiritual’ things you do are those that happen in the local body. I love the local body, and I think people need to serve in it, but don’t for a minute think that the other 40-50 hours a week you spend at your job isn’t also an opportunity to love your neighbor and glorify God in what you do.

Soli Deo Gloria

Genesis 1: Meet the Author (The Story Notes)

My church has begun a church-wide, across all departments, study through The Story, a chronological, abridged edition of the Bible that takes you through the story of Scripture from Genesis to the end of Acts in 31, novel-like chapters. That’s what I’ll be teaching through with my college student for the next 9 months or so. It’s a fun project that’s challenging me to deal with narrative sections, teach large chunks at a clip, and point my kids to Christ throughout the whole redemptive-historical storyline of the text.

That said, it seemed worth it to start posting my notes for these talks on a regular basis. It might happen every week, or not, depending on how helpful I think it is, or time constraints. My one request is that you remember these are pretty rough notes and I’m teaching my students, not a broader audience.

Well, with that intro out of the way, here’s Genesis 1.

God-creating-creatures-by-RText: Genesis 1:1-2:3

Alright,  I’d like to have some nice fluffy intro, but there is so much to say here and  I can’t, which I hate so I’ll just start in. Note right off the bat, this is a beautifully-structured passage. Read it out loud like we just did and you notice it is a carefully constructed, poetic, balanced presentation whose structure has been arranged, measured, and given a rhythm and weight to it. This is not strictly Hebrew poetry, but it’s not just prose either. You’ll notice the repetition of key words and phrases over and over again with minor variations here.

There is a careful structure here built around sevens, which I wish I could go into in detail here, but let me ask you, which word stood out the most in that passage? What dominated it? There’s a lot of repetition and rhythm, but what was the center, the core, the heart of the passage?

“God”, right? I don’t know if any of you counted, but the word “God” is repeated 35 times, a multiple of 7, the number of perfection in Scripture. So, if you weren’t sure what the passage was about, very clearly, right out the gate, you see that, while there’s a lot going on, and we’ll get to some of it, at the center of the passage. and actually, the beginning and the end, stands God.

I make this point bluntly at the beginning because we’re going through the Story of the Bible and one thing you have to get clear if you’re going to understand it is just who the main character is and what is he like. If you think Gollum is the main character of LOTR you will be quite confused and disappointed at the ending, and well, throughout the novels. Or, if you understand that Frodo is the main character, but are under the impression that he is a wizard instead of a hobbit, you’ll be confused as to why he doesn’t magic himself out of certain situations. In the same way, if you miss that God is at the center of the story, and exactly what kind of God you’re dealing with, you’ll be rather confused as you read along.

So, it matters to know that this passage, and indeed, the series as a whole, is about God. This is what we’re trying to get out of this series: a knowledge of who God is, and really of God himself. Now, this passage presents to us a bit about who God is, by showing us the big thing that God ‘does’ to get the whole story going. And it tells us some key things about him that I just want us to start off with:

1. There is one God, ruler of all. – Against the ‘gods’ of the pagans and the polytheistic world, the Hebrew Scriptures testify to one God, sovereign ruler of all. In the Ancient Near East, the dominant creation myth had two gods fighting (Marduk and Tiamat), with Marduk coming out on top, killing Tiamat and creating the world out of her dead body, and human slaves out of her blood, with a pantheon of support gods behind him. In opposition to this, Genesis gives us a picture of a single God who simply commands things into existence. There is no cosmic battle, or fight, but the simple ordering of King God’s world. The stars, the moon, the sun that your neighbors worship? Those are lamps and clocks that Yahweh hung up in the sky. He is incomparable and unique. There is nothing and no one like him.

2. He is the Creator, not the creation. – God made stuff, he is not the stuff. Unlike some strands of modern New Age thought that says that God is the universe, we see that God made the universe. It all bears his mark, but he is not contained within it. Which is why he knows it inside out and is all-powerful over it. He made time and space so he is not contained by time and space. There is no limit to him. He is present to us here and now, but is not limited to here and now.  Something else that flows from this, is that the stuff is HIS stuff. All of it. Also, the stuff is good because he made it. The world is not something to be scared of, but enjoyed as his creation. (Next week we will talk about the fall and how things go bad.)

3. God is a Speaking, Communicating God – How does God make the world? God creates all things by speaking it into existence. He is, essentially, a communicator even in the way he creates. He ‘makes common’ the quality of existence to things that don’t exist yet. This also means that he is a God who can make himself known to us. We get skeptical about this nowadays because of our smallness, and our sinfulness, which is real. We start to doubt that we could ever really know what God is like, especially since so many people have different ideas about God. All we have are guesses.

Now, that sounds humble enough at first, but it denies what we see here in the text: that if God is a God who can effectively bring the world into existence through his words, so he can make himself known to us through his words. No, we can’t figure him out on our own, but God can make himself known to us.  And, in fact, part of our being made in his Image means that we can understand him when he does (apart from sin.)

4. God is Triune – This one is really the most important and undergirds and is revealed in the others. The sovereign King God who alone exists and is not creation but speaks it into existence has revealed himself as the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To see this, we only get hints here in the text (The Spirit, hovering) but if you turn to John 1:1, you read “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3, ESV)”

We see that the one God who is before all things and made all things, made it through his Word and Spirit. The fact that the world was made through the Spirit and By the Word, means that they are not the world–they are eternal God alongside the Father. See, from all of eternity, God has been Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, delighting in perfect community. This tells you something about why God created: he didn’t need us. He was perfect and complete, full of joy, love, and endless life. He was not lonely or needy. He did not make us to amuse himself or because eh needed help with things. His life is perfect apart from us. He created the world with a good purpose, though, to share himself with us.

5. God is a God of purpose and that Purpose is to Dwell With Us – To dwell with us. God created all things with a rhythm, a pattern, a meaning, an order (6 days). We saw that earlier. What I didn’t go into yet, was the two-part structure of the first 6 days of Creation. See, if you pay attention closely, you’ll see that what God does in the passage is first, create creation kingdoms (Light & Darkness, Waters & Skies, Land), and then, the next three days he creates creation kings who ‘rule’ or keep the areas (Sun & moon, Fish & birds, animals & Humans.).

More importantly, what we have to see is that the picture we’re getting is of God the King, constructing a palace, a Temple to dwell in and ‘rest’ on the ‘Sabbath’ of creation as the Creator King.  This is what anybody in the ancient Near East would have heard. At the end of those stories, the king god would always set up shop in their palace-temple and begin their rule. Here, we see the Creator King has finished establishing his kingdom and setting up his sub-rulers and so now he will dwell in his palace-temple. In this case, the whole world. (For more on this, see here.)

The idea is to dwell in the Temple of Creation with his creations. This is, in fact, why he creates us. The idea is that he wants to dwell with us to share himself with us and bless us. For us to enjoy him, know him, and enjoy the world that he made in the way that he intended us to.

That said, we are not the point of this text. We’re important. We come at the crown, we’re significant, more so than the rest of the creation, but let’s be honest, we’re still not the point. God is. We exist for God, by God, to God, in God’s Image. He makes all things and provides all things for us, but we are his. We are supporting characters.

And here’s the Problem – We tend to forget all of this. We tend to put ourselves at the center of the story, time and time again. We’ll talk about that next week in more detail when we come to the story of Adam and Eve and the fall. Still, we tend to put ourselves at the center of the story which screws with our ability to see the story for what it is. All of the problems we encounter become our problems to solve. All of the blessings in our life are our gifts to ourselves. All the purpose we have is whatever we’ve chosen for us. All of the good, the bad, the ugly, the weird, etc. is now on us or for us and to us, and the whole thing starts to lose it’s shape.

The biggest tragedy of all is that when we put ourselves at the center, we lose our ability to see GOD for who he is. It’s like losing the north star at sea, or forgetting who you’re married to, or losing equilibrium and living your life off-balance. When you lose sight of God, your life starts to lose shape.

In the Beginning –  This is what Jesus came to do: to put God back at the center of the story for us.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side,he has made him known.(John 1:9-11, 14, 18 ESV)

This God makes himself known, not just in general, but in one way. It’s not just ‘god’ but the God of Jesus Christ. He is the one through whom God made the world. And what we see here in John is that his purposes for Creation are reaffirmed through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son. He came to the world he made, and although we denied him, he decided to dwell with his creation that he made.

I don’t know what you needed to hear tonight. Maybe you needed to be reminded that you don’t set the grid for your life? That you are not the one setting the agenda? Maybe you needed to remember that God is bigger than your problems? Maybe you need to remember that the God who made all things can re-create the broken pieces? Maybe you need to be reminded that God’s purpose in Christ is to dwell with you? Or maybe, just maybe, you just need to take this time to worship, praise and adore something greater than yourself.

Listen to the Spirit speaking of the Son who points us to the Father, says in his written Word. Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

Is ‘Grace’ Only a Redemption Word?

Jan_Brueghel_the_Younger_Creation_of_AdamMany 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.

Against the Heathens, §41

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