We recently started a series at my church that is taking a tour through the apostles’ creed. With all the diversity of beliefs in the church- diversity on things like doctrinal, cultural, and political issues- our pastor thought it would be a good idea to take some time to talk about what the core beliefs of orthodox Christianity are. We want to focus on the beliefs that really bind Christians together and define us.
So this week I took a turn preaching on one of my favorite topics- the Creator and His Creation. As I took some time putting my teaching together, it occurred to me that I should take the material I was teaching on and turn it into a blog post. So here we are.
“I believe in God… Creator of Heaven and Earth”
This was an important part of the creed because the views on creation varied quite a bit in the ancient world. The Early Christians wanted to make clear that God the Father was also the founder of the entire cosmos.
At it’s most core part, they were telling everyone that the God they worshiped, the God who had come to rescue the world, was also the one who created the world to begin with. By his will, he spoke into being world and everything in it. He gives it it’s purpose and meaning. This is what all orthodox Christians everywhere believe and have believed since the beginning.
There ARE different Christian views on creation, and there actually has been debate since at least the early church on how to read the creation account in Genesis.(1) It’s not a new issue. It is believed throughout the Christian church through history to be TRUE that God is Creator. But how to understand that- as a scientific and historical account or as something less scientific like a poem or parable- has been highly debated, especially since the dawn of modern science where we discovered new ways of understanding the world and how it works. Now we have Christians who believe everywhere on a spectrum from God creating the world in 6 literal days 6,000 years ago to God creating the world through natural processes beginning billions of years ago.
But again, the core belief that Christians agree on is that God is the creator of all that is.
To go a bit beyond that core belief, to unpack it, lets look at what the Bible was saying to its original audiences about creation. We need to remember that the Bible is written for us, but not to us. In other words, the Bible is for our benefit, but we are not its original audience. It’s helpful to ask what the original audience was hearing when they listened to the creation story (or really any part of the Bible) in order to better understand the message that was meant to be conveyed. How something sounds to modern ears might have been understood rather differently by the people of ancient Israel or Christians in the early Church.
So what I want to do is take us through a who-what-where-when-why-how run down of the creation story through a more ancient perspective and look at how it can inform our perspective on creation now.
WHO? Who are we talking about? Well, the Creator. The God the Israelites worshiped was the God above all gods, the maker of the heaven and the earth. “Creator” was a significant marker for both the Jews and the early Christians since so many surrounding cultures believed in many gods. They were essentially declaring ‘we worship the One who started it all!’
NOW? In our western culture now, it’s not so often that ‘many gods’ challenge Christian beliefs, but that ‘NO god’ challenges Christian beliefs. This part of the creed gives the same answer. Christians (as well as people of many other faiths) declare that this world has a founder, a creator.
WHAT? What did He create? God made all of creation, the heavens and earth. When ancient people talked about creation, they focused on something we often don’t- the idea of ‘function’. To people from Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) cultures, something wasn’t really ‘created’ until function had been designated to it. What do I mean by function? Well we think of God creating the ‘stuff’, the material. They were more interested in the function- what does it do, what is it’s purpose, what is it’s role? For example, God’s creating the sun, moon, and stars TO MARK days and seasons is a particularly clear example of function. We have the fish TO FILL the seas, humans TO RULE, etc. They didn’t care or think about what the sun was made of or how a fish might be materially connected to the other animals. No, they are asking what it’s purpose and significance was.(2) They were also making the point that the sun, moon, etc were not gods as was sometimes thought. Everything in the world was created, not something to be worshiped. God is the one that created them and gave them purpose.
NOW? It is meaningful for us to realize that God didn’t just create the material of us and our world, but He created our purpose, our functions, our jobs. Also, nothing in creation is worthy of our worship, our total allegiance and service, like the Creator is.
WHERE? Where did God create? Basically, everywhere. He created the ‘heavens’, which meant both the sky above as well as the place God was, and he created earth, which meant the land, the place we live. Another aspect of note when we talk about ‘where’ is that when we read Genesis 1 we see in the first three days God separating and making spaces. In the later three days we see God filling that space up- sun, moon, and stars in the sky, birds and fish in the sky and sea, animals and people on the land.
NOW? We can see all the universe is God’s space, space he called good. Every part of the world is His rightful domain.
WHEN? When did this happen? From what I’ve read, I don’t believe the date of the beginning of the universe was really one of the questions ancient people were thinking about. I realize some Christians disagree and feel the potential dating of these stories is important. Personally I don’t see good evidence that the creation story is the type of literature we were ever meant to read for like a science book. I believe we are free to let science and history speak to things like this on their terms and to let the Bible speak on it’s rather different terms. The ‘when’ ancient biblical people would have been looking at was ‘in the beginning’. The God of the Bible, in both the earlier Jewish portion and the later Christian portion, was a God who was there from the beginning. He is the first and the last. We like to say He is outside of time, but while I could be wrong, it doesn’t appear to me that the concept of ‘inside or outside of time’ was on the radar of the original audiences. What was on their radar is that He was there from the beginning.
NOW? There is no part of history that has been outside His view. He was there in the beginning.
WHY? Why did God create the heavens and earth? Ancient people saw the creation story in Genesis as God making a space for Himself to dwell. The story has all kinds of neat allusions to God setting up a temple (3), a home, for Himself in this space. He created space to place people in his image. Then He came and walked with them. This ties in with God as our Father. Why did he create? He wanted a home and kids to raise up. Recall that in the Book of Revelation we have this beautiful picture of God bringing heaven to earth to dwell with man again in our new creation.
From Revelation 21 we read:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”… And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
NOW? We can see earth for it’s original purpose. A place God created for Himself to dwell with us. As we live out the ways of Jesus, we are living into that future reality where God is fully with us and we are in whole relationships with Him, each other, and creation. We can see the earth not as the hell hole it sometimes looks like, but as a place God made and loved and will transform and return to in a full way. It changes our perspectives when we see God’s purpose for making creation. If we believe in God’s purpose for us and our world, we are more empowered to live accordingly.
HOW? How did He create? He created intentionally, by His word, His sovereign will. The Bible clarifies that the world wasn’t self creating or the result of collaboration or conflict between the Gods, as many people in that time believed. (4) The HOW question for ancient people wasn’t whether it was through natural processes or supernatural ‘miracles’. They didn’t understand the mechanics of natural processes in general and almost all natural things appeared to ‘just happen’. Even if they happened predictably, they tended to be attributed to the work of the gods. So there doesn’t seem to be a clear distinction between natural and supernatural in the way they thought. We make a mistake if we project our ‘science’ frame of mind back on to a part of the Bible that is speaking originally to a very different people. (5)
Also worth noting is that He didn’t just initially create the world by his will- He sustains is as well. He didn’t just make it and walk away like deism would teach; he remains intimately connected with it’s ongoing being and working. In Colossians 1 we read:
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
NOW? We can know that however he created in scientific terms, it was intentional. This world is no accident. He is working even in the sustaining of this world, even in the natural ways. When crops grow, glorious sunsets happen, or babies grow healthfully in their mothers’ wombs, God is still at work. Supernatural and natural alike, every good gift is from our good Father.
As a last note of interest, I believe that largely because of this last question of ‘how’ God created, the problem of evil is regularly a part of the creation discussion. Let’s briefly address that.
While all of creation comes from God, not all of creation is in sync with God’s initial good plan. Through the Bible, we see wills and forces operating in opposition to God– even before the fall. For example, in the Genesis story we see language of chaos in 1:2 (6), as well as the presence of the tempter in the garden with no indication that he is there because of human decision. Creation itself is GOOD, but not all creation operates in a good way. When Jesus shows up, he does things like heal the blind, cast out demons, calm storms… because the King is there and He calls creation back into wholeness. There is so much on this subject that can be talked and theologized about, but the most important thing I want to communicate is that even though God is good and he made the world good, we don’t need to assume that creation is behaving in the exact way he initial designed it to. Creation is compromised because of evil and rebellion. We see in Jesus a God who is at work to redeem His good creation and to vanquish chaos and evil.
The more we understand the message of creation in the Bible, the more equipped we are to live according to that reality.
2. John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, pages 38-46
3. http://biologos.org/blogs/jim-stump-faith-and-science-seeking-understanding/the-ancient-universe-and-the-cosmic-temple/ ; John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, pages 78-92
4. https://biologos.org/uploads/projects/lam_scholarly_essay.pdf ; http://www.religionandnature.com/ern/sample/Fiala–CreationMythsAncientWorld.pdf
6. http://biblehub.com/hebrew/tohu_8414.htm , http://whchurch.org/blog/7215/immoral-tohu-wa-bohu minute 19:00-29:00