A Christian Theology of Creation
The universe began with a bang – of some sort. However and when it all happened, scientifically, we assume there was a “first mover,” God, who made it all happen. Science and theology have not always been able to share a place at the ‘who are we and where did we come from?’ table, but they need to. The Christian Scriptures begin with a theological answer located within a larger narrative to one of the great and historic ontological questions. Properly posed, we need to ask not only from whence we came, but what accounts for or what gives meaning to our being personal (our ability to love, our sense of justice and fairness, moral claims, enjoyment of beauty, music, taste, recognition of evil, etc.) vs. impersonal (being strictly made of material with no cognitive function), and our being diverse with particular traits while recognizing some universals. In short, how do we account for being finite and personal, while simultaneously accounting for some sense of unity and diversity? A sound Christian theology of creation located within the Bible’s pages offers a comprehensive understanding of the world, its creatures, nature and human origin. It gives significance to our existence, and answers necessary queries of metaphysics, morality and ultimate Hope.
The question of human origin is posed throughout the ages in Western thinking, and philosophers’ answers have varied from water, wind and fire from the early thinkers like Thales, Anaximenes, and Heraclitus, to Darwin’s theory of evolution – which, on their own do not account for the aforementioned and necessary complexities we humans experience and need explanation of. Included in the question of a Christian perspective of creation is the theology of the fall. Most of the Christian story is located in the “post fall of humanity,” where Creation is affected, and therefore warrants mention within the discussion.
God’s nature is understood in the Triune God: The Trinity, made up of three co-equal, co-eternal persons, and shapes a theology of creation. Although God the Father was Creator, he was in community with the God the Son and God the Holy Spirit before creation. This is where the Christian recognizes the example – in fact the origin - of personal unity and diversity in a created order; a pre-existent community in the Trinity: they loved and communicated with one another before creation. Since God is infinite, personal, creative, loving, and communicative, we - being made in God’s image - are innately personal beings (as opposed to impersonal beings made strictly up of atoms, neurons and molecules) have the capacity to love, to create, to celebrate, and to express goodness. We (as non-God, finite, created personal beings) cannot only recognize beauty, we know it is meaningful because we are created in the image of an infinite, personal God who is the source.
In Genesis 1, we see all of creation occur over the course of six days. Light, land, water, days and nights, the sky, all plants, trees and seeds, fish, birds and animals and human beings are all created. God provided everything Adam and Eve needed – there was enough of everything. We don’t see any disharmony between Adam and Eve and the creation. There was perfect order, no discomfort, sickness, natural disaster, or strife. There was a community – God, Adam and Eve, who talked to each other, and had a relationship that could be characterized as close. However, there was also free will: God had created them with the freedom to make choices. And, in the middle of God’s perfect order, Adam and Eve chose to go against God’s one request that they not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They ate the fruit and everything changed: human sin and the need for redemption was born.
At this point in chapter 3, everything changes: the Fall of Man commences and Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden of Eden. God is angry, and we read from v.16-19 that from that moment on life would be harder for Adam and Eve: there would be pain, suffering, and brokenness of different kinds, including the natural order. Even the ground is “cursed” through this expulsion in v. 17. God’s “pre-fall” creation in Genesis can be characterized as peaceful, ordered, and plentiful. The relationship humanity had with God was whole, and nothing separated humanity from that intimacy with God. God’s “post-fall” creation contains chaos, hardship, scarcity (the opposite of “plentiful”), various suffering, and separation from God. Add to this what we have and still experience: sickness, natural disasters, death, and other realities that amplify our need for redemption and wholeness.
So, who are we and where did we come from and what does it mean? Our lineage comes from the opposite nothingness of an empty and impersonal universe: an infinitely powerful and creative God who has and always will be in a coeternal triune love community, who made us like him and to know him, and to know and love fellow humanity. We have the capacity for love, for good, and beauty, and to know that we and the rest of creation has true significance and purpose. Also, we have the freedom to choose. We hurt – ourselves and others - get sick, suffer and experience great need, only to recognize our separation from and need for God. This frames the human story, condition, and our relationship with our Lord Jesus who has saved us, and upon whom we wait once and for all.
The Rev. Oliver Butler is Associate for Youth and Young Adults