In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Gen.1:1)
By faith we understand that the universe was created by the Word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. (Heb.11:3)
You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you. (Neh.9:6)
In some ways the most mysterious of the confessions of the Nicene Creed is the first: We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is: seen and unseen… this deceptively simple clause sets up two of the most foundational teachings of the Christian faith. After alluding to the Trinitarian nature of Almighty God, we immediately confess that He is Creator. In this the Creed wisely and deliberately follows the pattern of Scripture. Genesis opens not with any philosophical defence of God’s existence, or any deliberate attempt to explain Him, or to justify belief in Him. There is instead the rather understated declaration that, ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light’ (Gen.1:1-3). Again the simplicity is illusory; again the affirmation that God is Creator is placed deeply in the context of His being Trinity.
That deep interplay between God as Trinity and God as Creator resonates throughout the Scriptures. It echoes throughout the Old Testament (e.g. Is.48:12-16), and is the assumption that lies behind the story of Jesus of Nazareth (e.g. John 1:1-3). What Christians mean when we say we believe ‘God created’, is very different from what anyone else means when they say those same words. As Trinitarians we mean something like: ‘The Father creates through His Son (the Word) by the Spirit’. That shapes everything we can say about the heavens and the earth. Creation is what it is, it works and looks the way it does, reacts the way it does because it is created by the God who is Trinity.
The current crisis in our relationship with both creation, and with our own created-ness, is rooted in the rending asunder of what God has joined together in His word and in our confession of faith. As soon as we begin to marginalise the doctrine of God as Trinity, our capacity to understand our world and to live in it effectively and fruitfully is chronically undermined. Our bond with the rest of creation becomes subversive. We struggle to understand our world, which is ironic given the huge advances made through scientific research. We don’t know how to live as creatures in creation.
Even in our own human sized and human shaped bits of creation, we feel betrayed. We don’t understand ourselves, and can so easily feel trapped, confused and alienated by our relationship even with our own minds, bodies and spirits. We live in ways that tend to self-destruction, struggling to understand how to relate to ourselves, or to one another. Neither do we know how to engage with our environment. So much of our interaction with our environment seems to be inevitably destructive. We consume enormous resources, create colossal amounts of waste and crave meaning in our indulgence without hope of satisfaction. We create structures of exploitation and injustice; we court meaninglessness and rail against futility. On the one hand we tamper with the fundamental structures of life and genetics, thinking we can overcome the curse by our own ingenuity, yet on the other we remain unwilling to solve the most elementary problems of basic human provision and healthcare. We can’t make our world work, and many have given up even trying.
Is this what the living Trinity had in mind when He created the heavens and the earth as our home? What has gone wrong with our world, and with our engaging with it, so that we are so catastrophically incapable of understanding how to live in it? Can we fix it? How is it that the study of the created order has come to be seen as antithetical to faith in the God who created it, so that those who investigate ‘nature’ most deeply are often portrayed in the media as those most hostile to faith?
Can we reclaim our place in the created order? Can we overcome the crisis we face in the doctrine, and in our experience of creation? Yes, but only when we rediscover our vision of the Creator, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And to understand that is after all, a peculiarly Christian act of faith.
Do you agree that the ability to recognise God as the Creator of heaven and earth is a step of faith? Or do you think that you could prove intellectually from the evidence of and in the world that there must be a creator, so that whether someone was a Christian or not, they could agree that ‘God created the world’?
Do you think that creation bears witness to the glory and goodness of God? What would you say to someone who thought that nature was a brutal and cruel thing, and that they couldn’t understand how we could worship a ‘god’ who made a world like this one?
Read Psalm 19
What does David mean when using phrases like: ‘the heavens declare …’ (v.1), ‘the skies proclaim the work of His hands’ (v.1, see also vv. 2 & 4 for similar phrases)? How much of God and the Gospel is revealed in Creation?
What do we learn from the sun (vv.4-6)? Why does David compare it to a bridegroom and a champion (v.5)?
Can you think of other examples in the Bible where the dynamics of the seen creation are used to illustrate spiritual reality?
Why does David shift the focus of the Psalm from the heavens and the skies (vv.1-6) to the Law, statutes, precepts etc. of the Lord (vv.7-10)?
How does the consideration of the heavens and the Words of the Lord together lead to confession of sin and pursuit of holiness (vv.12-13)? Or do you think these verses are a response only to vv.7-10? If so, what is the point of vv.1-6?
What is the connection between the words of the heavens & skies; the words of the Lord, and the words of the Psalmist (v.14)? When would you use this Psalm in your own life of worship?
I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
For further reflection:
We often fall into the trap of thinking that we can deduce, and indeed argue for, the fact of God’s (i.e. a creator) existence from the fact of creation’s existence: ‘Look at the beauty of this sunset. How can you not believe in God?’ The philosophical name for this kind of thinking is the ‘cosmological argument’. Closely related to it is another kind of argument that seeks to infer from the complexity, purposefulness and intricacy of this world an intelligent, intentional designer. These arguments have been employed by Christians and non-Christians alike… that in itself should give us pause for thought.
Pagan philosophers such as the ancient Greek thinker, Aristotle; Islamic scholars such as Al-Ghazali in the Middle Ages; and Deists such as William Paley in 19th century have all used these kinds of arguments. Deists believe in a distant and probably disinterested god who created the universe and then left it to run its course. That view of god is encouraged by Paley’s famous ‘watch’ argument: if you found a discarded watch that bears the characteristics of design and intention you would naturally assume it was created for a purpose – even if you didn’t know what a watch was. Paley argued that as we observe the universe, we could by analogy reasonably assume the existence of designer.
But do arguments like this help us as we seek to proclaim Jesus? Even if we do manage to convince someone that ‘god’ exists, are they closer to believing in the Living God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Belief in God is not necessarily a good thing. There are many people in the Bible who believe in god. Not all of them are Christians. Many are idolaters. And idolatry is a sin. We cannot be content with such arguments. Indeed it might be that we need to reason in the opposite direction, that we need to begin with our understanding of God, and then move to this God creating. Only then can we understand our world.