This post is part of the Rudimentaries series in which I give my brief personal takes on some traditional areas of Christian thought. They are surely not meant to be exhaustive, but hopefully provide a starting point for individual ponderings.
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“God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good…” Genesis 1:31.
No this is not a post about evolution or any other so-called ‘science and religion debate,’ sorry! Instead, I want to unpack some of the primary affirmations of the Church concerning creation. The Bible starts with creation for a reason, first, and most obviously, because it is chronologically prior to anything else, but more importantly because so much of our own identity as human beings is shaped by a theology of creation. The creation stories (yes, I said stories in the plural – Genesis 1 and 2 are different) depict the relationship between God and creation, including all of the creatures in the universe. We all remember the basic flow of the creation stories because they are unforgettable in their language. In the beginning, God created…
But before we jump in too far, a few words of caution. Science presents us today with a theory of the Big Bang, and before that, a theory of an eternal universe. While I would agree with the current scientific understanding, as our technology gets increasingly more advanced and we are able to peer back into the origins of the universe with the scientific method in tow, humans are bound to get closer to understanding just how the universe works. Without denying inevitable progress in our scientific understanding, Christians have always affirmed that creation will always remain incredibly mysterious.
Not mysterious in that we will never know which basic elements from the periodic table were there from the beginning, but primarily mysterious through the limits of human cognition. We do not know what it is like to be God, and we never will. We do not know the exact reasons God chose to create, or how exactly it happened (although the Bible attempts a mythological explanation by God’s voice, hence “let there be light,” etc.). We simply cannot know the answers to these types of questions. Ultimately though, because God is love, we do know that the creative act was one of love, where God wanted to share Godself with something that was not God, a creation, and eventually, living beings. God’s love is not selfish, and thus was not for the purpose of attaining more glory for Godself (as some may try to convince you!). Creation is the mark of God’s outward love toward an other without pretense for selfish gain, but as a gift, indeed the gift of life. Regardless of these few things we seem to have a nice hold on, there are many aspects of creation that escape our mind’s grasp.
So, tenant number 1. Always be weary of completely understanding creation. We are not God and therefore have a limited ability to grasp at the nature of eternity or the specifics of God’s motives (if one could even say God has things like ‘motives’ without erring on the side of anthropomorphism: attributing human attributes to God).
Now that we have somewhat gotten the preliminary warnings out of the way, we can move onto the more positive side of contemplating, with due caution, a theology of creation. What does God’s act of creation say about us, who we are, or perhaps even, who God is?
2. God created. In other words, there was a beginning. But more significantly, this two word sentence shares deep theological meaning. God interacted with something outside of Godself by creating. God does not merely look upon us with disdain for physicality, pitying our feeling of being trapped in bodies. Rather, God, full of loving goodness, chose to create a universe that was good and full of potential. That we were created speaks volumes for who we are as persons. Our very existence is contingent upon God. Therefore, every moment of my own life and yours is a state of grace. We truly do have a graced existence at the most fundamental level. Irrespective of how are lives go or what happens to us, at the start of it all, our lives are full of grace. God created.
3. God created out of nothing. Again, this points to our own contingency. But even more so, it reveals God’s own ability. God, unlike human beings, actually creates things out of nothing. Ourselves, on the other hand, are normally said to form or fashion things out of what we have to work with. But our God is powerful! God has the ability to make something out of nothing. Metaphorically, even the most dire of circumstances on earth, including the tragedies of our own lives, have the potential to change for the good because of God. God created out of nothing.
4. What God creates is not God. In other words, creation is not God. As a reader, I am sure you are familiar with the Church’s historic denunciation of idol worship. Of course, you may think, I will never bow down to a wooden statue thinking it was God, that’s just primitive! But this fourth tenant has much more to say to us today than merely to cease worshiping golden calves. From the Christian tradition, this means that everything in our lives are less than divine. Material things have a way of making us want more. Once we get a raise, we want another. Once we buy a car, we realize we are unsatisfied with it until we are driving a nicer car. We win sectionals, then we realize we must win regionals in order to truly be satisfied with our achievements. The cycle of longing for achievements, and possessing material goods is ruthless. Achieving contentment in life is hard for this very reason: enough is never enough.
This cycle reveals how transitory things in the world are. While of course there are many good things to be possessed, and many wonderful causes to be worked toward, nothing in the created world is God. The cycle of finite pleasures will never come to an end unless it is in something that is infinite, and therefore unable to be exhausted. No matter how much of God we think we get, there is always more, but this time, it is not more of another thing, but more of the same. In the Christian life, desire for God is always the most basic point of beginning and end. Knowing that our hearts are set upon God allows all of our other desires to go by unquenched because we have found a much greater object of our affections that will never run dry, but that will at the same time provide the deepest contentment and joy that life has to offer. This is truly why Augustine declared ““You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
The only thing that can truly satisfy is something infinite, inexhaustible. God.
To close, what do these brief ramblings reveal about our own nature? We have already discussed our contingency. We may or may not have existed, that we do is a result of grace. More than that though, our lives are meaningful. Created by God, and blessed with existence, we are able to enjoy the rest of God’s good creation and stay connected to our Creator as the only source of eternal contentment. Our lives may be contingent, as mere “breaths” of air that are here one second and gone the next, but our Creator also invests them with meaning. God created out of nothing what was not God, and therefore shares love with us. This love, through our most basic desire for God culminates in the gift of Godself as the fulfillment of that desire (union with Christ through the Incarnation, look for an upcoming post!). Though there is still much more to be said about creation, the starting point of the simplest truths proves to be significant in explaining briefly our place in the universe along with our loving God’s intentions for our lives.
I have purposefully left out much discussion about the Genesis texts themselves, but hope to eventually discuss the stories in a later post on the nature of scripture.