Question: How does a Christian’s understanding of creation affect her/his relationship with the created order and their efforts to understand it?
Creation can often be seen as the single most divisive doctrine between rational, contemporary society and the outmoded, misinformed Christian faith. However, my most focused point of reflection this week is that this division itself is a misconception. On examination, the simple theological truth is that Christian creation gives us the Why, but never actually lays claim to the How. (Although, it should be said, history shows that the church of the past and present may have claimed to have all the answers, but digging itself into this particular hole was perhaps as much precipitated by the rush to defying heresies and threats to growth.)
However, though the Bible cannot give all the answers, it can still claim to proclaim the truth – a truth manifest in all things. For all that God created was good – a statement at odd with everything from ancient Greek philosophy to Gnosticism, which recognized matter as inherently evil (Gunton, 143.) The Hebraic creation story** differs greatly from its contemporaries: here, we have a single deity creating order out of chaos, whilst simultaneously remaining both unconfined and entirely separate from it. This is not an enforced, dualistic separation though. Yes, God created and did so from nothing: but again, Christianity differs from other faiths. God is not withdrawn and absent from His creation; no, our God is in relationship with, transcendent over and immanent in His creation – with Christ as the ultimate proof of this relationship between God and man, according to T.F. Torrance (Gunton, 154).
Moreover, the concept of ex nihilo enhances further this sense of purpose, for if God created something from nothing as an action of personal will, it must logically therefore have a purpose. Any issue between persons and/or creation must therefore be viewed in light of God’s purpose in redemption and perfection of all creation, and so - to paraphrase Spiderman - from that great power comes great responsibility for all of us as part of that created order.
C Gunton, ‘The Doctrine of Creation’ in C. Gunton, (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine, (Cambridge: CUP, 1998), pp. 141-57.
** Editor's note: I was going to link to Wikipedia here for 'Hebraic Creation', but discovered that Wikipedia, like many sources, makes an assumption which I believe to be mistaken - that Genesis 1 and 2 are part of the same narrative. Many theologians would argue that the first and second chapters are, in fact, different versions of the same story - evidenced by how much they seem to overlap. Therefore, the first account ends at Gen. 2:3, and the second begins at Gen. 2:4 ("This is the account of the heavens and the earth..." (NIV)) It has been put forward that as the Old Testament canon was put together by Hebrew leaders, this first account was actually a late addition, a prologue added for clarity, as it was felt that the Gen. 2 account did not emphasise strongly enough God's hand in creating every single individual part of creation (it focuses mainly on the creation of man.)