Creation: What do Christians believe about creation and why does it matter?
According to the Scriptures, creation is a gift from a loving Creator God. From the bodies we inhabit, the air we breathe, the sun we bask in, the food we eat, the flowers we pick, the water we drink, the ground we walk upon, and the pets we love, to the pleasures we enjoy and destinations we visit on vacation, life is filled with good gifts for us to steward and enjoy.
Christians have always believed in creation. There was little debate over the nature or date of creation until the last couple of centuries. However, science began gaining credibility through the great advances in the so-called Age of Reason (also called The Enlightenment or Modernism) developed in the eighteenth century. Science increasingly became identified with the naturalistic worldview that stood in direct opposition to the theistic worldview. Scientific evidence became a weapon used by opponents of Christianity to attack the biblical worldview.
Unfortunately, many Christians began to accommodate themselves to naturalism and rationalism. Classic Christian liberalism began to dominate the church in Europe in the nineteenth century and in America going into the twentieth century. A group of biblical Christian scholars published a series of books called The Fundamentals in an attempt to define and defend biblical Christianity against this widespread compromise with liberalism. As the debates developed, controversies about the date and nature of creation arose among biblical Christians. Fundamentalism became defensive and suspicious of compromise, and the controversies often became acrimonious and remain so today.
Even this controversy can be yet another gift to us from God, compelling us to more deeply ponder his creative works and thereby grow to more clearly savor his Word, see his grace, and sing his praises.
The Bible teaches that creation in general and human life in particular were made by God, belong to God, exist for God, are restless apart from God, and will return to God. If you do not believe in the doctrine of creation, you likely believe that you came from no one, you are alive on the earth for nothing, and that when you die you will go nowhere. The renowned atheistic philosopher Bertrand Russell summarizes this worldview:
That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of the unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.1
Indeed, the only logical option apart from the biblical doctrine of creation is “the firm foundation of the unyielding despair.” Similarly, when Richard Dawkins was asked if his view of reality made him depressed, he replied, “I don’t feel depressed about it. But if somebody does, that’s their problem. Maybe the logic is deeply pessimistic, the universe is bleak, cold and empty. But so what?”2
As a pastor who has preached the funerals of suicide victims and prays often with teenage women who continually cut themselves and comes from a long family history of depression so severe that it often results in mental insanity and self-medication with alcoholism, I (Mark) could not fathom encouraging people to build their lives on “unyielding despair” because “the universe is bleak, cold, and empty” only to disregard their pain and tears by saying, “So what?”
Indeed, if no savior is coming to rescue me, and there is no better place to which I can escape at the end of this life, then once the pain of this life gets too much to bear, I should simply hasten the inevitable. Tragically, many do.
People who do not understand the doctrine of creation and the doctrines that relate to it want to die. Some die a little bit at a time, weeping until they are empty and can no longer muster any tears. Others medicate themselves with prescriptions; antidepressants are now the most sold category of medicine, and depression is the most common diagnosis. Still others self-medicate with sex, food, alcohol, drugs, gambling, entertainment, video games, Internet surfing, and anything else that can serve as a diversion from the “unyielding despair.
What is even sadder than this sadness is the tragic fact that we have not learned from history and show no sign of doing so anytime soon. Anglican bishop N. T. Wright has wisely said:
There are three basic ways (with variations) in which we can imagine God’s space and ours relating to one another. . . . Option One is to slide the two spaces [heaven where God dwells and earth where we dwell] together. . . . Since God, as seen in this option, doesn’t hide in a corner of his territory but fills it all with his presence, God is everywhere, and—watch this carefully—everywhere is God. Or, if you like, God is everything, and everything is God. This option is known as “pantheism.” It was popular in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds of the first century. . . . it has become increasingly popular in our own times. . . . The main obligation on human beings then is to get in touch with, and in tune with, the divinity within themselves and within the world around.3
Wright goes on to explain that it is difficult for people to believe there is divinity in literally everything, including cancer, bugs, and hurricanes. So, the subtle variation of panentheism has become more popular. Panentheism teaches that God is in everything. Wright explains brilliantly: The problem with pantheism, and to a large extent panentheism, is that it can’t cope with evil. Within the multigodded paganism out of which pantheism grew, when something went wrong you could blame it on a god or goddess who was out to get you. . . . But when everything (including yourself) shares in, or lives within, divinity, there’s no higher court of appeal when something bad happens. Nobody can come and rescue you. The world and “the divine” are what they are, and you better get used to it. The only final answer (given by many Stoics in the first century, and by increasing numbers in today’s Western world) is suicide.4
Option two, Wright says, is to hold the two spaces of heaven and earth firmly apart with great distance between God and us. This, of course, is the teaching of deism. As Wright says, “Human beings should get used to being alone in the world. The gods will not intervene, either to help or to harm.”5 He goes on to explain that in the ancient world, if you were rich, powerful, healthy, successful, and the like, with a good home to live in, good food to eat, and slaves to tend to your every whim, you were often fine with the idea that you were on your own and that there was no divine help at your disposal. On the other hand, “if, like the great majority of the population, your life was harsh, cruel, and often downright miserable, it was easy to believe that the world where you lived was dark, nasty, and wicked in its very essence, and that your best hope was to escape it . . . by death itself (there we go again).”6
Finally, option three, Wright says, is not that heaven and earth are one and the same (pantheism and panentheism) or completely separated (deism), but rather that God in varying ways interlocks his heaven with his creation. We see this throughout the Old Testament: Jacob saw a ladder coming down from heaven; a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night led God’s people in the wilderness; and the Tent of Meeting traveled with God’s people as a portable meeting place between heaven and earth until they had the temple where the ark of the covenant was kept in the Most Holy Place, which is a sort of interlocking place between heaven and earth. Wright goes on to say that for the Christian, “the creation of the world was the free outpouring of God’s powerful love. . . . And, having made such a world, he has remained in a close, dynamic, and intimate relationship with it, without in any way being contained within it or having it contained within himself.”7
Therefore, the doctrine of creation sets the stage for the coming of Jesus Christ. Indeed, God becomes a man who is our creator amidst his creation. He comes to connect heaven and earth through himself as the mediator between the two. As we will see in coming chapters, he comes on a rescue mission to save us from “unyielding despair” by dying for us, placing his own Spirit in us, and promising to return one day to rescue creation so that it is no longer “bleak, cold, and empty.” Indeed, just as he took a barren wasteland and prepared it for our first parents, he will again prepare creation for his people, and rather than saying “so what?” to our pain, the Bible promises that he will wipe every tear from our eyes.
What difference does it make in your life to know that there is a personal Creator God who loves you and has come to rescue you from this fallen world?