What does God do? In the last few episodes of Thinking Theology we’ve been thinking about what God is like: what is his nature and what is his character. But in this and the next few episodes we’re moving on to think about what God has done and what he continues to do.
In this episode we’re thinking about what God has done in creating the world. What does the Bible tell us about creation and, importantly, how does that shape our life?
That’s what we’re thinking about in this episode of Thinking Theology.
Hi. My name is Karl Deenick. I’m a pastor, theologian, writer, and Bible college lecturer. Welcome to Thinking Theology, a podcast where we think about theology, the Bible and the Christian life, not just for the sake of it, but so we can love God more, with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.
Creation in Genesis
Creation is the first act of God in the Bible. We find it on the very first page of the Bible. We’re told,
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. (Genesis 1:1–2 NIV)
It seems that what those first verses describe is an initial act of God in creating the initial matter from which creation would be organised. So God brings matter into existence but it is formless.
Before God created the world, then, there was nothing. God created the world “out of nothing”. Or as theologians sometimes say, ex nihilo, which is Latin for out of nothing. God didn’t use pre-existing material but he created everything that is.
We find that same idea in other parts of the Bible. So Hebrews 11:3 says,
By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. (Hebrews 11:3 NIV)
Of course, that might simply mean that the matter God used to create the world was merely invisible and he made it visible. However, other places are more explicit. So Revelation 4:11 says,
“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Revelation 4:11 NIV)
If God created all things, then nothing exists that he didn’t make.
In fact, as the theologian John Frame points out, not only did God create out of nothing, he created into nothing. Not only did God create the matter out of which the universe was made, but he also created the space into which it went.
The rest of chapter 1 then describes God’s organisation of that matter. And it follows a very structured pattern to show the logic and order that God imposes on his world. So pattern is more or less:
1. Announcement: “And God said,”
2. Command: “Let there be X.”
3. Separation and Structure: God orders the items he has brought into existence.
4. Report: “And there was X.” (or equiv.)
5. Evaluation: “God saw that X was good.”
6. Chronological marker: “And there was evening and there was morning—the nth day.”
So there is a careful structure within each day, but there is also a careful structure between the days.
There is a pattern in the order in which things are created, such that day 1 pairs with day 4, day 2 with day 5, and day 3 with day 6.
So on day 1 light is created but on day 4 the light bearers—the sun, moon, and stars are created.
On day 2 the sky and the waters are separated. While on day 5 the sea and sky creatures are created.
And on day 3 the dry land and the plants are created, while on day 6 animals and humans are created.
Within that pattern, too, the seventh day stand on its own as special. The seventh day is a day of rest for God. Genesis 2:1–2 says,
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. (Genesis 2:1–2 NIV)
The seventh day is a kind of capstone on the days that have gone before.
The climax of the creation event, however, is the creation of human beings. God says in 1:26,
“Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Genesis 1:26 NIV)
A number of things in Genesis 1 highlight the special significance of human beings. First, when God comes to create human beings the pace of the chapter slows down. For the creation of everything else, even big things like the sun and the moon, they’re passed over pretty quickly, but when it comes to human beings Genesis 1 says a lot.
Second, human beings are created as the result of a divine counsel. God says among himself, “Let us make man” (Gen 1:26). Nowhere else in the chapter is there such an obvious and significant deliberation by God.
Third, human beings are the only thing in creation made in the image of God. Human beings are intended to reflect God and represent him. Strikingly, the same term used here to describe the image of God is the same one used later in the Bible to describe idols. Idols were intended to be images of gods. And, of course, God commanded not to make idols. But whereas idols are dead and lifeless objects that we make to represent what we think God should look like, God himself has created an image to represent and reflect him and that is human beings.
Fourth, human beings are given the task of ruling over the rest of creation (Gen 1:28).
And fifth, chapter 2 of Genesis contains a special parallel account that focusses in on the creation of Adam and Eve. If Genesis 1 is the wide-angle shot of the whole of creation. Genesis 2 is the zoom lens that narrows down to the creation of human beings.
Lessons from Creation
Creation is actually a really foundational doctrine in Christianity and underpins the whole of the Christian life.
But what does God’s creation of the world teach us about God and ourselves and the world in which we live?
There’s a few things that can be said.
God Created on His Own
First, in Genesis 1, God creates entirely on his own. God doesn’t get help from anyone else. He does it by himself. And he does it for his own reasons. It was entirely his decision to create the world and to create it as he did. The world is an expression of God’s purposeful creativity.
God Created by Speaking
Second, God creates simply by speaking. God says, “Let there be…” and it happens. And as it has been pointed out, when God says, “Let there be…” he is not speaking to things that have in them the power to respond but his word itself carries the power. That is, when God says, “Let the water be gathered to one place,” the water doesn’t hear those words and respond with its own power, but God’s word makes it happen.
As Psalm 33:6 says,
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. (Psalm 33:6 NIV)
Creation is Distinct from God
Third, creation is distinct from God. In episode 1 of this series, we encountered pantheism, which is the view that the universe is part of God or even that the universe itself is God. But the Bible clearly sets God above the universe, and the universe is something that God has made. It’s not part of him, it is his creation and is distinct from him.
That’s quite distinct from many of the ancient creation myths that were around at the same time as Genesis. In those myths creation is not the ordered, careful work of one God, but creation is often the outcome of gods fighting with each other. The dead body of one god might become the earth. Part of it becomes the sky. The blood of another slaughtered god might become human beings. The sun and moon yet other gods. By comparison, as one scholar has pointed out, Genesis “appears as a thunderbolt: Israel’s god is the exclusive creator and sovereign of the entire cosmos.”
God Made the World Good
Fourth, the world that God made was very good. The world was exactly as God intended it to be. God said, “I want it to be like this” and it was. And at the end of every day he looked back and he had accomplished all that he intended and he looked back at the end of six days and it was all the he had planned. Although, the world that we live in now is affected by human rebellion against God, the world that God originally purposed and made was perfect. It was free from sin, pain, misery and death.
Creation is an Act of the Trinity
Fifth, creation is an act of the trinity. Although it is not explicit in Genesis 1, there are certainly strong hints. In verse 2, we find the Spirit hovering over the waters. We find God speaking and the powerful Word bringing things into being. So, too, in verse 26 we find God saying “Let us make man in our image.” There is a plurality in God. Nevertheless there is also a unity—in verse 26 humanity are created in “his” (singular), that is, God’s image.
In the New Testament, those ideas become much more explicit.
For example, in John 1, John clearly portrays Jesus as active in creation along with the Father. He writes,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1–3 NIV)
Or in Colossians 1:16, Paul says,
For in him [that is, Jesus] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:16 NIV)
Creation Establishes God’s Authority
Sixth, creation establishes God’s authority over the world and over us. Because God made us and everything, he has the right to dictate how the world ought to operate and how our lives ought to be lived. We belong to him. This world is his. We are his. We are his creatures—his creations.
God says in Isaiah 45:12,
It is I who made the earth and created mankind on it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts. (Isaiah 45:12 NIV)
The implication is that God has the right as our creator to do as he wishes. He says earlier in verse 9 of the same chapter,
“Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands’? (Isaiah 45:9 NIV)
God is God because he made us. He owns us. He gets to decide how things work, not us.
Romans 1 makes that clear too. Paul says there that although people know God from the world which he has made, we substitute created things and put them in the place of God. We worship and serve ourselves or each other, we break God’s plan and pattern for creation.
The place that is most clearly seen, Paul says, is in homosexuality. Not because that is a worse sin than any other rebellion against God, but because it is such an obvious rejection of God’s pattern for the world. The very structure of the human body as male and female shows what God intended for sex.
That foundation of God’s authority in creation is really important for communicating the gospel to people who aren’t Christians. That’s what makes the gospel summary, Two Ways to Live, so helpful. It begins by saying: “God is the loving ruler of the world. He made the world. He made us to rule the world under him.”
But then it says, “We all reject the ruler, God, by trying to run life our own way without him. But we fail to rule ourselves or society or the world.”
The consequence is that: “God won’t let us rebel forever. God’s punishment for rebellion is death and judgement.”
Creation Establishes our Significance
So, too, creation establishes our significance.
As we’ve seen, the highpoint of creation is the creation of human beings in the image of God.
Human beings are not just another part of creation. We’re not just another creature. We’re not just the same as a horse or a dog. We’re not just random bits of matter that have collected together over billions of years. We’re the climax of God’s creative work. Not only that, we’ve been created to reflect God and to represent him.
Creation establishes the incredible significance of us as human beings.
Creation Establishes Our Purpose
Creation also establishes our purpose.
That’s because the Bible tells us that the purpose of creation was to manifest God’s glory. Isaiah 43:7 says,
Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth— everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” (Isaiah 43:6–7 NIV)
So, too, creation is often held up as a key motivation for us to praise and worship God. In Psalm 148 we’re told,
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for at his command they were created, (Psalm 148:5 NIV)
And in Revelation 4:11 we read,
“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Revelation 4:11 NIV)
In fact, in Romans 1:21, the core idea of sin that is mentioned is that, although God made the world and his eternal power are clearly on display in the world, we neither glorify him nor give thanks to him. At the heart of sin is our refusal to give God the glory he deserves and the thank him for everything that comes from his hand.
Creation Sets the Pattern for Various Aspect of Life
Creation also sets the pattern for various aspects of life.
For example, God’s creation work sets the pattern for work and rest.
God says to the people in Exodus 20,
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God.… For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. (Exodus 20:8–11 NIV)
Although, the law comes later, the pattern of six days work and one day rest is found in the fabric of creation.
So, too, creation also establishes the pattern of marriage as a permanent relationship. As Jesus explains when the Pharisees ask him whether it’s right to divorce or not; Jesus says,
“Haven’t you read … that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:4–6 NIV)
Creation also grounds and establishes the relationship between men and women. As Paul explains in 1 Timothy 2:12–15,
I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. (1 Timothy 2:12–13 NIV)
Although the Bible insists that men and women are equal in dignity, it also stresses that there is a structure in their relationship in marriage and also in the church. A structure that reflects God’s order in creation.
Creation also grounds humanity’s care and governance of the world.
When he created human beings God entrusted us with the responsibility, according to Genesis 1: to,
Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground. (Genesis 1:28 NIV)
In theology, that’s often known as the creation mandate. It’s God’s commission to human beings to rule over his world under him. We are to cultivate and care for the world and to rule over it. Not in a domineering sense, but in a loving and caring sense.
In a way, God has created a canvas for us and our task is to develop it. Of course, sin has destroyed our rule over the creation. Nevertheless, that was God’s initial purpose.
Creation Teaches Us Our Limitations
Finally, a perhaps somewhat unexpected implication of creation is that it establishes the human limitations and the mystery of God.
In the book of Job, Job suffers all kinds of misery and afflictions and he struggles to understand why. His friends give him lots of bad advice and Job contends with God and cries out to him to seek to understand.
But God’s answer in the end is that some things are simply beyond us. And to make that point God points to his creation of the world.
God says in Job 38:4,
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone— while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? “Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’? (Job 38:4–11 NIV)
The implication is, of course, that Job wasn’t there but God was. God and his ways are beyond us and creation reminds us of that.
Especially in the 21st century, we like to think that we can understand the world and everything about it. Why things are the way they are and why things happen the way they do. But even the best science is limited. Yes, God has given us brains to observe the world and discover lots and lots of things. But at the end of the day, we also have to accept that many things are beyond us and we simply have to trust God.
Of course, that brings us to the question of how the Bible’s account of creation fits with science. We’ll come to that in the next episode of Thinking Theology.
For the moment, it’s helpful simply to recognise how creation underpins so much of the Christian life and our perception of the world.
Creation is the sole act of God. He made it for his own sake and for his own purpose. He made the world just by speaking. The world is separate from God but depends on God. God made the world good. And God’s creation of the world establishes his authority as well as our significance, our purpose, the pattern of our lives and our need to trust God in the mystery of life.
Well that’s it for this episode of Thinking Theology.
As I said, in the next episode, we’ll be thinking about how the Bible’s account of creation fits with the views of modern science.
If you want to find more about the evangelistic resource, Two Ways to Live, you can find a link in the description.
Please join me then.
 John M. Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2013), 192–93.
 See Bruce K. Waltke and Cathy J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 56–57.
 The order of this and the next are sometimes interchanged.
 Raymond Van Leeuwen, brʾ, NIDOTTE 1:729.