Some years back I decided for the first time in a very long time to read the Bible through cover to cover (I suggest you do that too!). I was sort of surprised, although I shouldn’t have been, by the centrality of the idea (or doctrine) of creation to the narrative of God’s dealing with his people. In fact, the history of redemption is meaningless apart from the centrality of the doctrine of creation to it. This is profound, and to borrow from the hippie party days of the 1970s, very heavy. I’m afraid I can’t do it justice in a short blog post, but I’m gonna try.
These thoughts were impressed anew upon me when I read a piece titled, “What We Forget about Creation: How Augustine Expands Our Vision.” The author, Gavin Ortlund, points out something so glaringly obvious that everyone seems to miss it: that many think the early chapters of Genesis “are important . . . primarily to set the stage for the real business of Christian theology—those issues involved in the doctrine of redemption.” Boy oh boy, does that nail it. The only real interest in the creation accounts seems to be fodder for the debate with Darwinists. How utterly wrong-headed that is cannot be stated strongly enough. The first sentence of this paragraph from Ortlund almost comes off as funny, if it wasn’t so sad:
In the church we have often emphasized life as a Christian without reference to life as a human being. But the categories of sin and salvation are only comprehensible in light of the prior category of creation—the assertion, “I am a sinner” is a further specification of the assertion, “I am a creature.” Furthermore, if redemption involves not a repudiation of our original creaturely mandate but rather a reorientation toward it (e.g., Col. 3:10, Eph. 4:24), then the doctrine of creation not only precedes and undergirds the doctrine of redemption, but informs it. We are not just saved from something (sin), but saved to something (imaging God).
The importance of creation to the plan of redemption (I know this is silly-if there was no creation there could have been no fall and no need to redeem a fallen creation!) is why from almost the beginning of the Church Gnosticism became a threat to orthodox belief. Very simply put, Gnosticism says material bad, spiritual (non-material) good. Those influenced by Gnostic ideas had a very difficult time believing God himself would deign to go so low as to become a man and take on real, material flesh and blood. Which is why it took 300 years for the true nature of Christ, fully divine and fully human, to become official Church dogma at the Council of Nicea in 325. Unfortunately, Gnosticism still pervades the Church today, but that’s a blog post for another day.
For the ancient Hebrews there was nothing more central to their faith and identity as a people than God as Creator. The very first sentence of their Bible, and ours, are these words: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Everything else is details and of secondary importance to the fact of this universe and all that is in it is the product of a Creator God, one with the power and knowledge to do something as insane as creating everything from nothing, or ex nihilo (out of nothing) in Latin. The great battle of the ancient world (and the sinful human heart) was between the nations who worshiped idols, and Israel, God’s people, who worshiped the true Creator God. The contrast between idols and God is a continuous theme from Genesis to Malachi. One almost throw away line that stood out to me in my recent reading through the book of Jonah was the prophet’s disgruntled affirmation to the sailor’s question of where he comes from:
He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”
What differentiated Jonah from the Pagan sailors who “each cried out to his own god.”? His God made the whole shabang! And what happens when they throw Jonah overboard as he requests? The sea becomes instantly calm. The Pagans became big fans of Yahweh after that! The examples are multitudinous, but read about Ezekiel and the prophets of Baal sometime. It’s hilarious.
So fine, we see how important creation and an Almighty Creator God is to the ancient Hebrews’ conception of themselves and their religion, but how about us. Why is the doctrine of creation so important to us staying, and our keeping our kids, Christian. This post is already long, so I’ll have to answer that in my next post. Stay tuned . . . .