Foundations: No.71 Autumn 2016

A Theology of the Created World: Neglected Biblical Perspectives

Both inside and outside Christian circles, “creation” is understood as a doctrine about origins.  This has unhelpfully drawn attention away from the biblical emphasis on God’s “present continuous” activity in the world and the display of his glory in creation.  The biblical doctrine of creation has wide-ranging implications for how we understand ourselves and how we live in this world, giving significance to what we call “everyday life”, encouraging a more integrated theological approach to life, and calling for greater engagement in the world in a distinctly Christian way.  It also clarifies and enhances our self-understanding as human beings within the created order, and enriches the prospect of our place in a redeemed creation in the life to come.

If you were to ask anyone today – inside or outside the church – what they understand by a belief in “creation”, they would almost certainly reply in terms of origins, defining it as the belief that God made the universe in six days. Most would go on to say that science has now disproved this, while evangelical Christians would argue to the contrary, that creation is consistent with the findings of science.

Having said that, within evangelicalism there is a spectrum of interpretations of Genesis 1, ranging from young-earth, six-day creation to some form of theistic evolution. On that spectrum are those who regard the days of Genesis 1 as epochs, and others who assume long gaps between them. Still others argue that the days are a literary framework to describe the origin of the world and do not therefore provide us with much detail about how God made the universe. Still others see them as six days of revelation rather than manufacture and, most recently, it has been argued that the creation week should be read as a seven-day temple inauguration ceremony. All these differing interpretations share a focus on the question of how the world came into being.

The purpose of this article is to suggest that in this preoccupation with origins, we have truncated what the Bible teaches about creation, and that a fully-orbed doctrine of creation has far-reaching practical consequences for evangelical Christians which merit further consideration. Our doctrine of creation may flow from and depend upon our belief about origins, but should go beyond it and be allowed to infuse the rest of our theology. The biblical doctrine of God as Creator answers more than the question of how the world came into being; it defines what kind of world we live in, what it means to be human, and how God is at work in the world.

God and Creation

When the Bible speaks about creation, the emphasis is not so much on a historical event but on a continuing process and this affects what we mean when we describe God as Creator.

The biblical understanding of God as Creator is primarily concerned not with his creative act of bringing the world into being, but rather with his ongoing involvement in and with his creation.[1]

In other words, belief in God as Creator is “present continuous” rather than “past historic”. Or, to put it another way, Jesus’ simple but profound words in John 5:17 that, “My Father is always at work to this very day, and I, too, am working” is, at least in part, a statement about God as Creator. If this seems surprising, it is because we understand the term “Creator” differently from how it would have been understood in Bible times. When we read in Isaiah 40:28 that God is the “creator of the ends of the earth”, we automatically assume that “creator” (Heb. participle, bôrē’) here means the one who brought the universe into being at the dawn of time (cf. Isa 42:5). The same is true of “maker” (Heb. participle,‛ōśēh) in the phrase “maker of heaven and earth” in Psalm 121:2. Translators assume the same: the NKJV and ESV impose the past tense on the participle by translating, “who made heaven and earth”.

The point I am making is more than a grammatical one that participles have no tense; it is the theological point that biblically, creation is something which God does, rather than merely something he did. This becomes more apparent when we consider that many uses of the participle “creator” do not refer to God as creator of the universe but as “your”, “our” or “my” creator (Eccl 12:1; Mal 2:10; Isa 45:16). The same is true of the participle “maker”: God is the maker of the individual (Isa 45:9, Job 4:17, 32:22, 35:10; Psalm 95:6). He is also the creator and maker of Israel (Isa 43:1 and 45:11 respectively, cf. Hos 8:14). Here, as when God is said to create new conditions and circumstances (Isa 45:8; Jer 31:22), a “clean heart” (Ps 51:12) or Jerusalem to be a joy (Isa 65:18), we are not in the realm of origins, but of God’s creative activity in the present and future. One of the most significant biblical texts in this regard is Psalm 104, which takes the six-fold creation structure from Genesis 1 but applies it to God’s present, ongoing involvement with the world. So the God who rebuked the waters so that they fled over the mountains to reveal the dry ground (vv. 7-9) is the God who still sends streams into the valleys and thus provides water to drink for wild animals (vv. 10-13). He did not merely command the earth to produce vegetation and then leave it to get on with the job in perpetuity; he causes grass to grow for man and beast (v. 14). He provides shelter and habitat, food, seasons and the rhythm of day and night. He gives life itself, v. 30: “You send your breath and they are created, and you renew the surface of the ground.”

The use of the creation verb here (Heb. bārā’) indicates that the beginning of animal life is an act of creation, just as much as in the original creation of Genesis 1, even though the process, involving procreation, might be different. In fact, there is process even in Genesis 1: the land itself produces all kinds of plants beneficial to humanity and animals, at God’s command; the statements “let the water teem”, “let birds fly” and “let the land produce animals” parallel the statements that God created or made the sea creatures, birds and animals. So we should not make a sharp distinction in our minds between God’s “creative” activity and the “natural” processes of procreation and fertility. And we should not assume that when the object of creation is “nature”, God’s activity is confined to the past. There are considerable practical and pastoral implications to this. Consider these verses:

My help is from Yhwh, maker of heaven and earth (Ps 121:2).
Our help is in the name of Yhwh, maker of heaven and earth (Ps 124:8).
May Yhwh bless you from Zion – maker of heaven and earth (Ps 134:3).

Is the believer to find reassurance and confidence in the fact that God did something extraordinarily powerful and wonderful at the beginning of the world, or that he is still at work constantly in his creation? Is our hope in the one who made, or the one who makes heaven and earth? We might answer that we do believe in God’s continued involvement with his world, but that we use terms like “providence” and “sustaining” instead of creation to refer to this. This differentiation in language, which implies that creation is a different activity from providence, may represent a departure from the biblical world-view. It certainly opens the door for the idea that God now has a very light hand on the tiller of a fundamentally stable world which, by and large, runs according to the “laws of physics”. Ironically, the concern to argue for creation in scientific terms or on scientific grounds can have the effect of implying a distinction between God’s ex nihilo creative activity then and a world of natural process governed by the laws of physics now. God’s involvement with his world might then be thought of as like a father who runs alongside his child to put out a restraining hand if the bike wobbles, but hopes not to have to do so and for the child to provide its own momentum and balance. This is not the biblical view. Balance and stability only exist in the world because God as Creator is constantly creating.

And God also frequently and deliberately interrupts the stability of the world. In particular, God’s activity in and through nature is often connected to his purposes for humankind, both in judgment and salvation. God “cursed” the earth after Adam and Eve’s disobedience in Eden; he de-created the world in the Flood because of the increase of human wickedness; he disrupted the stability of the natural world with ten “signs” (a better term than “plagues”) in Egypt, and parted the Red Sea and the Jordan for the Israelites to escape Egypt and enter the promised land; he fought for Israel with thunder, hailstones and by lengthening the day. Yhwh also subjected the land of Israel to fertility and barrenness (Deuteronomic blessings and curses) according to his people’s obedience or disobedience. As late as the post-exilic era, this view of God’s involvement in nature remains undiminished. The prophet Haggai prescribes an architectural solution to an agricultural problem: “build the temple and God will provide proper harvests”.

In response, we might argue that this is “old covenant stuff” – that God’s purposes are now through the church and not through the nation or land of Israel – and there is certainly truth to that. All the same, people and animals are still dependent on the productivity of the earth for their food, and the stability of the world to lift their lives above mere subsistence. We may no longer be able to assert with Deuteronomic certainty that a failed harvest or epidemic are the direct result of human sinfulness or the disobedience of God’s people, but that does not diminish the fact that we are created beings, living in God’s world, and dependent upon his goodness through creation for our continued existence. The Apostle Paul argued evangelistically along these lines in Lystra (Acts 14:15-18). In Christian discipleship, having a present-continuous view of God as Creator brings God nearer to us (Jer 23:23-24) and gives significance to what we call “everyday life”; it makes our faith relevant to areas of life which we do not think of as “spiritual” and calls for greater engagement in the world in a distinctly biblical, Christian way.

Fullness of God in Creation

If we accept that God is at work in the world as Creator, it is natural to ask why? What is creation for? The Bible’s answer to this question is emphatic and thought-provoking: Creation exists for the delight of God and for the display of his “fullness”. We encounter something of God’s delight in Genesis 1, in the repeated phrase that God saw what he had made and it was good – ultimately “very good”. To a large extent, “good” here means pleasurable and beneficial to human beings, but not entirely. The great sea creatures of v. 21 are not part of a tameable, beneficial nature, nor is the sea, their domain. Nonetheless, Leviathan is said to “play” in the sea in Psalm 104:26, and this playful aspect of creation features also in Proverbs 8. “Wisdom”, personified as a gleeful bystander at the beginning of the world, was a delight to God, “played” or “danced” before God in the world he (God) had made, and delighted in humankind (vv. 30-13). This suggests that we ought to favour the reading “child” (Heb. ’āmûn) over “master-craftsman” (Heb. ’āmôn) for the description of wisdom in v. 30. These verses portray exuberant delight in the activity of creation, shared by both God and his creation. God tells Job that the morning stars sang together and the sons of God shouted for joy at the foundation of the earth, (Job 38:7) and Psalm 104:31 expresses the desire that Yhwh will rejoice in his works.

Delight in nature is closely related to God’s self-disclosure in his creation. We are familiar with the idea of natural revelation from passages such as Romans 1:20 and Psalm 19. But this goes further than the simple fact that God’s “fingerprints” or “makers mark” are to be seen throughout the natural world; nature bears witness to God because it is full of him. The whole world belongs to God (Psalms 24:1, 50:12, 89:11) and his glory fills the whole earth (Isa 6:3), which is another way of saying that he fills heaven and earth (Jer 23:24). At the same time, God is distinct from nature in contrast to the Ancient Near Eastern view of deity permeating and being permeated by nature. We should expect to encounter God in nature, without in any way identifying him with it or deifying nature. God is revealed in creation and creation must therefore acknowledge its Creator. Most obviously, Psalm 148 expresses the idea of the whole of creation, animate and inanimate, praising God. Environmental implications of this have been drawn by more than one writer:

When humanity damages the earth and its inhabitants, the earth’s ability to praise is diminished… the sin of environmental degradation is sin not only because it endangers or damages the lives of human beings but also because it diminishes creation’s ability to praise its Creator.[2]

The call for the whole of nature to praise God in the psalm gives massive rhetorical force to the culminating call for all human beings to praise God (vv. 11-14). Psalm 148 is just one text in which nature has a relationship to its creator independent of humanity. Something of an independent enjoyment of “createdness” on the part of animals is also suggested in God’s speeches in Job 38-40: the onager wanders where he likes (39:7); the ostrich runs faster than a horse and rider (39:18); the horse is courageous in battle (39:22) and Behemoth and Leviathan are beyond human control (40:15 ff, 41:1-34).[3] Passages like these serve to challenge our anthropocentric view of the world. Nature is bigger than humanity and even in its uncursed state in Genesis 1, aspects of creation lay outside human power to control (cf. God’s argument in Job 38:4ff). Similarly, God’s covenant after the Flood is not just with humanity but with all the animals that went into the ark with him. Whether Jeremiah 33:20 and 25 speak of that covenant or with a prior “covenant with creation”, does not alter the fact that God has a covenant with the world he has made. In redemption also, as we shall see, God’s concern is not just with humanity but with the whole of creation. Taking this a little further, we encounter the idea of nature showing humanity the way when heaven and earth are called as witnesses against God’s people (Dt 30:19; Isa 1:2; Mic 6:1-2), and in the indictment that the ox and donkey know their master but Israel does not (Isa 1:3). Similarly, the land mourns on account of human wickedness (Jer 12:4). The triangular relationship between God, nature and humanity is an important and neglected aspect of our understanding of who we are in the world that God has created.

Humanity in Creation

A far greater attack on biblical truth than Darwinianism’s rejection of the Bible’s account of origins is posed by its assertion that man is no more than an evolved ape. It is quite possible to live a perfectly functional life without knowing how the world came into being, but our understanding of what a human being is affects everything we do, with far-reaching consequences for bio-ethical issues and every aspect of human relationships. The desire to assert that we are not animals, together with a neo-platonic deprecation of the body endemic in Christian theology, has led to a historic embarrassment over our material creatureliness. Here, again, a robust view of creation is helpful.

The human is a created being (Psalm 139:13-16) and although distinct within creation, part of it. There is a tension inherent in this: humanity is made in God’s image and yet formed from the material of the ground. Like the angels, human beings are rational, spiritual, relational, moral beings, able to worship God consciously. At the same time, like animals, humans are formed from the material of the ground and, when given breath by God, become “living beings”. The term “living being” (Heb. nepeš ḥayyāh,) used of man in Gen 2:7, is used elsewhere of animals (cf. 1:20, 24, 30, 9:12, 15, 16). When humans and animals die, they return to the dust (Gen 3:19; Ps 104:29). Qoheleth is entirely orthodox, in Ecclesiastes 3:18-21 when he points out the essential bodily similarities between people and animals. We do not need DNA analysis to prove this; it is obvious and apparent to any human observer that the anatomy and physiology of our bodies and theirs are remarkably similar. All the same, a distinction is maintained biblically: no suitable (or “corresponding”) helper was found for Adam among the animals he named (Gen 2:20), whereas Eve was “bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh” (v. 23). A distinction is made between the killing of a human being and the killing of an animal in Genesis 9:3-6, a distinction based on man as God’s image-bearer. Finally, although men are said to survive after death (in Sheol, in the Old Testament), this is not said of any animal.

Importantly, the distinction between humans and animals is not made in terms of their anatomy so much as their function and place within the created order. A human being is not different because he has a mind or a “soul”. In fact, the Hebrew and Greek words behind terms such as “mind”, “heart” and “soul” are difficult to translate and often used with differing and inter-changeable meanings in Scripture. They do not describe human anatomy. In the same way that “mind” and “brain” refer to different things and yet are impossible entirely to distinguish (similarly, the terms “house” and “home”), so the biblical language about the component parts of the human being does not render those parts discrete. The Bible essentially represents the human being as a unity or single entity. When it differentiates component parts of the human being, these are interactive and interdependent. It is not a “soul” that makes me human, or that is the “real me”. Our bodies are fundamental to our humanity and the right use of the body is a spiritual matter. We shall be judged according to deeds done “in the body” (2 Cor 5:10). The Bible bears witness to man’s essential corporeality (“bodilyness”) by emphasising the necessity of bodily resurrection. However blissful the existence of believers “in paradise” with Christ after death (Lk 23:43), they are not redeemed until united with resurrection bodies, because they are not fully human until then (Rom 8:23; 1 Cor 15:42-49; 1 Jn 3:2; Ps 17:15; Rev 20:13).

Man is a distinct kind of being, sharing some characteristics of God, angels and animals (Psalm 8:4-8; cf. 144:3-4). In the incarnation, God the Son took on the body and nature of human beings in order to save them, thus tying his incarnation to man’s essential, distinct and bodily creatureliness (Heb 2), even though the salvation of human beings through Christ’s incarnation has consequences for the whole of creation.

Psalm 8 (applied christologically in Hebrews 2) speaks about man’s dominion over creation. God’s directive for humanity to exercise dominion (Heb. rāḏāh) over the world, particularly over the animal kingdom, has been the subject of intense scrutiny, especially in response to the charge that it has led to ruthless exploitation of the earth’s resources, maltreatment of domesticated animals and wanton disregard for other species with which we share the planet. Although exercising dominion can equate with domination, it need not necessarily do so. Fear of humankind on the part of animals, as expressed in Genesis 9:2-3 seems to be a feature of life after the Fall and Flood, but not of the original order in Genesis 1.[4] It is possible to understand humanity’s role there as benign, imposing order and exercising dominion on behalf of God (cf. Ps 8:6-8). The eschatological picture of harmony within creation in passages such as Isa 11:6-9 and 65:17-25 also suggests a world in which humans, animals and plants can flourish together in safety.

A further question, however, is how far the human race can exercise dominion in the world. As already noted, the latter chapters of Job represent aspects of nature – of the animal kingdom in particular – which defy human control. Most of all, the sea represents the ultimate untameable, natural phenomenon, a chaos on which God has imposed limits, but which remains uncontrollable, a chaos, moreover, which God used to inundate the world in judgment in Noah’s day. Human beings may make ships to sail on the sea, but are powerless to command it (Prov 30:19; Ps 107:23-32; Jonah 1). This is why Jesus’ disciples were so unsettled by his ability to command wind and waves (Mk 4:41, etc.) and why also, in the new world order, there will be “no more sea” (Rev 21:1). As an essential part of the present world, however, the sea serves as a reminder of the limits of humanity’s capacity to exercise dominion. Earth’s great oceans still contain many mysteries which human beings have barely begun to discover in the last decade. Weather and climate are also outside our control, even if our carbon emissions are proven to have an adverse effect on them. God is frequently depicted in the Bible, however, as controlling wind, rain and storms, both for the benefit and chastisement of humankind (Isa 30:23; Jer 45:24, 10:13; Zec 10:1; Mal 3:10-11; Isa 3:1; Jer 3:3; Hag 1:9-11). All this serves to emphasise that even in the ideal world before the Fall, humanity’s dominion over creation could only ever have been limited. God structured the world in such a way that it should be so. Before the Fall humanity was dependent upon the earth, the cycle of the seasons and plant growth for food. Cultivation may have become toilsome and the ground uncooperative after the Fall, but the human being has always had limitations within the created order and been dependent upon it. It is part of our mandate to understand and mitigate harmful and limiting aspects of the world, by industry and ingenuity, but contrary to the dictum popular in the Renaissance, “a man cannot do all things if he wills”.

A word about human creativity is appropriate at this point: Sometimes a link is made between God’s creativity and ours: that human creativity results from our being made in the image of the Creator God. Caution is needed, not least over the extent to which the “image of God” describes human faculties and abilities. It may be that being made in the “image of God” in Genesis 1:26 refers to nothing more than humanity’s status as God’s viceroys. Caution is needed also over the meaning of the word “creative,” which is dependent on the prevailing aesthetics of the age. With the advent of modernism within the arts, emphasis has shifted from facility to inventiveness, although both remain aspects of what we mean by creativity. Nowadays, we may admire a craftsperson’s skill or facility with materials and processes, but the “creative types” are those who come up with original ideas. To a large degree, this is because we have made machines that render the craftsperson’s skills redundant. It means, however, that we are losing our connection to the materials of the material world around us and how to work with them, and thus part of our connectedness to nature. Whatever our definition of human creativity, however, God’s creativity means far more than both facility or inventiveness. It implies autonomy, sovereignty, limitless power and absolute and effortless control. There is also purpose, linked to other purposes like revelation and redemption. Human creativity is not in this league! All the same, human creativity is there in the Bible, as part of “wisdom” – ability or know-how – and the presence of Wisdom in Proverbs 8 does provide a link between Divine and human creativity, especially with the ideas of delight and playfulness noted above. Bezaleel’s “artistic” facility (“artistic” is an anachronistic term, the Hebrew word is “wisdom” again), derived from God’s Spirit (Ex 35:30-36:1), was put to use in the manufacture of the Tabernacle, itself a kind of miniature cosmos whose construction and dedication may have echoed the creation of the world as an arena for the presence and worship of God. Before we get too carried away, however, human “creativity” is not limited to the godly; the first musicians and metal-workers are found in the line of Cain (Gen 4:20-22). Inventiveness and facility are part of human nature and, as such, subject to the Fall. Creativity must not operate independent of God’s standards of righteousness, or justify or excuse their being suspended or flouted.

Humanity’s createdness is not limited to the body or faculties of the individual. It extends to God’s creation of and rule over all peoples and nations (see Gen 10; Dt 32:8; Psa 86:9; Acts 17:26). Our doctrine of creation, therefore, must also encompass human societies and cultures. In the contemporary western maelstrom of ideas about individuality, globalisation, ethnicity and nationality, perhaps the biblical doctrine of creation has something calm and clear to offer. Nations and cultures are not arbitrary or irrelevant, but part of a structure created by God so that people might seek him (Acts 17:27) in the same way that a stable and productive world is intended to do (Acts 14:15-17). This provides a theological rationale for respect and understanding in cross-cultural mission and churchmanship. Ethnicity and nationality may be no barrier to the preaching and receiving of the gospel of Christ, and may ultimately be done away with (Rev 5:9; 7:9; 14:6; 21:24), but they are an intended part of the present world created by God.

God’s dealings with, and concern for, all peoples is a subject too vast to be discussed here, but a further remark can be made concerning its relation to the doctrine of creation. If the Sinai covenant provides the theological basis for the Law and the Prophets, Old Testament wisdom literature finds its theological basis in creation. Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes look at a human being’s place within the created order. Just as chaos in nature is restrained by God’s imposition of order or structure, so human behaviour, relationships and society work within an order or structure derived from God. This structure holds for all human beings and societies “under the sun”, not just the theocracy of Israel. Parallels are drawn in wisdom literature between phenomena observable in nature and corresponding aspects of human behaviour and society. The industriousness of an ant, the haughtiness of a cockerel or the rain-bearing characteristic of a north wind all yield lessons for human conduct. This goes beyond merely finding helpful illustrations from the natural world; it stems from a belief that similar principles will apply in the natural, animal and human spheres because all are part of a single created order. The world is created such that industriousness benefits the one who exercises it, a desire to be superior makes man and beast strut, and so on. These things are the consequence of the inter-connectedness of creation. The flip-side of the universal applicability of wisdom is that there is also wisdom in the world of humanity from which God’s people can learn. Solomon’s wisdom was greater than, but of the same kind as that of the wise men of surrounding nations (1 Ki 4:30-34). By contrast, it is unthinkable that the Torah given through Moses or the oracles of the prophets would have been compared to the laws or prophecies of other nations. Wisdom takes its framework and basic presuppositions (“the fear of Yhwh”) from Torah, but can (and does) incorporate the wise observations of those outside the community of faith. In the same way, as Christians, we acknowledge that there is wisdom in the unbelieving world, but only as we can accommodate it within the biblical framework of our faith.

Creation, Redemption and Eschatology

A number of passing references have already been made to the relationship between creation and redemption, as well as the prominent part nature plays in the Bible’s eschatological vision. It is interesting to note that in the index to Schreiner’s New Testament Theology, the only references to “creation” are to the eschatological new creation.[5] This is not because the New Testament is uninterested in creation, but because it takes as read what the Old Testament teaches about creation, and because it is looking forward to the culmination of all things in Christ’s triumphant return. To put it simply, the New Testament position is “we know from the (Old Testament) scriptures what creation is; in Christ we see what it will become”. Eschatology does not begin with the New Testament, however. We saw earlier that heaven and earth are called as witnesses in God’s lawsuit against humanity (Dt 30:19, etc). Going further, we see that when God comes in judgment, there are upheavals in nature (Isa 13:9-10, 34:4; Joel 2:10; Nah 1:5; Hab 3:3-13), just as there were in Egypt as a prelude to God’s judgment on Pharaoh and the redemption of his people Israel from their slavery. In a more universal way, nature constantly “groans” under bondage to decay while it awaits the redemption of God’s people (Romans 8:19-23). Nature too, therefore, needs to participate in redemption, not just function as a harbinger of judgment. We see this nowhere more clearly than in Isaiah. Everything from the sky to the lower parts of the earth, the mountains and forests rejoice with singing over Israel’s redemption (Isa 44:23; cf. 42:11-12, 45:8, 49:13). When Israel is redeemed, previously barren, unproductive spaces will burgeon with life (Isa 35:1-2, 41:18-20). In the eschatological, messianic kingdom, nature will thrive harmoniously alongside God’s people (Isa 11:6-9, 65:17-25).

For Isaiah 40-55, creation is the beginning, middle, and end of God’s work with the world. God originated the cosmos, has continued creative work all through the course of the world’s history, and will one day bring a new heaven and new earth into being” [6]

This idea is not restricted to Isaiah. Nature may be subject to abnormal upheavals in Joel’s vision of the approach of the Day of the Lord, but afterwards the land will explode into productivity (Joel 3:18). Amos, similarly, foresees a time of unprecedented, abundant fruitfulness of the land (Am 9:13-15), as does Hosea, who also describes a “covenant” God makes with wild animals, no longer to allow them to harm his people (Hos 2:18-22, cf. Ezek 34:25). Although the horizons in some of these prophetic oracles may be relatively near – restoration of Israel after Exile may be in view – the rest of biblical theology enables us to see their multiple fulfilment in subsequent times and, indeed, their fullest and ultimate fulfilment in the new heavens and the new earth of the last chapters of Revelation. Without this overarching vision, it is difficult to make sense of Paul’s presentation of the cosmic Christ in Colossians 1, through whom and for whom all things were created (v. 16), in whom all things “cohere” (v. 17), and by whom all things will be reconciled to God (v. 20). We may well have to widen our understanding of salvation to encompass a fully-orbed biblical doctrine of creation. As Kathryn Schifferdecker notes, “In earlier biblical interpretation an anthropocentric bias, exemplified in a focus on human ‘salvation history’, can be discerned.”[7] We need to reckon with a redeemed nature and an emphatically material new heavens and earth.

What then of life in the new creation? As more fully human than we have been in this life, with resurrection bodies, how will we pass our days? Isaiah 65:17-25 presents an attractive picture of human life without the groaning of Ecclesiastes and Romans 8, but with the innocent pleasures of a material world and it is immeasurably more appealing than the idea of being a disembodied spirit sitting on a cloud, playing the harp. Of course, Isaiah 65 is couched in terms that people in an iron-age Mediterranean world could comprehend, but it is reassuringly earthy and preserves humanity’s essential material creatureliness. Some things will change between this world and the next – thankfully, we ourselves will be changed – but being corporeal beings in a created world (albeit renewed and liberated) will not. Why does this matter? Because it affects how we view the world in which we live now. Christians have tended to regard this world as dispensable, bordering on irrelevant. “Do not love the world or anything in it” (1 Jn 2:15) has been mistakenly understood to mean that Christians should only be concerned with “spiritual” matters and that anything that gives pleasure to the senses is a snare to one’s spiritual walk. This borders on gnosticism, and is a denial of the basic fact that God created both our senses and also a world which incessantly delights them. It may be a world under a curse at present, subject to a fallenness which Ecclesiastes describes with challenging realism. But in spite of this, Ecclesiastes depicts a world full of legitimate, God-given pleasures to be enjoyed. Song of Songs presents us with a sensory overload of delights, and whatever else it may be about, the book gives us a tantalising glimpse of what life in harmony with a redeemed creation might be like.


In this article, I have attempted to show that the Bible’s view of creation is richer and fuller than ours tends to be. I would also suggest that it ought to give rise to a much more integrated theological approach to life than we tend to have. A theology of creation should have a greater impact on how we understand ourselves and how we live in this world.

Although continued debate about origins is vital, our doctrine of creation must go further. Even if we could prove beyond controversy that God created the universe, this would still leave open fundamental questions about life, such as the extent of God’s involvement in nature, what the human being is, what humanity’s relationship to nature is, and what we should look for in terms of the redemption of creation. We do not have a sufficiently “present continuous” view of God’s involvement in nature, and our default setting is to view the world around us through the same lens as materialistic, atheistic society. For example, most of us do not have a theology of food, of affluence and poverty, of bodily beauty, of health, of conservation and environmentalism, of home (and homelessness) and garden, of work and leisure. To a large extent this is because we never hear preaching on these questions; they are left to “specialists” who write books for those who share their slightly quirky interests. And yet, all Christians eat, all Christians have bodies and many have issues surrounding body-image. Most have homes and gardens and, in western society, are well-off and have leisure and disposable income. All Christians use the earth’s resources. Application to these areas of life “under the sun” is rarely, if ever, heard. Contrast this, for example, with Leviticus 19, in which holiness – “consecratedness to God” – extends to every area of life for the Old Testament Israelite. A fully-orbed doctrine of creation is indispensable if we are to live well as created beings in a world in which the Creator still displays his power, goodness and judgment on human rebellion, a world which he will ultimately reclaim for himself and redeem.

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