The Judgment of Creation
Writing a novel, painting a picture, carving a statue, designing a building, fashioning an instrument, developing a computer — these and many other human activities are creative. They involve creative intelligence and persistence. They require purpose and design. They demand the use of tools, equipment and a creative process. Hopefully, they represent a wise and effective investment of creative human talent and resources.
Just as we human beings view our creativity from our own perspective and understanding, so we reflect on the Creation of the universe, of life and humanity. We look for creative intelligence and agency. We wonder about the creative design and purpose. We look for the substrate or underlying substance of Creation. We ponder the tools, equipment and process of Creation itself. We long to observe the product of Creation. Finally, we wonder about the meaning, value and destiny of Creation.
Existing Views of Creation
Now, after thousands of years of human history, we look back to reexamine the various attempts to explain and understand the Creation of the universe, of life and humanity.
1. Pantheism or Panentheism.
One of the earliest explanations for Creation is that everything is God, and God is everything. Thus, God did not have to create the universe or life or humanity. Rather, God is the universe, he is life, he is humanity. Or, conversely, the universe is God, life is God, humanity is God. These views are variously known as pantheism (God is everything; everything is God) or panentheism (God is in everything; everything is in God). These views actually ignore Creation by saying that everything is essentially uncreated.
A friend and I often have lunch together at a local restaurant, where we spend our time discussing world events, geopolitics, religion and philosophy. Recently, we were discussing the old idea that the universe is God or that God is the universe. We imagined ourselves to be two corpuscles in God’s bloodstream or two blips in God’s consciousness. While at first the thought was dismaying, upon further reflection it became hilariously ridiculous. If there is no Creation, there is no design or purpose, no process or product, no meaning or value, no identity or individuality, and no destiny.
2. Atheism, Agnosticism and Mysticism.
Another explanation for Creation suggests that everything which exists emerged from nothing and is destined to become nothing. This is the view of atheism and at least some forms of agnosticism and mysticism. If Creation occurs through the agency of nothing, by the design and purpose of nothing, using the tools and equipment of nothing, and ending in the production of nothing, then “nothing” alone has meaning, value and destiny.
3. The Theory of Essence.
Still another recurring explanation for Creation is that everything which exists emerged from some primal essence or substance and is destined to return to that same essence — whatever it is. Again we are faced with the same obfuscation and frustration. If essence is the agency, the design and purpose, the tools, equipment and substrate, the process and product of Creation, then that “essence” alone has meaning and value. Individual entities and identity are irrelevant, since only essence will remain.
4. The Genesis Story.
In the book of Genesis is the story of a Creation that occurs through the agency of God alone, out of nothing alone, by divine fiat or command alone, for human domination alone, and for God’s pleasure alone. While the Genesis account surpasses other attempts to explain the existence of the universe, life and humanity, it also is faulty. This early historic viewpoint is not sufficient to envision a Creation that necessarily involves a responsive, historic process rather than a momentary fiat. It is not adequate because it describes Creation as ultimately a predatory “animal” mission to achieve human and/or divine domination. Finally, the Genesis account fails to perceive that the Creation of human personhood by fiat is not possible. Personhood is not commandable. The attributes of personhood — such as faith, hope, love, compassion, commitment, meaning, value, freedom and responsibility — cannot be commanded. They cannot be imposed, even by divine fiat. Therefore, the orthodox view of Creation has been judged and found wanting.
The Gnostic explanation evolved from an alternative understanding of the Genesis story. It began around the first century of this common era (CE) with the Gnostics — those who “know.”1 The Gnostics claimed that the universe, life and humanity were the Creation of a fallen demigod (lesser god) and that this demigod had imprisoned the true god(s) within Creation. Ultimate destiny thus involved “knowing” how to escape the chains of Creation and return to the realm of divinity. Therefore, in this view Creation is something to be despised and discarded. Its final destiny is oblivion.
Ever since the first publication of Charles Darwin’s epochal study On the Origin of Species in 1859, the theory of evolution has commanded great attention. From long study as a naturalist in different parts of the world, Darwin reached the conclusion that the various forms of life have emerged through a process of natural selection — often called the survival of the fittest. This process, known as evolution, is regarded as the fundamental basis of Creation. However, recognizing a process does not explain creative agency, creative purpose or design, creative substrate, created product, or Creation’s destiny. Contemporary mankind has been enthralled with the process of creative evolution while ignoring other vital aspects of Creation. Evolution does not address the purpose or the destiny of Creation. In fact, evolution assumes the ultimate extinction of all Creation with the death of a collapsed or burned-out universe.
All existing views of Creation have thus been judged and found wanting. We have reached the end of the modern era and the threshold of an unknown postmodern era, only to find ourselves without an adequate explanation for our origin, existence and destiny. Since we belong to the genus/species Homo religiosus, we must have religious presuppositions behind all our perceptions, concepts and perspectives of reality. This means that we must know where we have come from, why we are here, and how and where we are going. For these reasons it is imperative to readdress the matter of Creation.
A New View of Creation
For our purposes we will consider Creation in three distinct stages. First, however, we accept the existence of Supreme Being, of God, who stands before, above and beyond all things. He is the Ultimate Cause, the Ultimate Agent and Agency for Creation. Without ultimate intelligent “Being,” there can be no rational Creation.
1. Creatio ex Nihilo (Creation out of Nothing).
We accept the fact that, “in the beginning” (Genesis 1:1), God intervened and acted to create the universe of time and space, of matter and energy, out of nothing. This is called creatio ex nihilo (Creation out of nothing). God indeed has hung the universe upon nothing (cf. Hebrews 11:3).
Having spoken the physical universe into existence, however, God has allowed that universe to respond by developing under the agency of physical laws also devised by him. Under those laws the universe of time and space, matter and energy, continues to expand and develop. Cosmic gases continue to condense to form stars and galaxies of stars. Stars continue to burn, to explode, to implode into such things as black holes, and to die. Elements and molecules continue to emerge. Matter and energy continue their interactions and transformation. The universe is a vast, dynamic cauldron of physicochemical activity. God is not yet finished with it. Thus, from God’s creatio ex nihilo the universe has responded through creatio continua (continued or continual Creation) under the supervision of God and his laws. Observable evidence indicates that this responsive creative process has been underway for billions of years.
2. Creatio Vivification (Creation of Life.)
At some point in the ongoing Creation of the universe, God again directly intervened to create life through the divine action we call creatio vivificatio (Creation of life). God had to intervene thus, for matter and energy alone are not sufficient to give rise to life. The laws of biological existence are not subsumed under the laws of physical existence. Or to state this another way, biological existence cannot be reduced to physical existence. Biological existence is beyond and above physical existence. The physical universe must be compatible with and friendly to life; it must provide the necessary conditions for life. But the physical universe alone cannot give rise to life, nor can it alone sustain life.
Once God launched biological existence through his act of creatio vivification, he gave such existence the potential for responsive change through such means as genetic mutation, natural selection, and survival of the fittest. This second stage of Creation — creatio vivificatio — has therefore been followed by a dynamic, responsive process of biological evolution — another creatio continua (continued or continual Creation). Biological creatio continua has proceeded for millions of years, embracing myriad single and multicellular forms of microbial, plant and animal life. All these forms have evolved under biological laws and with the possession of biological instincts or drives. Together, these life-forms constitute what is called a “food chain,” involving a predatory process of domination and submission. In this process many life-forms have become extinct and exist only as fossils. Many other life-forms remain threatened. Some life-forms continue to adapt, struggle, survive and multiply in various earthly environments.
Man the animal has been among those life forms that have survived and prospered for around four million years. Man (male and female) has evolved biologically as a mammal (warm-blooded, hairy, vertebrate and milk-producing) and as a higher primate (monkeys, apes and man).
3. Creatio ex Vetero (Creation out of the Old).
Yet no amount of biological change or evolution can explain or define man the human. Those attributes that define human personhood so transcend the animal that personhood cannot be explained alone either by Creation out of nothing or by Creation of life with its response of biological creatio continua. For an explanation of human personhood, which crowns Creation, we therefore turn elsewhere. We turn to the incarnate Christ. It was for judgment that he came into this world (cf. John 9:39). He did not come to redeem (to buy back) man from Satan, but he came to creatively transform man the animal into man the human. This third act of divine creative intervention is known as creatio ex vetero (Creation out of the old). This creative act also has been accompanied by a response — a “human” creatio continua (continued or continual Creation). This third stage of Creation will yet vindicate God’s judgment in initiating the universe.
As we stand on the threshold of the postmodern era, we recognize that previous theories for Creation are absurd or inadequate to explain and assure the continued existence of man — Homo religiosus. We therefore postulate divine agency and three stages of divine Creation:
1. Creatio ex nihilo (Creation out of nothing), in which God brought the universe of matter and energy into existence. In response, the universe continues to expand and develop under the physical laws of creatio continua (continued or continual Creation).
2. Creatio vivificatio (Creation of life), through which God brought forth life and living forms into existence. In response, life and living forms have continued to evolve under the biological laws of creatio continua (continued or continual Creation).
3. Creatio ex vetero (Creation out of the old), in which God brought human personhood into existence by acting in and as the Person of the historical Jesus. This third stage of Creation and the subsequent response — a “human” creatio continua (continued or continual Creation) — defines the age in which we now live. This age will soon witness the liberating judgment of the Parousia2 — the appearing of the Risen Christ together with a transformed humanity and universe. That imminent future is our truly and fully human destiny.
- The Greek word gnosis means “knowledge”/“to know.” See The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1976), s.v. “Gnosticism”; Britannica Online, s.v. “Gnosticism,” at www.britannica.com/topic/gnosticism. (go back)
- The Greek word parousia, translated, means both “presence” and “coming.” See Wikipedia — The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Second Coming, Terminology” at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Coming#Terminology. See also James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 2006: “Parousia is an ancient Greek word meaning presence, arrival, or official visit” (p. 299). (go back)
This article was originally published March 1995 under the Destiny imprint.