Archives For Creation

In a sense, only God creates. Only God can “stand” in the “middle” of complete nothingness and call as-yet-non-existent things into being. We call this creation ex nihilo: “out of nothing.”

So we can truly look at every aspect of our world and say, “God made this.” But as every parent knows, it gets more complicated when your children start asking, “Did God make cars?” “Did he make your computer?” My fumbling answers to these questions have gone something like, “Well, yes. He created the metal that the car is made out of, and he created the minds of the people who put the car together.”

Only this week have I begun to realize the true genius of God in this respect. It was John Frame who helped me think this through as he wrote about human choices: How is that we go through life making decisions based on our desires, and yet the Bible is still able to insist that God ordains all that comes to pass? It’s an old question, and I wasn’t expecting any fresh insight.

But Frame began talking about “our participation in God’s creativity.” He says,

“Our choices among possible alternatives image the choices that God himself has made in eternity, and they serve as the means by which God actualizes and rejects possibilities in history.”[1]

When we go about creating in God’s world, we are making choices, and in doing so we are acting like God, following his image, which he placed within us. But it’s bigger than us simply making choices. It’s that as we create in this world, God is creating. He is working through us to create. Our acts of creation are both ours and his—we are making the creative decisions, and in doing so we are playing out God’s perfect eternal plan.

The Creation of Adam

All of this is guaranteed to hurt your brain if you try to comprehend it entirely, and the mere raising of this topic sends people scurrying for their copies of Attacking Arminians or Countering Calvinists. (If those aren’t books yet, they should be.)

But this is why Paul is able to thank God for the Philippians’ partnership in ministry. The Philippians chose to work together with Paul; Paul saw their involvement as the working out of God’s plan. This is why Joseph was able to point to the same event (being sold into slavery) as both the evil intention of his brothers and the good plan of God (Gen. 50:20).

Now let me cut the urge to argue short: I’m not interested here in settling the fee will vs. predestination debate. What I find fascinating here are the implications for human creativity. Ultimately, we create because God made us in his image.

“Much about the divine image is mysterious, because God himself is mysterious. But among other things, there does seem to be something in us analogous to God’s creativity…”[2]

Dorothy Sayers looked at the context of the “image of God” passage in Genesis 1:26 and says that the only thing we know about God leading up to this is that he is the Creator. All he’s done in Genesis 1:1–25 is create. So when God sets out to make a being “like himself,” he seems to be creating another creator. Sayers identifies this as at least a part of what the image of God means.

Here’s why it matters. God has a plan for history. God formed this world with his words and his fingers, and he has not stopped speaking, he has not stopped shaping. Everything—everything!—from the largest imperial expansion to the slightest shifting of the smallest grain of dust is seen by God, known by God, captured in the interest and attention of God.

And as we step out into this world to create, to shape, to dream, God is stepping out to shape the world through us. When Steve Jobs created the iPhone, God was shaping his world through Jobs. (The same goes for whoever invented the Android, everyone calm down.) When I hug my daughters, God is wrapping his arms around them. When I work, play, sing, sleep, and eat, God is working out his plan for this world. My choices (at least, so my experience tells me), his plan.

(As an aside, let me just acknowledge that this gets much darker when we ask where God is in the evil moments. For example, where is God when an innocent man is wrongly accused, beaten, and murdered? But according to the Bible, God is still working out his plan in those types of events: Acts 2:23, 4:27–28.)

So be assured, God is still working in this world. And he is all of the time working through us. We are his image-bearers, his mini-creators, his world-shapers. Let’s be careful to shape his world in ways that fit his mission and highlight his glory. And let’s be confident that in all of it, God’s plan is being worked out, drawing ever closer to its good and glorious culmination. God has never taken his hands off of his world. He continues to work in it in deeply mysterious and incomprehensible ways. And he also continues to work in our creative decisions, shaping his world through our hands and feet and mouths.

 

 

[1] John Frame, Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2013) 837.

[2] Ibid., 836.

Fiction writers create characters. By putting words on a page, the fiction writer makes these characters come alive in the imagination of readers around the world. The fiction writer also creates plots, weaving these characters together into intricate storylines that reveal the unique personality of each character, revealing and growing each character in the minds of his or her readers.

Sculptors take a raw mass of material and shape it into something purposeful. The shape becomes the art, the form is the beauty. A sculpture speaks of intent, of realized potential. When we look at sculptures, even putting our hands on them or at times standing within them, we get a sense of spatial awareness, of carefully designed form, and of the features of the material itself.

A musician takes the physical stuff of this world, manipulates it into making the sounds which that particular matter is capable of projecting, and combines those sounds in ways that resonate with both body and soul. A musician carefully shapes sounds and lyrics, where every tone, every syllable, every phrase carries more meaning than we might think possible.

A painter takes colors in a variety of mediums and combines them in ways that are pleasing to the eye, provoking to the mind, even moving to the body. The painter spreads his or her colors across the canvas and creates a window to a world that is often simultaneously familiar and odd.

The poet uses sounds and syllables to wring every ounce of meaning, connotation, and suggestion out of the words we use every day. By juxtaposing phrases and drawing on rich imagery, the poet creates through language and draws us to contemplate, to enjoy, to rethink.

The dancer uses movement to communicate. In a language that no mouth speaks, the dancer moves his or her body in ways that call attention to our physicality even while pointing beyond it. Beauty in motion, beauty in using the most practical of instruments—a hand, a leg—for the most impractical and meaningful of displays.


All of these human artists are mirrors. In their artistry, they call attention to the ultimate Artist. Each art form in its unique way points us to the God who stands as the Master and Originator of that form, who has taken that form of art infinitely farther than is strictly possible.

The Artist in His Studio (Rembrandt)

God creates characters—not purely on pages and not merely in imaginations, but in reality. We bump into these characters daily. We are these characters. God makes use of plot, but his version of plot is far grander, encompassing all of human history as it does, and far more intricate, making brilliant use of each boring daily detail of each of the lives of each and every character—even those who seem the most incidental to what we would consider to be the main plotline.

God sculpts bodies out of dirt. He shapes trees and oceans and canyons. His sculptures come alive and swim, run, fly. He breathes life into his sculptures and they live and act, displaying the unique properties of the matter from which they are formed and pointing infinitely beyond.

God made the possibility of sound itself by ingraining musical qualities into the raw materials of this world. He gives each human a unique voice, ensuring that his creation will be filled with a diversity of musical tones and timbres.

God paints in colors every day, as the light he creates refracts through water in the sky, a brand new water-color masterpiece for literally every second of every sunrise and sunset. He adorns us with irises and skin tones and hair colors, paints in flowers and vegetables and fruits, splashes color across the skies and oceans and plains and valleys and canyons. His combinations and juxtapositions are endless, most of which will never be seen by human eyes.

His poetry creates worlds. He spoke and the then-nonexistent world obediently came into being. His words fill the Bible with more meaning than we can imagine, which every generation mines for meaning and comes to the end of their lives seeing the infinite depth of suggestion, connotation, and imagery still to be discovered.

He fills his world with meaningful motion, from the everyday dances we do with friends and families, embedded in hugs and acts of service, to the flight of the hawk and the rhythm of the ocean and the unexpected shift of the breeze. Each movement calling attention to the physicality of the world God made and pointing beyond.

God has filled his world with art. He has shown himself to be infinitely skilled in each art form. He constantly demonstrates his capacity to mix these forms, to transcend the boundaries that we place around specific disciplines. God is the ultimate Artist, and he has ingeniously created humanity with the ability to work within and continue his artistic endeavors. Each human artist is a mirror, each work of art a reminder that art is possible because God is the Artist, a fresh vision granted by the One who created sight, a testimony to the meaning injected in every corner of this world by the Creator.

Every day we encounter his artistry. Every day we are his artistry. We are his characters. We move within his plot, traversing his canvases, traveling as his sculptures, speaking according to his meter, moving as his dancers. We seldom notice the art we inhabit, the art we embody, but the art is there nonetheless, and it is magnificent.

DN16-405TRAFFIC-MBAn odd thought-process occupied my mind as I drove into Los Angeles the other day. It started as I was inching my way along I-5, and I thought about how crazy it is that we can simply check the flow of traffic on interactive maps while we “drive” (quotation marks owing to LA traffic). Then I looked out over this mass of concrete and humanity and thought—somehow all of this data is flowing through the air, filling our atmosphere, and landing inside of our cell phones.

And then my mind blew a fuse. The entire internet is blowing in the wind. It’s invisible and everywhere. It’s in the air I breathe. As I looked out over Los Angeles, everything I could see was filled with invisible data—anything you want to know about anything. But it wasn’t just “out there.” All of this data was also passing through my brain, my heart, and my liver. It’s doing the same thing now, in my office, as I write.

In my primitive understanding, cell phone data works in the same way as sound, light, satellite television, and wifi. It all travels through the air in waves, different frequencies carrying different bits of light, sound, or data. I have a hard time getting my mind around it (I haven’t even done a Wikipedia search on the topic), but somebody knows how and why it works. In other words, there’s a perfectly clear scientific explanation for why our atmosphere is filled with Google, episodes of I Love Lucy, blog posts, radio talk shows, and who knows what else.

Radio WavesBut being able to explain it hardly makes it less miraculous. The fact that we can explain it, at least in a certain sense, only adds to the miracle. Not only did God make a brilliant world, he made us with brilliant minds that can question and explain such phenomena.

God made a world in which data can fly invisibly across continents. Our very air, the atmosphere we look through in order to see all of the objects around us, is constantly hosting light, sound, and information. And the world, from the moment God spoke it into existence, has always been capable of this. Our atmosphere has always served as a freeway for light and sound, but not until very recently in world history have human beings thought to send radio signals, phone calls, and cell phone data through the air. But God designed the world so that it could. To put it in perspective, had Abraham been a techie, he could have labored to develop the technology to text message Lot.

I know my thought process is odd, but I think the basic point is something we all experience from time to time: This world is full of wonder! We take it for granted that we can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. And yet how miraculous is each of these senses! What incredible gifts from the Creator! How is it that God allows us to walk through this world that plays host to so many wonders—constantly surrounding us, each truly unbelievable, and yet rarely acknowledged by human beings, enlightened creatures that we are?

We see the world around us every day, but only occasionally are we given the gift of seeing the world in all God’s glory. Our necessary familiarity with life makes us numb to the miracle of it all. Light and heat pour out of the sun and saturate our world, giving it life, making it inhabitable and enjoyable. Wind sweeps through our cities, unseen but powerful in its presence. Flowers bloom, leaves fall, clouds collect, birds sing—and rarely do we give a moments’ notice.

But the more we can learn to be amazed by the world God created and thereby be amazed by God himself, the healthier we will be. So there is one good thing, at least, that came out of LA traffic. Who knows what you can find on your daily commute or anywhere else?

The concept of a childlike faith is difficult for us. At this point in my life, I feel like I’ve been running from childishness. I have spent a lot of time and money refining my thinking, challenging my naïve assumptions, and generally maturing the way I view everything. We all do this to varying degrees (and with varying degrees).

But growing more intelligent and mature often comes with an unintended side effect. We gain a lot of perspective, but we also lose a lot of perspective. As we begin to “understand” the world better, it begins to lose some of its wonder for us.

In a very real sense, children see the world more clearly than we do. Two very different events this week triggered this insight for me. On the one hand, I’ve been clued in to my oldest daughter’s reactions to things on our evening walks. On the other hand, I finally finished reading The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky. I definitely didn’t expect these two things to speak to me in unison.

Most evenings my wife and I walk about three miles with both girls in our “Double Bob” stroller. Halfway through our walk we stop at the park to let the girls play. As I talk with my wife about life as we experience it, my oldest daughter (Abigail, 2.5 years old) calls out the things that catch her interest. She sees dandelions. Doggies. Pinecones. She admires the flowers along our walk and wants to say hello to everyone we pass.

The other day we had a rare Southern California thunderstorm. Abigail stood in the rain with her princess umbrella and was genuinely amazed at the thunder. Where is it? Who is making that sound? Why can’t I see it?

For a child, the world is literally wonderful. How many dandelions have I walked past without admiring their fascinating design? How often do I just head down the street on my way to wherever without noticing the world and the people around me? This world is insane, and right now my daughter is recognizing it in small ways. In small ways that are far more profound than most of the serious discussions I have as an adult.

A number of factors pushed me to be reading Dostoevsky around this same time. His brilliant writing has helped me put my daughter’s simple insights into theological perspective. In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky reminds us through his idealized monk, Zosima:

“Look at the divine gifts around us: the clear sky, the fresh air, the tender grass, the birds, nature is beautiful and sinless, and we, we alone, are godless and foolish, and do not understand that life is paradise, for we need only wish to understand, and it will come at once in all its beauty, and we shall embrace each other and weep…”[1]

Of course, we can’t forget that the natural world is stained by sin as well. But Dostoevsky’s point is well taken: we live every day of our lives in a paradise that proclaims God’s glory. Take note.

Yet it’s not enough to notice the world around us. We must also love it as the good creation of God:

“Love all of God’s creation, both the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love animals, love plants, love each thing. If you love each thing, you will begin tirelessly to perceive more and more of it every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an entire, universal love.”[2]

So here’s what I learned this week. We shouldn’t get so caught up in our serious little grown-up world that we forget to acknowledge that we live in God’s grand, glorious, playful, and always surprising world. We do need to be serious. We do need to be mature. But let us not give up on the childlike vision that sees the world for what it is: a place saturated with the awe and mystery of the God who fashioned it. I have been trying to keep this in mind this week, and when I have any measure of success, it’s like a new and surprising world suddenly appears around me.

 

 


[1] Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990) 299.

[2] Ibid., 319.

Summer is traditionally vacation time, and if you haven’t already been there and back (as we have), you probably have your plans made. Tickets bought, itineraries confirmed, reservations made, packing lists checked. Vacations are wonderful times, or at least they can be, and needed breaks from the relentless pace of school and work. God certainly ordained periods of rest for us, from the weekly Sabbath to the Sabbath year every seven, to the year of Jubilee at the 50-year mark.

But are you the kind of person or family that inevitably can’t wait to get back to work so you can slow down and rest a bit? Are your vacations typically more hectic than the pace of everyday life?

We certainly fell prey to the beast of vacation busyness and activity in the past. We would hit the ground running, renting the car, driving hundreds of miles per day, stopping at every tourist destination we could, seeing the sights, hiking the trails, swimming in the pools, seeing family and friends, and so on ad nauseam. We thought we were doing good by coming home at least a day or two early so we could rest a bit before going back to work.

Granted, trips like that make great photo albums, tweets, and facebook updates. ‘Today we saw the Grand Canyon and 6 other parks whose names I can’t remember, swam in the hotel pool, worked out in the hotel gym, drove 8000 miles on Interstates.’ Impressive. Maybe. If that is our ‘vacation’ then I fear we are missing out on a great opportunity to ‘be still and know that He is God.’ After all, for a whole week, or two, we do not have to go to work, we can sleep in, and just chill (Caveat: I recognize how utterly irrelevant this is if you are the parents of small children, or other possible scenarios that render such an idealistic view of life as pure rubbish. My apologies. But I will press on anyway….). So why don’t we let ourselves ‘be still’?

We (My wife and I. Our kids are grown so the above caveat no longer applies to us. But we did take along two dogs.) recently spent two weeks on vacation. We ‘did’ very little. We sat around a lot. We read, took naps, talked a lot, prayed for many friends and family members, made dinner together. I worked hard at ‘being’ rather than ‘doing.’ One day I went outside and sat in a comfortable Adirondack chair. No book, no phone, no journal. Just sat. It was kind of hard to walk out like that, with nothing in my hands to ‘do.’ But I did. I was surrounded by Jeffrey Pine trees, and the wind was blowing that day as it often does in the mountains. As I sat and listened, I reflected on the thought that God is a God of sound (I wrote earlier  about how God is a God of color.). The wind reminded me of a symphony. I would hear it rise to a crescendo on my left, then as it died down, it began to build in front of me. It would whip itself into a frenzied fortissimo, and then suddenly drop off to a pianissimo. And then, ever so gently, the wind would hit a bush off to my right and jingle the leaves in a coda of percussion. It was amazing! ‘He rides on the wings of the wind; he makes his messengers winds…’ Psalm 104:3-4.

I heard God riding the winds that day. I think He said something like: I am here. I made the wind. I designed it so that the wind would make music as it swirls through the treetops. I am God.

It took several days of slowing down before I was able to sit still long enough to hear His ‘Wind-Blown Symphony.’ But how cool! No tickets, no parking fees, no crowds to fight, no regret over lousy seats, no traffic jams after leaving the concert hall. God was the Maestro, and I was an audience of one.

Now that is a vacation! Let me encourage you to build some ‘be still’ time into your schedule this summer. In fact, build it into your whole life, every week, every day.

‘Be still and know that I am God.’ – Psalm 46:10