Natural Theology: The Design of Creation
Genesis 1-2 reveals that God created in an orderly way and a cosmic order with everything having a function based on what he created it to be. In other words, when we use the phrase “the design of creation” we ought to understand the word “creation” as both a noun and a verb. Creation refers not only to what God created, but his act of creating. And in both uses of the term we can speak of their being design. God’s design reveals God.
Psalm 19:1-6 and Romans 1:20-21 tell us that what God created reveals him. All creation reveals the only living and Triune God. The implications of this are massive and obviously a short blog post cannot explore them all. Let’s look at perhaps the most important ones that should govern our thinking and living.
First, we can and must speak of an objectivity to creation, and our knowledge of its various objects. This objectivity is unavoidably joined to a subjective experience as personal rational beings. Thus, objectivity and subjectivity are inseparably related. Now, what precisely we affirm regarding the objective nature of particular realities and how they relate to our subjective experience of them is certainly an important and large issue with multiple facets to it. But, we will make no progress in arriving at a correct understanding of these issues and their many facets if we think and act as if no such objectivity exists, or obligates us to think and act in any particular way. Among other things, this means that every aspect of the physical creation is what it is regardless of how we or anyone else feels about it or chooses to relate to it. Time and space are created realities. Maleness and femaleness are created realities. According to God’s written word, we are obligated to think about and act in relation to all creation in the way that God’s word requires based on what his word reveals. Our choices and feelings do not determine what the created realities are.
Second, Scripture reveals that it is not just Scripture itself that reveals God. Creation reveals God and not just to Christians. All people know some true things about the only living and true God. According to Romans 1:18-32, it is the very reason why we have no reasonable or justified excuse for our sin (v. 20). The term Paul uses in v. 20 to express this absence of excuse is a form of the word from which we derive the word apologetics. Except the term Paul uses communicates that the unrepentant sinner has no apologetic, or rational explanation for their sin. Paul is not saying that people do not try and justify their sin. He certainly knew many people who tried to justify their sin. Paul himself had tried to justify his sin. Paul’s point in Romans 1 is that because God is truly, actually revealed in creation, and all people are God’s creatures inseparably joined to God’s creation, they therefore have no rational excuse or justification for their sin. After all, it’s not only things like the sun, moon, oceans and mountains that reveal God, but also human beings. Every human being carries within themselves, as a human being, the revelation of God. This is so masterfully expressed and explained by John Calvin at the beginning of his Institutes of the Christian Religion. The brevity of this post does not allow exploration of it here, but I commend its reading to you.
Thirdly, God’s design in the act of creation reveals, among other things, that there is an essential unity and diversity of, or in, creation. God created distinct realities that are fundamentally united. He, as the Triune God, three persons in one being, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has revealed his very nature and power in this unity and diversity. Herein is the fundamental nature of all human knowledge. Recognizing what is true about the distinction of one reality from another, or several realities, while also recognizing how they are inseparably united is of the essential nature of human knowledge. While many in the church are busy trying to decide the duration of the creation days, perhaps we should spend a lot more time recognizing that the seminal point revealed in Genesis 1-2 is that there is a distinction between the days and what God created on each day, even as there is a unity among them. God’s design of creation reveals the systematic, theological and personal nature of all knowledge.
One of the ways to understand the very nature of non-Christian thinking and living is that it affirms that people must do that which God has already done, is doing and will do. According to what Scripture and creation reveal, do you and I have to integrate human faith and reason, or do we have to learn and discern the ways human faith and reason have been integrated by God because of what God created them to be? Did human sin bring an utterly new reality, or did it damage and distort the one created by God? According to Scripture, is God relying upon us to cure and correct the damage and distortion that is sin? Or is God at work causing people to receive his cure and correction so that we have to rely and wait upon him, receiving what he alone gives in his time and way, even as we act in obedience to what he has commanded?
Many, even in the church, are busy thinking that they have to choose to do all sorts of things in life that in fact have already been forced upon us by God in his creating things to be what they are and his accomplishing and applying salvation. Are we learning from God’s design of creation or listening to the mantras of a culture trying to ignore God’s design?
David P. Smith (Ph.D.) is the author of B. B. Warfield's Scientifically Constructive Theological Scholarship (Wipf & Stock) and co author with Ronald Hoch of Old School, New Clothes: The Cultural Blindness of Christian Education Wipf & Stock). David is Pastor of Covenant Fellowship A.R.P. Church in Greensboro, North Carolina.