Wednesday @ Westminster: God's Work of Creation

The story goes that there was an astronomer, a biologist, a cosmologist, a geologist, and a physicist who climbed the highest mountain in the world in order to collaborate on determining the origin of life. The astronomer measured the distance to the stars, the biologist examined the smallest life forms deep in the snow, the cosmologist asked the big picture questions, the geologist studied the carbon dating of the rocks, and the physicist determined the makeup of everything they walked on. When they finally got to the top, they were astonished. Sitting at the top was an old, bearded man, who said, “The name’s Moses. What took you so long?”
Creation is one of those revealed truths of Scripture, of which the world, in its unbelief, is “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7). Along with providence, creation is one of the ways God executes his eternal decrees. Here's how the Westminster Larger Catechism explains creation:
Q. 14. How doth God execute his decrees?
A. God executeth his decrees in the works of creation and providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will.
Q. 15. What is the work of creation?
A. The work of creation is that wherein God did in the beginning, by the word of his power, make of nothing the world, and all things therein, for himself, within the space of six days, and all very good.
As we turning to Genesis 1 and the magisterial text on creation, there are four areas concerning God’s work of creation that I would like to focus our minds and hearts upon.
Its Freedom
The Catechism speaks of God executing his decree of creation “according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will” (Q. 14). Have you ever noticed in reading Genesis 1 that the creation narrative just begins? There are no pre-conditions offered. There is no prologue. There is no preview of coming attractions. We simply read, “In the beginning God created.” What this way of beginning presupposes and reinforces is this: that God was totally free in his work of creation.
We see this poetically and powerfully presented in Scripture. The elders in heaven surround the throne of God and sing, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev. 4:11). After Job and his counselors had spoken, God asked, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4) In the midst of the Lord’s words to Cyrus, king of Persia, we read the divine words: “I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things” (Isa. 45:6–7).
Because the work of God in creation was a free work, one of the benefits this knowledge brings to us is that we can have confidence in God because everything he created was created exactly as he wanted it. Of course we live after creation and the fall, so everything now is tainted by sin. But still, we can be confident that because God is free, what happens to us is according to his plan. Our lives are working out just as he has ordained.
Its Power
We see God creating powerfully “by the word of his power” (Q&A 15; Ps. 33:6) all throughout the narrative of Genesis 1, as eight times we read, “And God said.” The Bible elsewhere uses other imagery such as God’s hand laying earth’s foundation (Ps. 102:25, 104:3; Isa. 48:13), of God’s measuring and laying earth’s cornerstone (Job 38:4–6), and of God’s using tools like calipers, tape-measures, buckets, and scales (Isa. 40:12; Jer, 31:27; Job 26:10, 38:4–7). As Proverbs 8:30 says, God was “like a master workman.” These are all figures to help us conceive of God creating. The reality is, though, that God did not exert himself as a construction worker. Instead, he merely had to speak in his almighty power.
We also see God’s power in creating in the fact that he created the heavens and earth “out of nothing” (Q&A 15). This is implied by Genesis 1:1. It is so important because many of the ancient creation myths taught that the gods used material that already existed, even the slain bodies of other gods. Our ancient church forefathers forcefully asserted this against ancient Greek and Roman philosophies that also taught the preexistence of matter. Why? Because to say God created out of pre-existing matter is to make matter co-eternal and co-divine with God. This is called pantheism, in which everything is divine. But the God of Scripture has no equal, no rival.
The power of God in creation is so beneficial to us weak sinners when we are struggling and suffering. If he could create the Milky Way galaxy and the thousands upon thousands of other galaxies, surely he can “work together [all things] for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). In the touching words of the Heidelberg Catechism, “he is able to do it, being Almighty God, and willing also, being a faithful Father” (Q&A 26).
Its Glory
God made everything “for himself” and “very good” (Q&A 15). We hear this in the refrain, “And God saw that it was good” (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25). We see it especially in the end of the narrative, where God reflects upon his work and pronounces his satisfaction: “And God saw everything that he had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). “The heavens” that he made “declare [his own] glory” (Ps. 19:1).
This knowledge benefits us. On practical way is that it causes us to recognize that we live coram Deo, before the face of God, moment by moment, day by day. We live within what John Calvin described as theatrum gloriae, the “theater of God’s glory” [Institutes, 1.5.8; 1.11.12; 1.14.20; 2.6.1). This leads us to pray to the God “unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid” that he would “cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of [his] Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love [him], and worthily magnify [his] holy Name” [Book of Common Prayer]. As we pray, we are led to slow down and take in the beauty of God’s world, giving thanks for all we see, all we hear, all we smell, all we touch, and all we taste.
Its Order
Finally, in reading narrative of creation in Genesis 1, we learn of its order. God made everything “within the space of six days” (Q&A 15). God was very deliberate in creating the heavens and the earth. Every day he made a different aspect. Why? As John Calvin commented, “I have said above, that six days were employed in the formation of the world; not that God, to whom one moment is as a thousand years, had need of this succession of time, but that he might engage us in the consideration of his works” (Commentary on Genesis 2:3).
And as we consider God’s orderly works, we are to remain humble. Christian theologians have for centuries discussed the days of creation and their order in terms of non-Christian philosophy. For example, when considering why there was light on the first day without the sun until the fourth day, Theophilus of Antioch said, “This was because God, who possesses foreknowledge, knew the follies of the vain philosophers. He knew that they were going to say that the things that grow on the earth are produced from the heavenly bodies. For in this way, the philosophers exclude God. Therefore, in order that the truth might be obvious, the plants and seeds were produced prior to the heavenly bodies.” (To Autolucus, 2.15) Martin Luther said, similarly, “We assert that Moses spoke in the literal sense, not allegorically or figuratively, i.e., that the world, with all its creatures, was created within six days, as the words read. If we do not comprehend the reason for this, let us remain pupils and leave the job of teacher to the Holy Spirit.” (Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 1–5, trans. George Schick, Luther’s Works, 55 vols. [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing, 1958], 1:5)
The importance of this for the Israelites, and for us, was that God was setting an example to follow, just as a good father sets an example for his children. God wants us to live an ordered life. He calls us to work for six days and then he gives us a day of rest. God’s free, powerful, glorious, and orderly work of creation is for our benefit, that we might be led to find our rest in him alone through Jesus Christ.
Danny Hyde