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God is Creator of Everything

In a previous post in my series on Christian view on origins, Biblical Doctrine of Creation, I listed six elements of a Biblical doctrine of creation. I need to specify this more precisely as a Biblical doctrine of creation based on the Christian Bible and on one or another Christian approach to Biblical interpretation.

Excursus – What is Biblical?

Very often debates on whether any particular doctrine is Biblical founder on the fact that people are using different approaches to interpretation, and thus a text that applies in one way in one person’s argument means something completely different to the other, simply because of a different approach to interpretation. Since this is so important as I start discussing a Biblical doctrine of creation, let me give a simple example.

In Matthew 5:17 Jesus says, “Don’t think that I have come to destroy the law and the prophets. I have not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” Now I interpret this text to mean that Jesus came to bring the law to fruition, that is to give it its deeper meaning, something defined by the texts that follow indicating a new way to look at various laws. Murderous anger is now like murder, lust like adultery, and so forth. In each case Jesus discusses the motive. I see these as examples of how Jesus invites his followers to look at the law.

Now some people will say that Matthew 5:17 means that Jesus came to put an end to the law by keeping all of it, and would not see the following instructions as examples of that, but as a separate topic. When Jesus died, according to these folks, taking the penalty of the law, he removed the law and now we live by the Spirit. Others hold that since all of the preaching of Jesus was given to the Jews, the moral instructions of this chapter only apply to Jews. Christians belong to the church age, and are under grace. Somewhere in there most Christians will have found an approach to interpreting Matthew 5:17 that resonated with them, and may feel that the alternatives are quite weird. (I might not have included your view, and I certainly oversimplified them all.)

Those differences in interpretation illustrate what I mean when I say that everyone approaches Bible study within some kind of interpretational matrix, and that if yours matrix is different from mine, we can debate about the matrix (or paradigm), but likely we’ll just degenerate into yelling if we try to argue what is “Biblical” and what is not based on completely different interpretational matrices. In the first three chapters of his book Faith, Form, and Time, Kurt Wise builds a case for a literal reading of the Bible in general and the early chapters of Genesis in particular. Thus he believes in a literal creation week of 24 hour days, patriarchs who literally lived hundreds of years, and a worldwide flood with all creatures preserved on the ark. For him this is Biblical, and any view holding that these materials are not narrative history, but rather are of other literary genres and thus should be understood very differently, would be unbiblical. For me, on the other hand, Wise’s view is not Biblical, because he is reading genres such as liturgy, myth, and legend as narrative history, and thus makes them mean things that are inappropriate to those genres.

Note that the doctrine of inerrancy is not at issue here. While I do not accept the doctrine of inerrancy, there are theistic evolutionists who do. The issue is intent. An inerrantist can read the book of Jonah and determine that it is not historical. How is this possible? Because if he determines that the genre is “edifying story” it is not an error that the book is not historical. One doesn’t test a work of fiction based on whether the characters in it actually existed and did the things described. (For a connection of this same concept to the book of Daniel, see Dating the Book of Daniel.)

So keep in mind as I discuss these various views that when I discuss how each view handles the Biblical materials relating to a particular doctrine, I’m considering their approach to interpretation. I’m not trying to say that all views are Biblical; I’m simply pointing out how each group relates its view to the Biblical material.

Creator of Everything

Major passages: Genesis 1:1-2:4a, Psalm 104:24, Hebrews 1:2, Romans 11:33-36, Isaiah 45:7.

Most of these passages are quite self-explanatory in connection with this topic, though they are subject to different interpretations in terms of how and when God created. The key common element is that nothing is attributed in Christianity (or Judaism as I understand it) to any entity other than God. There are some points in Christian theology in which negative results have occurred in creation based on the activities of hostile entities. It is common, for example, for Christians to credit Satan with the “creation” of evil.

The problem here is the understanding of God’s responsibility for the actions of creatures with free will. Many Christians remove God from responsibility for evil simply by attributing it to Satan. But Satan himself is a created being, again according to the Bible. (Note here that this statement is a bit loose, as the doctrine of Satan is not clearly fixed, especially in Hebrew scriptures.) In general, however, if someone makes something that causes damage, one is regarded as responsible for that damage. If I light a fire in my back yard, and then don’t control it, and it burns out of control and damages my neighbor’s yard, I cannot claim that the fire is responsible but I am not.

That is not quite analogous to our case, however, because God is creating a creature that can choose what behavior it will engage in. Nonetheless, God created a creature who was capable of becoming evil, and thus set in motion the process of evil coming into existence. While most of the texts I listed simply speak of God creating everything, one text is more specific.

7Forming the light,
Creating the darkness,
Making well-being,
Creating disaster,
I YHWH do {or make} all these things.

There is some debate about the word I have translated “disaster” and the KJV translates “evil.” Some people think this alternate translation solves the problems. But this passage is actually using two words indicating the extremes in order to include everything between. No matter how light it is or how dark it is, God is the one who made it. No matter how good things get or how bad they get, God is the one who made it. God is absolutely the creator of everything. We may look for excuses (Satan did all the bad stuff), but God is not looking for such excuses. According to the Bible, he readily claims responsibility for the creation of everything.

This doesn’t mean that I’m unaware of texts speaking of the devil. It does mean that I see the Bible as ultimately attributing all creative activity to God. For some reasons (best know to God, presumably), God created entities that were capable of evil, and gave them the freedom to exercise that option.

In my view all of the Christian views of origins potentially fulfill this first requirement. Some Christians use the concept of the devil to avoid divine responsibility, but one can’t even make a generalization there, as many do not.

Nonetheless, thestic evolutionists are frequently accused of not seeing God as the creator of everything, but rather of maintaining that all living things are produced by evolution, and thus not created by God. This accusation is itself unbiblical.

It’s clear (I think) to both creationists of all varieties as well as to evolutionists that there are things in the world that come into existence on a regular basis. (I’m leaving stellar evolution for a later article discussing whether God is still creating.) For example, a new island might be formed by a volcanic eruption. I recall a visit to Crater Lake in Oregon, which was formed in only moments ago geologically speaking. Would any Christian claim that the lake and islands are not created by God?

But the text of Isaiah gets very specific on this by calling God the creator of Israel (Isaiah 43:15). Now God clearly did not create Israel out of nothing. Rather, their ancestors were called, went through the normal processes of population growth, migration, and conquest, and eventually became the people to whom the message of 2nd Isaiah was proclaimed. Thus God is still the creator even of things that are produced through natural processes. Finally, let me mention every human baby, and in fact every form of new life, all of which is a creation of God, even though it is the result of natural processes.

That is the first element of a Biblical doctrine of creation, and I believe that all of the views of creation we have discussed so far are consistent with it.

For other entries in this series see Post Series.

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