I said last time that the creation, like all things, was ultimately for the purpose of bringing glory to God. But there’s more to that than either just the making of many wonderful things, or the forming of rational creatures to worship him, though both those things are true. There’s a verse that gives us our first clue to how this creation will glorify God:
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. (Col 1.15-16)
We’ve already seen the role of the Logos as the Father’s means of creating all things, and so how they were created through him. But what does it mean to say that they were created for him? That has the character of a gift from the Father to the Son. But it’s tempting to ask “What can you give the God who has everything?” Let’s remind ourselves of the words of John: “What God was, the Word was.” As the Westminster Confession, a good statement of Christian classical theism, puts it:
God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of himself; and is alone in and unto himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which he hath made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory in, by, unto, and upon them.
In that light, the creation as a gift to the Son seems a bit like the gadget that never leaves its box after Christmas. After all, what would the Son do with it, especially since he put it together himself? There is, in fact, a collection of Scriptures that begin to shed light on the matter:
We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare Gods wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. (1 Cor 2.6-7)
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight… he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillmentto bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. (Eph 1.4,9)
…the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Eph 3.9-11)
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. (1 Pet 1.18-19)
All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beastall whose names have not been written in the Lambs book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world. (Rev 13.8)
Many of these passages are cited in discussions about predestination. But they have as much, or more, to say about christology and creation. For they tell us that before anything existed Christ was chosen by his Father to rule “all things in heaven and earth”, but to do so by subduing some future “rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms”, by bringing people to glory (I would argue specific human people), through making himself a willing sacrificial victim. All that, remember, before there was anything at all to rule, subdue, bring to glory or die for (even had death existed). It’s no wonder that Rev 14.6 speaks of the gospel as “eternal”. We need, therefore, to comprehend that the giving of himself to death was the very basis on which the Logos brought about the Creation. Some Christmas present! And yet Jesus himself has words to say about this:
Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” (Jn 17.24)
Bear in mind that Jesus here refers not only to the glory from which he came to earth, but also the greater glory that comes to him through his Incarnation and Passion. The creation project, then, was not merely the making of a Universe for Christ, but the making of a rational creation that would sin, be redeemed by the death of the incarnate Son, and be transformed into a cosmic kingdom in which all things give glory and obedience to the King – the God-man Jesus Christ. One might even reverently conjecture that the physical creation in this “consummation kingdom” becomes a rather suitable, if belated, gift for the physical enjoyment of Christ in his human nature.
How much did the Son foreknow of all this? That he was “in on the plan” is undoubted, and a couple of Old Testament references confirm it, ie Psalm 2 and Ps 40.6 (in the variant quoted in Hebrews 10). But God’s knowledge is within himself, eternally. One hardly needs to make the effort to oppose that to the Open Theism crowd’s “God like us only cleverer”: if God plans the entire creation in the light of the offering of his Son, as the means to bring it to the final purpose he has for it, then it can hardly be contingent on the unpredictable vagaries of an as-yet uncreated history of the Universe. That’s why Christ is “the Lamb slain from the creation of the world”, not just the Lamb who foresees he will (possibly) be slain. The Godhead knows fully the suffering of Christ, its causes and its results, from eternity. And he creates all things accordingly.
That this means that human sin and suffering, grace and judgement were built into the original creation plan in some way should not be too surprising. Aquinas, and not just the theodicists of theistic evolution, suggested that to be saved from sin was a greater good than never to have sinned. Yet it should not be supposed that such a consideration would mean that God designed a humanity bound to fail, whether through an error-prone evolutionary process or through a human nature created with a skew towards sin. Rather we read that this whole plan remained “kept hidden within God” (Eph 3.9) until Christ came. “None of the rulers of this age understood it” (1 Cor 2.8 – almost certainly Paul mainly has in mind heavenly powers and authorities), and “even angels long to look into these things.” (1 Pet 1.12). As Paul summarises:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?
Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Rom 11.34-36)
Now all this is hard to comprehend in the context of our daily existence of free choices, suffering and evil. That’s why it was a mystery that required divine revelation at the right time. But in order to see it as good (remembering Gen 1.31), we must start with Jesus, who says the Father planned it because he loved him. And it brought him glory through his being able to demonstrate, in his flesh, the love and justice of the Father whom he also loves. That love in turn brings his “sheep” to glory, and causes them to love and worship him, which consequently redounds to the glory of God by increasing their love for their Father.
That whole nexus of love is the basis on which creation, seen as an eternal plan, was conceived and brought into being. The creation itself is good, and worthy in itself of being appreciated and loved, which is also to the glory of God. And perhaps it also reflects the sacrificial love by which it was created, in the relationships of living things (though we can only understand how this is fitting, rather than scandalous, by God’s revelation of nature’s joyful submission to his will, since we cannot experience life as the irrational creatures do). Of that, perhaps, more in another post.
Incidentally, the fact that the mystery of the Incarnation was for so long hidden within the Godhead should make us cautious about attributing creation to “the crucified God”. Despite God’s dwelling in eternity, it seems there was no risen Savious in heaven then – I’ll leave others to sort out the temporal conundrum. It’s not that suffering has somehow changed God, but that the kind of God who was willing to become man to suffer was eternally our Creator. It’s an important difference.
Is the self-giving love of Christ a good thing? It seems to be the one thing on which Christians are agreed. So it must affect our view of creation to know that it was from that love, and for that love, that our world and everything in it was made. We may need to step back and take into account that the act of creation is not finished yet, but we should not think about its being redeemed apart from the knowledge that even the first creation was made by, and for, the redeeming love of the Lamb, slain from the creation of the world.
They didn’t teach you that in biology class.