Christological creation – 4: before creation

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 God’s 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 fulfillment—to 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 beast—all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s 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.

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
This entry was posted in Creation, Music, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Christological creation – 4: before creation

  1. GD GD says:

    Lost another post. This shorter version may make it.

    Jon, You have stated you case well, but I ask the following: (1) just why would God create it all out of nothing? Did He get bored? Did He need worship – if so, He got a better version of this from Angels (until some of them got ideas).

    The glory, the power, and predenstnation/forknowledge, are all placed before the altar of God’s temple for one purpsoe; to create good human beings with the attributes of Christ. This is why the angels sing for joy whan a sinner repents – not to show why sin is there, but rather because another human being freely realised that it is good to turn away from sin and live a life according to God’s will.

    Thsi is the purpose, and this is why even Christ found it hard work to do what he did – to bring people to God who please Him as Christ did.

  2. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    GD – I suspect your longer posts are just timing out. If you get the red message, just press the “back” arrrow, refresh the page and try posting again.

    Regarding questions:

    (1) I refer you to the previous post, M’Lud. God doesn’t need anything, but praise and glory (as it were) increase the sum total of goodness. The flip side of that is that since he needs nothing, creation is for the good of those created, and so is the worship they can bring to him. So he creates because he loves (but loves each creation in its own way – his love for a wombat, a planet, a man, a sinner, an angel are all suited to their individual natures).

    The angels are, of course, a neglected (by us) part of creation. For reasons I’m unclear about, man, created a little lower than the angels, is created to be glorified above them. It’s better in eternity to be a man than an angel, perhaps because we may partake of the divine nature (a big theme in Orthodoxy, I believe). The purpose of angels, it seems, is primarily to assist people – I’ll post on that ASAP, mysterious though it is, and also on how, in its own way, creation is created for mankind.

    As you say, saving people is the toughest job – it’s that which required the Passion. So in terms of sheer cost, people are the most valuable part of the creation. Must get on writing that post!

  3. GD GD says:

    I don’t get any message and when I press the refresh or back arrow it does not recover the message. I think timing is probably the reson but also something with Explorer as it seems to reset itself – I see some message about spam?? In any event, I will type things in Word and paste from now on.

    I just wanted to ‘twig’ the teleology aspect of your posts – glory is fine but it may be given meanings that are irrelevant (back to terminology – I will blame Gregory for this!). The creation testifies to the Glory of God because we equate the beauty we see with the attributes of God. Yet when we consider matters such as hydrogen fusion in stars and ‘scientific explanations’, I think we begin to fudge and shuffle our feet regarding glory, power and how destructive some things appear to us. Just a comment for thought Jon.

  4. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Sorry you’re still having trouble posting. I hope WordPress software manages to remove the Word tags – if not, composing in Notepad may be the answer.

    Glory, in biblical terms, actually does have a lot to do with power, as well as beauty, both of them eliciting praise – check out Ps 29, for example. But as that shows, it all depends on right relationship with God, because the punch-line of the psalm is “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.”

    As C S Lewis (again) said, “Aslan is not safe – but he is good.”

    I suspect the reason people nowadays shy away from accepting God’s power is because it potentially impinges on our much-vaunted “freedom”, as indeed does the whole concept of God’s glory – we can’t be pre-eminent if he is. That’s just Adam’s problem, isn’t it? But my task in this series isn’t to fit God to people’s wishes, but to show how we need to respond to who he actually is as Creator.

  5. GD GD says:

    I find ‘freedom’ is used in so many ways that discussion is often pointless – my meaning is that God has created us with the capacity for freedom. This is not an easy concept to grasp, yet in my thinking, it begins to allow us to understand what the glory of God amounts to. Theologically I suspect people may have mixed feelings about freedom and predestination. Off course the counter is that we were predestined to be free – but that brings us back to God and freedom, instead of human beings and freedom.

    I am not as clear in my mind on ‘Adam’s problem; I take the view that Adam and Eve lacked the maturity to see the difference between two sides, even though they had God explaining things to them – a subject for discussion in itself.

  6. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    GD

    I’m not here considering “freedom” as opposed to “predestination”, but “freedom” as the right to oppose God rather than serving him freely: cf Romans 6.16-18.

    As for Adam, I admit my thought was more towards the Augustian perspective than the Irenaean, but the fact is the temptation was to disobey God’s clear command in order to become like him.

  7. GD GD says:

    Rom 6:23 is the central theme here; before sin, I see us as having God ordained freedom to choose, but we are ‘held captive’ by factors which we may not fully understand (Rom 6:1-4) and also Paul’s own example, in that before the law came he was not conscious of sin (Rom 4:15, and other verses) all show us that it is sin that is the problem, and the glory of God is to be faithful, lawful and also show grace. Once again, I see freedom that God originaly granted to humanity, and will again grant it, but now with justice as well as grace.

  8. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    GD

    Yup, we’re pretty much agreed on that – lots of discussion over the centuries of the nature of the captivity to sin (Luther and Calvin notable amongst them, but it’s there as early as Irenaeus too). Both saw it as still being compatible with free-will – the point being that, in one sense, “freedom” is never completely indeterminate, but is the freedom to choose whom you serve.

Comments are closed.