19 November 2009

Grateful for the revealed Creator/creation distinction (Thanks from Genesis 1:1, part two)

by Dan Phillips

[Sorry, the RefTagger program messes up the title. In this second Valerie-inspired series on thankfulness, we stay with Genesis 1:1.]

As I observed last time, when Moses writes "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth," he is asserting that God's first creative act was producing the universe out of nothing. This truth is jam-packed with meaning. We shouldn't rush past it too hastily.

We know for a fact, then, that everything was created from nothing by Someone. That Someone — the infinite-personal God revealed in Scripture — thus stands apart from, above and beyond every created thing. Genesis 1:1 is Genesis 1:1; it is not 1:1b. It is not preceded by a verse detailing the origin of God.

Why not? Because it is the nature of God to be without origin. God alone is the Uncaused Cause. Think of it this way: there are two orders of things in the universe — caused, and uncaused. In the former column stretches a vast, almost endless list detailing every created thing. In the latter column, one entry alone: God.  As Moses himself would later sing,
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God (Psalm 90:2)
That teaches us something vital, then, about all creation. It is all contingent. It all depends on something else for its origin. Nor is it surprising that it all continues to be contingent, depending on something else for its continued existence (cf. Colossians 1:17; I develop this theme more in this conference session). It is temporal, passing, evanescent (Psalm 102:25-26; Isaiah 34:4; 40:6-8).

But all those facts teach us corollary truths about the Creator. Unlike creation, He is unconditioned and non-contingent, depending on nothing for His being nor continuance (Exodus 3:14; Psalm 90:2; 102:27; John 8:58; Hebrews 13:8). He is supreme above all, in every sense.

All these "theological" truths bear very practical fruit. They tell me verities I desperately need to know, or I literally do not know the first thing necessary to make sense of Life, the Universe, much less All That.
  1. I should not live for any created thing. All things are on the same plane, with a few variations: money, pleasure-in-things/experiences, fame, influence. All things are just things, and all things are temporary, contingent, secondary (at best). No created thing is sufficiently weighty, stable, significant, nor worthy to give ultimate meaning nor purpose. All will pass away, as will all who live for them (1 John 2:16-17a).
  2. I should live for the Creator. Meaning and significance are not to be located in the effects, but in the Cause; not in the tributaries, but in the fountainhead. I should hold Him chief in my mind from my youth (Ecclesiastes 12:1), because I will only learn my design from my Designer. Neglect that, and I will live a meaningless, trivial, wasted life, no matter what I do.
  3. I should not live in fear of any created thing. None is ultimate. No matter how fierce, powerful, nor forceful, there is One who transcends them. Like me, they are contingent. Like me, they are limited. Like me, they can be bested. What's more, the worst they can do to me is kill me.
  4. I should live in fear of the Creator. The worst a creature can do is kill me, but the Creator can do far worse to me (Matthew 10:28). Unlike creatures, the Creator is unconditioned, relentless, unlimited, incapable of being bested. The buck always stops with Him. (Besides, whether a creature kills me or not is the Creator's call, anyway.)
  5. In sum, the center of my life must be the knowledge, worship and service of the Creator, not the creature. Miss that, and I miss life, period: I am fatally off-target as to the meaning of myself, of my world, and of others. I'm like someone who thinks The Lord of the Rings is all about this forgetful innkeeper named Butterbur, or that A Christmas Carol centers around the tale of a woman named Fezziwig, married to a generous business owner. These are minor, peripheral characters — focus on them, and I've missed the whole story. Focus on creation rather than Creator, and I've missed the whole story, and far more beside.

To this day, vast millions and even billions have "exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever" (Romans 1:25). Of course I mean the animists, of course I mean the polytheists and the idolaters — but no less do I mean the youth-worshipers, the health-worshipers, the trend-worshipers, the image-worshipers, and the sex-worshipers; the Greens, the Reds; the eco-fascists and the evo-fascists.

And so, from Genesis 1:1, I thank God for the stark and clear revelation of the Creator/creature distinction. In that light alone can I make sense of life, and find my place by finding His face.

Thus we can —
Know that the LORD, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture (Psalm 100:3)

Thank God!

Dan Phillips's signature


olan strickland said...

But all those facts teach us corollary truths about the Creator. Unlike creation, He is unconditioned and non-contingent, depending on nothing for His being nor continuance.

God doesn't need me? :)

Romans 11:33-36

Jared Reed said...

Thanks for the post Dan,

Just last night my four year old asked me this question:
"Daddy, how old is God?"
I said,
"He is older than everything."
He comes back, (wanting a number)
"yeah, but how OLD is He?"
I tried my original answer again, and (surprise) it didn't work. So, finally said,
"He is the beginning."
To which my son said, "ok Daddy" (?)
I am thankful for the opportunity (Lord willing)to finish this conversation over the rest of my lifetime.

olan strickland said...

Btw Dan, the truth of this post, that we are contingent and God is non-contingent, is precisely why we are to magnify Him with thanksgiving - Psalm 69:30.

Our giving God thanksgiving puts us in the place of beneficiary and God as benefactor; us as receivers and God as giver and our only source; and us as needy and God as necessary.

He increases - we see Him as great as He really is - and we decrease - we see ourselves as insignificant as we really are.

James Scott Bell said...

Without Gen. 1:1, nothing in this life can make sense, have ultimate meaning, or require moral behavior.

It's sort of important.

David Regier said...

Didn't that one scholar lady prove that this position was untenable a few weeks ago?

I mean, she said so.

trogdor said...

It truly is counter-cultural to celebrate the fact that we're not God, when all of human nature consists of trying to be.

Only one being can say "I am" on the basis that He is.

Penn Tomassetti said...

Honoring God as God

and being thankful to Him

are directly connected (Romans 1:21).

Penn Tomassetti said...

To me, that seemed to be what you were making the point of.

Great post again! Thanks.

SandMan said...

For those keeping score at home:
(5pm EST)

Combined Comments:

Gambling 360
Thankfulness to our Creator 44

Dan, thank you for your preparatory work on this post. It is truly a blessing to read someone else's depth of thought on the subject of the glory of our God. These are things I never would have considered on my own.

Paul D said...

I'm with Sandman - true blessing to see such thoughts from Gen 1:1.

On the down side, I had to look up evanescent to distinguish it from effervescent which answered my only question.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

Thank you for this, Dan. It was really, really good.

Besides the Bible, I would recommend a book by A.W. Pink, "The Attributes of God." I am sure many here have read it. It is so much in line with what you have written here.

Awesome article!!!


Stefan Ewing said...

Thank God not only for His revealed truth in Genesis 1:1, but for His gifts of intelligible human speech and writing, translation, and millennia-old writing technologies that have bequeathed us in A.D. 2009 with words first written down some 3450 years ago.

I'm with SandMan and Paul D, but the Lord has beset both my wife and me with hugely testing challenges this week. After the heaviness of the series on gambling and the weighty truths of this post, I desparately need something equally sanctifying, but a little lighter.

Verification word "aporc." "A porc" is a levitically unclean animal that, "though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted, yet he cheweth not the cud."

Stefan Ewing said...

...But none of what I just wrote is meant to take away from this excellent post at all, of course.

To the triune God alone, our Creator, Judge, and Redeemer, belongs all glory.