December 14, 2017

The God who continues his creative work

Beginning and End, George Stefanescu-Ramnic

Beginning and End, George Stefanescu-Ramnic

I finally ordered a book I’ve wanted to read for a long time, Terence Fretheim’s God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation. I started it last night and am already finding rich material for contemplation.

In God and World, Fretheim is not just emphasizing the early chapters of Genesis, nor even OT texts that speak explicitly of God creating. No, he sees “creation” as a theme which pervades the very fabric of the Hebrew Bible.

Explicit creational interests occur in every corner of the Old Testament, including in every major tradition, from early to late, including the priestly, Exodus, Sinai, Royal-Zion, and prophetic traditions, and in numerous echoes and allusions. They also occur in most types of literature: poetry and prose, laments and hymns of praise, narratives and Wisdom poems, prophetic oracles and apocalyptic visions.

The first question he asks, therefore, is “To what does ‘creation’ refer?” Fretheim finds three broad categories — “three interrelated points of reference: the beginning and the end of the world and the times in between.”

  • Originating creation
  • Continuing creation
  • Completing creation

In contemporary discussions about the subject, most of the debate focuses on the first point: God the Maker of heaven and earth, the One of whom it is said: By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, And by the breath of His mouth all their host” (Psalm 33:6).

But it is the second category that gets my attention here. Terence Fretheim’s summary is worth repeating in toto here as a source of rich meditation today on the One who continues to renew his creation.

Creation is not simply past; it is not just associated with “the beginning.” God does not cease to be the Creator when the work of Genesis 1– 2 has been completed nor is God thereafter reduced to the role of creative manager. With reference to Ps 104: 30, Anderson rightly claims that the verb used for originating creation in Genesis 1– 2 (ba-ra-‘) here refers to continuing creation: “Creation is not just an event that occurred in the beginning, at the foundation of the earth, but is God’s continuing activity of sustaining creatures and holding everything in being.” While generally helpful, such a statement raises two issues:

(a) To say that God holds “everything in being” claims too much, as does Anderson’s assertion that, were it not for the reality that “the Creator sustains the world, it would lapse back into primeval chaos.” Rather, several texts witness to God’s having established the basic and dynamic infrastructure of the world once and for all, guaranteed by a divine promise (Gen 8: 22; 9: 8-17; see Jer 31: 35-37; 32: 17-26). God does not, say, make a daily decision to sustain the creation. Because God keeps promises, the future of the creation is assured without particular divine action to that end. God created a reliable and trustworthy world and, while God will be pervasively present (see below), God lets the creation be what it was created to be, without micromanagement, tight control, or interference every time something goes wrong. At the same time, one must not translate a reliable creation into a fixed and static system. Elements of unpredictability and open-endedness, what Eccl 9: 11 calls “chance,” are an integral dimension of the ways things work in God’s creation. Not everything has been predetermined; genuine novelty is possible in God’s world, both for God and for God’s creatures. And, as Genesis 3 soon informs us, God’s creation does not preclude creaturely possibilities that are negative, even anticreational.

(b) As we have noted, continuing creation is often associated only with preserving/ sustaining the world. While creation may entail preservation in the broadest sense of the term, that word can be misleading, as if it had the sense of preserving creation just as it was “in the beginning” (a “finished product”). Continuing creation cannot be restricted to that understanding; it also refers to the development of the creation through time and space, to the emergence of genuinely new realities in an increasingly complex world. God’s continuing creative work is both preserving and innovative. Anderson, too, will make a more inclusive claim: “the Creator not only sustains the order of the cosmos but, more than that, does the ‘new thing’ that surprises all expectations (see Isa 42: 9; 43: 18-19).”

This continuing creative activity means that God has an ongoing relationship to the world as a Creator, and that relationship, by virtue of who God is, brings into being that which is “new” again and again. God not only continues to care for the creation and provide for its needs, as important as that is, but God also continues to create the genuinely new. God’s continuing creative activity enables the becoming of the creation. That Isaiah 40– 55, for example, can so readily use the language of creation for God’s salvific action in the return from exile is a specific manifestation of God’s continuing creative work between the beginning and the end (e.g., Isa 41: 20). The language used for this action of God is “a new thing” (Isa 42: 9; 43: 19; 48: 6; see also Jer 31: 22, “the LORD has created a new thing on the earth”). The language of divine birthing in Second Isaiah (e.g., Isa 42: 14; 49: 19-21) is further witness that something genuinely new is brought into being.

As we have noted, creation, while centered in the physical world in many ways, has to do with the continuing activity of God in all spheres of life whereby the world, often threatened by the presence of sin and evil, is ordered, maintained, evaluated, and renewed. Generally speaking, those spheres of life include the historical, social, political, and economic— everything that is important for the best life possible for all. “The whole thrust of the Old Testament proclamation guards against any flight into a beyond which is turned away from the world.” The broad understanding of creation in ancient Israel was crucial for such a purpose; it helped assure a fundamental earthiness, a down-to-earth understanding of the faith that was related to life as it was actually lived rather than a faith centered in a spiritualistic, futuristic, or sentimental piety.

Moreover, continuing creation is not a neutral reality, as if it were only a matter for God to throw the switches and grease the wheels. God’s continuing creation is as “good” as the original creation, pursued and shaped by fundamentally gracious purposes. Continuing creation has to do with the ongoing development of those earthly conditions that are most conducive to the flourishing of life in view of new times and places. Given the realities of sin and evil, such continuing creational activity will not proceed without significant opposition. But God will be creatively at work in the often tragic effects of such overt and covert resistance, unrestingly seeking to bring “good” out of evil, to liberate the captives and to build up communities.

Such understandings of continuing creation also have implications for our view of the human being. The human is not a fixed entity from the beginning but, along with the rest of creation, is in the process of becoming. The human is not somehow exempted from ever new developments taking place in the larger creation. Creation as a whole is open to a future in which the genuinely new can be brought into being, and human beings are among the creatures that are creatively affected. Moreover, human beings are invited to play an important role in the becoming of such a world. Indeed, as we shall see, the texts will speak of God using both human and nonhuman creatures in this ongoing creative activity and such creaturely participation will not be inconsequential. To put that point positively, the creative activity of the human, in particular, has the potential of significantly enhancing the ongoing life of the world and every creature therein, indeed, bringing into being that which is genuinely new.

• Terence Fretheim
from God and World in the OT, chapter one

Comments

  1. Thought question – if, as Mr. Fretheim says, God’s goal and plan has always been that “the creative activity of the human, in particular, has the potential of significantly enhancing the ongoing life of the world and every creature therein, indeed, bringing into being that which is genuinely new”, why is it, then, that the cultures, theologies, and thought patterns of the vast majority of Judaism and Christianity throughout history have been profoundly, and stubbornly, conservative?

    • Robert F says:

      If they were really so conservative, how is that we’ve ended in a place where there are so many radically different expressions of Christianity? And how is that Judaism has unfolded such an enormous corpus of written and oral laws, which, while in one sense conserving, is also very creative?

      • Interesting. I have thought for awhile now that what is typically labelled as “conservative” is actual just a different type of liberal. The expression of culture, theology, and thought pattern (as Eeyore puts it) must necessarily be adapted in some way for present use, which means some type of creativity is going on.

        For Christians and Jews, and any with a faith rooted in history, it might be that it’s impossible to remain distinctly within that faith without relentlessly pointing to the past as some kind of reference point for the present. Conservatives are known for doing this, and at least that far they’re correct, my opinion. What conclusions they come to is a different story. Liberals may do this too, but that part of their thinking is not exactly “liberal.” Which is probably why I’ve concluded that those labels have little to no use at this point.

        Now a true “Sadduceean” conservative, one that refuses any introduction of new ideas with which to build on the old world (and ‘word’), while they may exist, is probably rendered irrelevant very quickly. Perhaps such movements die out too quickly to gain a real foothold, since practical human living seems to require that if something is valuable, it better be valuable for the real world in which we find ourselves.

        May be all this is a good example of what the theology of “already, not yet” is trying to get at. We already have what we need, and yet we constantly have to reapply what we have, in order to drive towards a better future.

        • StuartB says:

          There’s a great irony that the most “liberal” of churches today are “conservative” from the standpoint of being around the longest…so arguably have had the most time to follow and learn Jesus’ teachings.

        • Danielle says:

          Yes.

          One thing I really like about the concept of ongoing creation, both divine and human, is that it appears to me to describe much better the way reality actually is. People commonly appeal to ‘unchanging’ ideas in order to ground their favorite ideas in something solid and unassailable, like God’s mind and will; if I may tip my hat to yesterday’s post, this is also why people call particular things “natural.” Here is something beyond me, here is something firm; it is good, don’t mess with it, or you are adulterating it.

          But I’ve never been able to see how the mental and physical universe in which we live is anything but an act of dynamic, continual creation. If an idea persists across time, it is because it is proving useful and getting rearticulated and reexplained by successive generations or civilizations. Look too closely, and you’ll find it is also morphing and shifting, at least subtly. I wonder if it is even possible for an idea to be useful, and totally unchanging or unapplied. Likewise the natural world is the result of natural processes that currently taking place around us, on which and within which different forces and creatures – us included – are acting. Tipping my hat to yesterday’s discussion, “natural law” makes little sense to me if one wishes to invoke it to mean, “a solid and immovable principle capable of guiding civilization now and forever.” “Nature” is dynamic, conditional, contextual. Civilization springs from our interaction with nature and our creation of something new.

          Examples of creation:
          -Human beings create a set of rituals and rules surrounding copulation that seem to promote humane values and provides greater success in rearing children;
          -Morally troubled by the notion of “extra” children languishing for want of care or being killed — a supremely “natural” process that had been working for time untold; evolution loves a surfeit of offspring– people invent institutional structures for taking care of minors and other vulnerable people;
          -Noticing that optimal humane/moral results are achieved when people can match family size to resources, someone invents means of actively managing human fertility;
          -A village medicine man notices that a particular herb seems to curb infection, and begins to make use of it;
          -A scientist gets tired of several thousand people dying each year of a communicable disease and retreats to his lab, where he creates a vaccine.
          -A poet puts into words a feeling or problem that people couldn’t quite articulate before;
          -A teacher or writer figures out how to frame moral thinking in such a way that a new problem becomes apparent and new social rules become feasible

          If we make all prior arrangements holy, we get opposition to forming new social arrangements, to using new methods or technologies, or to accepting a new idea. Some skepticism here is good, because not all new developments can pass muster. But this impulse can also get in our way.

          This is why I do not care much for invocations of God or “Nature” / “natural” that assert that a prior act of creation or arrangement of the world is holy and perfect, so that any amendment to it is corrupting or polluting. It seems to be that there is nothing more natural than an intelligent creature looking around at its environment and thinking about it how to create, to achieve it ends, perhaps even to make its universe “better”. Human civilization will always meddle with “Nature” (as it exists) – in fact, much of what animals do ‘manipulates’ it as well – and that, I submit, is nature itself showing is true colors. The world isn’t static but full of action, thought and change. Maybe if we were more charitable toward other creatures, and didn’t narrowly define thought as human, we’d find a world full of dog-thought and tulip-thought, alongside our own. You think you own your dog and tulip bed, and bred them to please you: maybe, but they’ve also been conspiring for hundreds of years to make you nurture and protect them. You just spent half a Saturday dog-walking and gardening, did you? In the hot sun? Who is the schmuck here?

          I realize I’m free-wheeling, so let me bring track back to the original point: Religion frequently tends to have a conservative impulse, because people always want to ground established ideas in God to give them authority. That is not entirely bad, because often established ideas are established ideas because they are working and deserve respect. There has to be a center, some stability; people have learned to be suspicious of what is new because that survival tactic frequently works. Unfortunately, this can also mean that religion trips on its own feet, or receives a lot of blame when it appears to be getting in the way of new solutions.

          This is never the whole picture, however. Religion is often creative – and aspiring – as well. There are so many examples of both tendencies at play in it. This, too, is a dynamo. A lot of modern revolutions, especially in morals, have crept out of religious dialogs and revival camp meetings. Never under-estimate the power of charisma.

          • Danielle says:

            Two asides:

            -I apologize for the typos and length. I wrote that really fast, at work.

            -It is possible that I over-emphasize change, because that’s what I see in the wake of modern science (esp. ecology and evolution) and modern history. If so, I think at least these reference points give us a useful take-away: if we can recognize that we do create, and that there is possibility in this creation, we might extract a useful boldness from it.

            Perhaps we get some mutual compassion, too: however much Side A and Side B like to pummel one another, they usually turn out to be full of creative people using the resources they have.

          • StuartB says:

            AMEN DANIELLE, AMEN!

          • StuartB says:

            One thing I’ve noticed about certain conservative views: they tend to believe man is entirely stupid without God. We need God to tell us the “right” way to do things. We’d never think or consider new applications or discover things without God telling/showing us how to do it.

            And yet, the widespread belief of God as creator. Who created man’s intellect. That we can’t actually trust or use? Worthless, puny God then.

            reminds me of one of those “lost books of the bible” I read as a kid, like Gospel of Thomas, etc. One of them had a story in it about how man, specifically Adam and Eve sitting outside the garden, could not develop fire without Satan actually coming and showing them how to create fire. Lots of parallels to some Greek stories there; the idea that mankind is utterly stupid without a god showing us things is fairly common.

            But you’d hope Christianity wouldn’t be like that.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            This is why I do not care much for invocations of God or “Nature” / “natural” that assert that a prior act of creation or arrangement of the world is holy and perfect, so that any amendment to it is corrupting or polluting.

            That is the trap Extreme Islam has fallen into, with their obsession to return the world to a Perpetual Year One of the Hegira.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Lots of parallels to some Greek stories there; the idea that mankind is utterly stupid without a god showing us things is fairly common.

            Also lotsa parallels to Flying Saucer/Space Brothers cults of the Fifties and Eric von Daniken’s Ancient Astronauts shtick of the Seventies through the present. In both, humans would never have been able to learn to wipe their butts (much less develop civilization) without the Space Brothers/Ancient Aliens to show them how to bang those rocks together.

          • Exactly. There is no denying that in many ways the world is a better place through the means you point out. Of course there is a great deal of suffering and injustice but, at the same time, much good has been done in trying to bring compassion, relief and justice to hurting people. A brief example:

            I was watching “America’s Got Talent” (don’t snicker…it’s not a regular habit) and there was a young man who had a very debilitating stutter. He had entered standup as a way to overcome it with little success. I can remember a day when he would have been mercilessly heckled (“Gong Show” anyone?) and, no doubt, many still would but not this night. He was warmly welcomed and encouraged by the crowd and Howie awarded him the “Golden Buzzer” for his effort. Okay, I admit it’s kind of a shlocky example but my point is that the crowd showed one of “the least of these” compassion and grace.

            It has become unacceptable (for the most part) in our society to make fun of someone simply because they are different. This reflection of Christ is a manifestation of God’s common grace and is at odds with a world going to hell in a hand basket that is the standard narrative.

          • A really wonderful reflection, Danielle. Thank you.

          • Robert F says:

            Danielle, when you talk about something changing radically over time, your language of necessity still speaks and thinks of an “it” that is doing the changing. Without something constant, there would nothing to change, nor would change be perceived.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            This reflection of Christ is a manifestation of God’s common grace and is at odds with a world going to hell in a hand basket that is the standard narrative.

            But if the world isn’t going to hell in a handbasket, how can you scare ’em into the Altar Call?

      • StuartB says:

        so many radically different expressions of Christianity?

        The majority of which are increasingly conservative, in attempts to “get back to” or “restore” the church to it’s conservative roots.

        Not many churches today start off with “hey, we’re going to be more liberal than the people we’re leaving!”

    • jazziscoolithink says:

      “why is it, then, that the cultures, theologies, and thought patterns of the vast majority of Judaism and Christianity throughout history have been profoundly, and stubbornly, conservative?”

      That’s the accepted narrative about the history of Christendom that proponent’s of modernity use without ceasing for their propaganda, but it has little to do with reality. As David Bentley Hart argues convincingly, creativity, scientific inquiry, sophisticated philosophy, ethics of compassion, etc. flourished as Christendom shed itself (albeit, not completely enough) of the closed-system worldview of Greco-Roman paganism.

      And even if it were true, as you say, that Judaism and Christianity have been, on the whole, stubbornly conservative, I don’t think that would undercut Fretheim’s assertion of God’s intention for humanity. God isn’t tied down to Judeo-Christian culture, theology, thought, etc.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        To use a Chesterton reference, being stubbornly conservative DOES avoid “Nine out of Ten New Ideas are really Old Mistakes”.

      • StuartB says:

        creativity, scientific inquiry, sophisticated philosophy, ethics of compassion, etc. flourished as Christendom shed itself (albeit, not completely enough) of the closed-system worldview of Greco-Roman paganism.

        Says a lot about the tension between conservativism and liberalism.

        • StuartB says:

          “there’s nothing new under the sun” read literally, so why bother innovating, the old ways are best, if it was good enough for grandpa it’s good enough for me

          hmm, i wonder if this relates to the liturgy debate at all…lol

          problem is, not all new things are “good”

          • OldProphet says:

            Amen, Stuart. I’m digging your takes more each week!

          • StuartB says:

            We can discuss the merits of liturgy and anything coming out of Hillsong/Bethel another day, lol.

  2. Robert F says:

    Such an understanding of continuing divine creation seems grounded in open theism. Especially the idea that not only creatures but God himself is surprised by what unfolds in his creation as an expression of the freedom he’s given it, and that his response to the unfoldings constitutes his continuing creative activity. Here is a theological idea for how God relates to biological evolution: He didn’t plan it, it may have significant negative aspects, but it has unfolded from the freedom God has given his creation, and he is creatively integrating its results into his total intention for creation, and toward completing creation.

    • Stephen says:

      I agree. The idea of “continuing creation” is at heart a theological attempt to come to grips with the reality of evolution. There remains a disturbing tension between the Biblical view of nature and the universe as revealed by science. But once we dump the Creationism surely a fruitful area of theological enquiry!

      ps Mike I really love the graphics you use at this site. Always interesting.

      • Agree on the graphics. I stayed out of yesterday’s discussion on sex because I’m bashful, but the painting by Dali is amazing.

    • StuartB says:

      I don’t understand the problems many have with Open Theism. I mean, I understand them, but I don’t. Open Theism seems to honestly address passages that get blanketed over by many, and reflects a God that indeed can be surprised and change his mind…unless our scriptures are lying to us.

      There’s a comfort to be found in the idea that God knows all that will occur and is guiding us to that end. There’s also a comfort to be found in the idea that God doesn’t and can be surprised and change his mind.

      I kind of like the idea of an open future. It means I’m not predetermined. It means I’m free to change my life. It means freedom for the captive.

      It means hope.

      Sounds like grace and love.

      Now if only my local Open Theist pastor wasn’t so much of a pacifist…lol

  3. Robert F says:

    My thinking and relating to God has more and more gotten away from the Greek conception of a timeless and eternal being, perfect and unmovable, and more and more toward the Hebrew experience of a dynamic and relating being, passionately at work in the fabric of time and space.

    • I don’t know, Robert, I’m having a dfficult time wrapping my head around the concept of a God who doesn’t know the future i.e. isn’t outside of time. Acts 15:18 “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” Is it possible these Hebrew experiences are anthropomorphisms?

      • Rick Ro. says:

        Is it possible that God knows “all his works,” but the details of those works might surprise him? For example, a writer might know he/she is about to write a mystery novel, but the details might be sketchy at first and get filled in as they progress and plan. I think God is a little like that, a writer sometimes surprised by the details.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Isn’t there something in Tolkien’s Ainulindale that says pretty much the same thing? About how Iluvatar created the Ainur and bade them make a Great Music, each to his own way, and then wove all those individual motifs into the tapestry of Ea?

      • Like in all things, the Incarnation helps us here, I believe. God may be infinite and all-knowing, but for inscrutable reasons of divine wisdom, he apparently chooses to go about “wearing” creation, and thus be submitted to its limitations. This is really the only way human beings can, or ever have, known him. Even without the Christ event for reference, the first thing the ancients said about God in the Bible is that he created, and soon enough they give a picture of God “within” creation, walking around and asking questions of humanity.

        I’m leaning towards a view of God that is not “either all-knowing and therefore unsurprisable” or “fundamentally limited in his perspective,” but one that has him “descending” from omniscience to ilmitedness. He certainly (probably?) knows everything, past, present, and future, but if I’m going to relate to him, I’d better know him as if he’s personal in much the same way I am. And in Christ, that appears to include unknowing and uncertainty, at least about details (although he has a lot of surprising knowledge too).

        • StuartB says:

          Musing:

          the Incarnation helps us here, I believe IF God is best represented through Jesus, who did not know all and did not know all the future holds and was surprised at things, then reading that back into God would seem to imply that God does not know and does not always know what the future holds and can be surprised at things. Saying otherwise means inserting something (“Jesus + anything”) into the mix.

          From this perspective, you lose the conflicting arguments about Jesus ‘dumbing’ himself down, and you gain a different perspective on God. You also lose a classic understanding of omni knowledge (arguably ‘classic’), and lose companionship with those who hold to it. But it really would clarify a lot of things and do away with so many of those “evidence that demands a verdict” apologetic things.

          So…question: just how much of Jesus is the image of God, or can be read back into “God”?

          • StuartB says:

            Is Jesus God? Is Jesus our God? So why do we worship God over Jesus? Do we even worship Jesus at all?

          • StuartB says:

            Are there mostly three schools of christianity, those that worship God the Father, those that worship God the Son, and those that worship God the Holy Spirit?

            Which of these are legitimate? Are none legitimate? Are there any that worship God as three persons perfectly?

          • Robert F says:

            God is Jesus. That’s my position. There is no god hiding in the shadow of Jesus.

          • Well, if you’re asking me, StuartB, yes Jesus is God, our God; but more importantly what Robert F says: God is Jesus. I learned the distinction between those two on this blog actually, from the original iMonk.

            Narrative theology has become the only theology worth paying attention to for me. Jesus didn’t just sort of show up and start “being God” all over the place, although that’s how many take his miracle workings. Rather, what Jesus initiates is a ministry that has at its core the character of the fulfillment of what Israel always knew of God. So God becomes Jesus, for Israel and the world. For me, this trumps a simplistic “Jesus is God” reckoning of Christology any day.

            I know what you’re saying, about how some Christians appear to worship God above Jesus, and some worship the Spirit, and there can even seem to be different kinds of Christians depending on which member of the Trinity seems to get the most “shout-outs.”

            I don’t think it ought to work like that though. I really only think there’s one option, for a truly Trinitarian Christianity, and that is that God is known and worshipped totally and purely in Jesus Christ. That to worship Jesus is to know the God that sent Jesus, and that to become like Jesus is to submit to the Holy Spirit’s power. All members of the Trinity are worshipped in this way, but worship comes ‘through’ only one of them- the second person. As far as incarnate beings like us are concerned, we need the incarnate second person in order to see, know, obey, love, or be loved by (or insert any verb here) God.

            That’s my take. I’m rather dogmatic about it. I can’t really abide any kind of Christian-speak that is heavy on God-language without the necessary Jesus-language to represent.

            I don’t know if there’s any “school” that gets it perfect, but I think the traditions that are more firmly rooted in classical Trinitarian theology probably come closer than most. Of course, with all of us, there’s the language we use, and what we say we believe, and then there’s what we functionally believe….

      • StuartB says:

        “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.”

        Poetic language or mechanical language?

    • Danielle says:

      I agree, idea that God is relational seems to have far more relevance to human affairs than the idea of, say, an unchanging prime mover. It is the relational aspect of God’s nature and activities that matters where the rubber hits the road for me as a human being. It is the place where I inevitably exist: if I did not, I would not be a human or a ‘creature.’ In such a case, I guess I’d have a whole other set of problems and I wouldn’t be chatting on Internet Monk; or a mother anticipating an evening commute later; or the citizen of a modern nation state. I suppose I’d be too grand to be at this moment craving bbq ribs.

      That said, I’m not sure if I would place a stark contrast the idea of an unchanging, eternal God to a relational one. I might be willing to hold the two ideas in tension, although I admit this may be the kind of lazy retreat into paradox that I should not allow. What I like about holding both concepts at once is that you get a God that is supremely relational and in-context, but not trapped by any particular context or relationship. This God can be the God of an ancient Roman and a current day American; this God can be my savior and that of my worst enemy. I can protest that if I want, and God can say: you didn’t really think I fit in your closet, did you? My personal and tribal issues turn out to matter, but they are never the absolute or the end. If I try too hard to pin God down, God has the liberty of frustrating me by appearing to be whirlwind.

      • That tension is, I believe, part of the mystery of Trinity. If unitarian theology were true, for instance the Islamic view, then we would not have a God who is bothering with Creation all that much, except to be “high and lifted up” over it and outside of it, perhaps commanding it. But as trinitarians we assume God is all-knowing and omnipotent, but then we are instructed to believe God sends himself to be made ‘like unto’ a creature, and that this second self knows the all-knower, but from a limited “creaturely” perspective. But then to take it even further, He sends himself again to be the personal presence within his creatures, who then see (and relate) to his limited creaturely form, all of whom then turn together towards the all-knower and give thanks and praise to him. Each position is God’s, yet each relates to the others and to creation from distinct viewpoints. The relational God is the omnipotent God, but yet they know each other as distinct persons.

        Father, Son, Spirit.

        Mind. Blown.

      • You are making a lot of sense, Danielle. How do you reconcile “I am the Lord I change not” with Moses talking God out of fire bombing Israel?

        • Danielle says:

          A (maybe) interesting aside:

          Reading your comment, I was struck by how much I like both moments in the OT texts.

          So I pondered for a moment why I respond so favorably to both of them. In first text, I see a declaration by God that God is trustworthy; in other text, I see a God who listens to people and who will relent.

          When I put it this way – not in terms of theological axioms – they harmonize a lot better.

          • That’s a really great distinction, Danielle. Especially considering that one of the strongest themes in the OT, and a most praise-worthy attribute that Israel discovered about their God, was his faithfulness. “I change not” —> “I made a covenant with you people, and I’m not backing down or compromising on it, because I’m utterly faithful. You are my people and I am your God.” Big picture. Election as historic vehicle for God’s incarnation and redemptive plan. Little picture: God indeed changes his mind and allows man to seemingly bargain with him to determine history’s course. Strange, but not contradictory.

            Thanks for this explanation.

          • Robert F says:

            God is trustworthy and constant; but also the God who changes his mind. That God changes his mind is what makes hm trustworthy and constant as a relational reality.

            I do not accept the idea that passages in the Bible talking about God changing his mind are merely anthropomorphism; a relational God is depicted relating, and however imprecise that depiction may be, it is in important ways far more analogically accurate than God spoken of as an immutable, impassable, static reality.

            How could we know anything or say anything about a static, immutable, impassable reality? How would it communicate to us in a way that would allow us to discern anything but itself in relationship, acting, moving, affective and affected? We cannot, in fact, know anything about a static, immutable, impassable reality. How would such a reality be said to be personal? On what model? We would not be able to experience it, or talk about it.

          • Robert F says:

            Although, abstract conceptions like triangles and mathematical values exist in a sense eternally, and have important and constant relationships to the world of time/space, though they are also complete abstractions that can nowhere be found in experience. Perhaps God’s eternal nature might be like these, only infinitely more so; and perhaps we ourselves also participate in this eternal dimension, and that’s why these things have meaning for us, though we have no experience of them. In this case, it would not be accurate to say that God’s eternal aspect cannot be conceived or imagined; it can be noetically apprehended by that in us which participates in the same dimension of reality.

          • Completely agree, Robert F.

  4. Robert F says:

    “Such understandings of continuing creation also have implications for our view of the human being. The human is not a fixed entity from the beginning but, along with the rest of creation, is in the process of becoming.”

    To go back to the discussion yesterday, this would be why natural law would not be a fixed and unchanging thing, but an unfolding, expanding and extending thing. If human nature is not fixed, but in process, we will often be discovering new things about human nature that need to taken into account whenever we speak in terms of natural law and its moral implications.

  5. Rick Ro. says:

    I really like this, CM. As a writer, I often get little glimpses of what the Creator must feel like as He creates. My impression that if He’s ANYTHING like us creator types (writers, artists, sculptors, etc.), then His joy of creating is so limitless and His surprise at “the new” is so exciting that He can’t stop doing it.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Problem is, preachers and theologians don’t tend to be “creator types”.

  6. The idea of creation continuing is important and overlooked, as if God created the world in six days and then rested.

    Oh, wait…

    But, it seems that after he rested he kept things moving, employing a device called “procreation,” or “reproduction” among the plants, animals and humans. So, in that case, we are partners with God in an ongoing creation project. He could have created more himself out of the ground, but he chose to get the created world involved in creating more.

    Fretheim’s concept of Originating creation / Continuing creation / Completing creation is something like that, with an eschatology, whatever “completing” can mean.

    I’m reminded of Julian of Norwich’s revelation with the hazelnut, where God led her to compare it with all of creation. Like Fretheim, she also contemplated three things about creation (she did a lot of thought in threes, very trinitarian):

    —That God created it (the hazelnut, or creation itself).
    —That he loveth it.
    —That he keepeth it.

    A belief in the continuing of creation is one reason I’m skeptical about Young Earth Creationism, six literal days and then no more of it. It limits God. Or rather, it limits our understanding of God, and I guess for some that’s OK.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      But, it seems that after he rested he kept things moving, employing a device called “procreation,” or “reproduction” among the plants, animals and humans. So, in that case, we are partners with God in an ongoing creation project.

      Isn’t that similar to the Jewish idea of Tikkun Olam?

      • It’s certainly consistent with everything I learned in a Jewish studies course from my favorite Old Testament prof.

  7. As we have noted, creation, while centered in the physical world in many ways, has to do with the continuing activity of God in all spheres of life whereby the world, often threatened by the presence of sin and evil, is ordered, maintained, evaluated, and renewed. Generally speaking, those spheres of life include the historical, social, political, and economic— everything that is important for the best life possible for all. “The whole thrust of the Old Testament proclamation guards against any flight into a beyond which is turned away from the world.” The broad understanding of creation in ancient Israel was crucial for such a purpose; it helped assure a fundamental earthiness, a down-to-earth understanding of the faith that was related to life as it was actually lived rather than a faith centered in a spiritualistic, futuristic, or sentimental piety.

    This. Particularly his statement that “The…Old Testament proclamation guards against any flight into a beyond which is turned away from the world.” So much of modern, evangelical Christianity is an effort to turn away from the world, to be a “holy” people, set apart from the world awaiting a future deliverance from a sinful world instead of being God’s agents of goodness and change in His creation. The church has lost its saltiness. The early church turned the world upside down and took over an empire not because it was trying to preserve a status quo but because it showed the love of Christ to the least and lost among that empire.

  8. Robert F says:

    What an interesting discussion today.