In the narrative of creation we see God set the stage for the story of redemption. Goldsworthy writes that in the beginning we see “the preamble and theological presupposition of the main aspects of salvation history.” But before we examine the beginning of human history we must look into eternity past to see the purpose of creation;
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
God’s Purpose in Creation
God has always been. The scripture attests to the doctrine of God’s eternal nature or God’s timelessness. God has no beginning, He has always been. Not only that, but God has always been absolutely complete, delighting in Himself as the perfect Trinity. Among the persons of the Trinity there has been perfect love and fellowship for all of eternity. This is called the doctrine of God’s independence.
Why then did God freely choose to create? Daniel Fuller makes an interesting observation concerning the purpose of creation when he asks, “why was He (God) not perfectly content to remain simply as the fully happy Trinity?” This question reveals, at the very least, that there must be an underlying purpose for all things God has created. The Apostle Paul addresses this query in the Scripture;
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.
First we see that God created to make Himself known. Secondly, we see that Jesus Christ is the agent of creation and also the beneficiary of its existence. We must avoid the arrogant ‘man-centered’ assumption that earth exists solely for our use and enjoyment. The primary reason creation exists for the praise and glory of its creator God.
We know from the creation account that everything was made ‘good’ to reflect the glory of God in its own way. “Part of the meaning of the goodness of creation in the Bible is that it testifies to the God who made it, reflecting something of His good character.” In fact, creation is only good by virtue of standing in appropriate relationship to it creator.
Simply put, the end for which God created the world was to glorify Himself. This truth is often hard to swallow because it seems vain, and it removes us from the center of existence. But God is the only being in the universe for whom self glorification is not vain. Think about it, if God is the greatest being in the universe, the most precious gift, then displaying Himself in creation is an act of love, He displays His own glory for our joy. John Piper writes;
In all of redemptive history, from beginning to ending, God has this one ultimate goal: that God be glorified. The aim of God in all that he does is most ultimately the praise of his glory. All of redemptive history is book-ended by this amazing purpose. And in the middle of that redemptive history stands the greatest event in the history of the world, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The primary reason God created was to make His glory known, and His glory is known most fully in Jesus Christ. The Scripture testifies that all things were created through Christ and for Christ. So “Christ is not only the origin of the cosmos; He is also its goal. All things were created for Him, i.e., to be subject to and to glorify Him.”
God Created, Orders, Sustains, and Communicates By His Word
“Foundational to Biblical Theology is the conviction that God has spoken.” God has spoken “through His word, and God has revealed Himself and His will…on behalf” of creation. More importantly, we believe that “God reveals Himself and His ways in the created world and in His deeds in history, but His word is essential for a proper understanding of what creation and history reveal.”
a. God Creates by Word
At eight points in Genesis 1 God speaks creatively: “And God said, Let…” God commands and it is so. Why is it significant that God created by His word? At least “the very effortlessness of the fulfillment indicates God’s sovereignty.” It is also notable that God created all things out of nothing. In other words, there was no ‘raw material’ present until God brought all things into existence.
b. God Establishes Order by Word
The word of God established order within creation, and does so with a purpose. So creation is not only a question of beginnings, but also of purpose and relationships. In Genesis we have two creation accounts, the first in chapter 1 and the other in chapter 2. These two accounts provide different perspectives on the structure of the one creation event.
“The Genesis accounts tell that there is a structure to the creation which is described first in terms of the main elements of the universe and their relationships (Genesis 1), and second in terms of human beings and their relationships (Genesis 2).”
Creation is presented in this way by the writer of the Pentateuch to show that there is order in the universe. In other words, everything has a proper function and relationship which impacts everything within creation order.
c. God Sustains by Word
God not only created and established order in the universe but also governs it. “This providence, or continued government of the universe by the Creator becomes a prominent feature of the biblical understanding of the ultimate purpose of God which nothing, not even sin, is allowed to frustrate.” So, by setting structure to all things within creation and designating their functions, God sustains His purposes.
So, on a very general level, the Genesis creation accounts tell us about how things began, and explain the relationships between things. How things relate is closely tied to their purpose. “These relationships, which were later confused by sin, are at the heart of the gospel by which God is restoring all things to their proper relationships.”
d. God Communicates by Word
Since God reveals His character and purposes, it is part of His relationship with His people. God freely chooses to relate to creation by His word. In keeping with this is the fact that when He creates the human pair He blesses them by addressing them with a spoken word. This is unique for humanity that God can address us with words and we can understand them. The word that God speaks establishes and interprets the context within which human beings exist and relate to everything else in creation.
These truths are amazing and reveal some astonishing realities; Goldsworthy points out that;
- The greatness of God is shown by His needing only to say, “Let it be…” for things to be brought into existence.
- Creation by word also shows us that God has chosen to relate to all things by the means of His word.
- The rule of God over His creation through His word shows the real distinction between God and creation.
What does this have to do with Jesus Christ? The writer of Hebrews declares that;
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.
God’s mode of speaking changes in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the word of God in flesh. “In His person and work Jesus becomes the ultimate form of God’s communication.” In fact the gospel of Jesus Christ we receive the message of a new creation and restored order.
Creation and The Kingdom of God
Our creator king loves His creation. In Genesis we see that God has created all things and established them in a fixed order of relationships, to which he declares “they are very good.” These words are significant.
“The free act of creation and God’s approval indicated by the words “very good,” point to a loving and immensely strong commitment on God’s part towards creation” which becomes more fully understood as the drama of history unfolds.
This loving relationship begins with the opening announcement of the Bible narrative: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The God who created also rules over His creation, creation is therefore established as the “Kingdom of God.” Goldsworthy elaborates on God’s Kingdom as follows;
“God’s rule involves the relationships that He has set up between Himself and everything in creation…the focus of the kingdom of God is on the relationship between God and His people. Man is subject to God, while the rest of creation is subject to man.”
So, we may understand the Kingdom of God as following: “there is a King who rules, a people who are ruled, and a sphere where this rule is recognized as taking place.” So we have;
- God’s people
- In God’s place
- Under God’s rule
In the Garden of Eden we are introduced to the Kingdom of God, a theme that extends over the whole of the Bible. In the Garden of Eden the pattern for the Kingdom is established. Here we see an innocent people of God living in a perfect environment for them called paradise, where the rule of God is expressed by His word, which provides us with the pattern of the Kingdom of God.
“God establishes a perfect creation that he loves and over which he rules…The kingdom means that everything in creation relates perfectly, that is, as God intends it should, to everything else and to God himself.”
In Jesus the Kingdom comes. Jesus words bear witness to this fact, “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Goldsworthy argues that “He was at once both creator and creature, king and obedient servant, word of God and listening servant. Thus Jesus…not only brings the kingdom, He is the Kingdom in Himself.” One day, God’s Kingdom will be fully consummated at Christ’s return.
The Creation of Man in the Image of God
In Genesis we are told that man is made in the image of God, yet we are not told exactly what that means. At the very least this shows “the remarkable distinctiveness” of man compared to the rest of creation. Human beings are unique among creation and have been given a distinct relationship to God in being ‘made in His image.’ Here are some observations based on that relationship;
a. Humans Represent God: Being created in the ‘image of God’, as the climax of creation, man has a specific role to fill. The image for “Man mediates between the Creator and the created world which he is part. In man God deals with His creation personally.” Man was created in such a way that he is able to represent God on earth “like an ambassador from a foreign country.”
b. Humans Reflect God: The image of God can be also be understood as being created in ‘the likeness of God.’ As a mirror reflects, so man should reflect God. “Another way of putting this is to say that in man God is to become visible on earth.” In man we should see a reflection of God’s love, justice, grace, etc.
c. Humans Rule Under God: Another aspect of being created in the image of God refers to our dominion over creation. Therefore, the image of God shows that man is set directly under God in the order of creation. Only man is addressed as one who knows God and is created to live purposefully for God. Man’s responsibility as an image bearer is tied to his dominion over creation.
“When man falls because of sin the creation is made to fall with him. In order to restore the whole of creation, God works through His Son who becomes a man to restore man. The whole creation waits eagerly for the redeemed people of God to be finally revealed as God’s perfected children, because at this point the creation will be released from its own bondage. This overview of man as the object of God’s covenant love and redemption confirms the central significance given to man in Genesis 1-2.”
While the Bible does not clearly define (in exact terms) what is meant by being created in the ‘image of God’ at the beginning of creation, we can look to look forward to Jesus Christ as the ‘true image of God.’
What we see in Christ tells us what we should be like, which reveals shame on our part, it shows us that something is not right. In other words, we do not represent, reflect, or rule on earth in the way we were created to do, the way that brings ultimate glory to God. But Christ did. When Christ was on earth He was;
- Wholly directed towards God.
- Wholly directed towards neighbor
- Ruled over nature
So the image of God in humanity was not only brought about by Christ in creation but was also patterned after Christ.
Man a Created Creature Who is Ruled
The creation account shows us that everything we have is a gift from God. This is one of the central truths of creation that destroys modern man’s idea that ‘he/she is in charge of their lives and destiny.’ As God’s creation we are totally dependent on Him for everything;
- We are dependent on God for His continual rule over creation.
- We are dependent on God for His providential care.
- We are dependent on God for the production of food.
- We are dependent on God for drawing our next breath.
- We are dependent on God for the next beat of our hearts.
The list goes on and on. There is nothing in this universe that is self sustaining except God. Every moment of our existence shows God’s grace in that He sustains the very substance of creation. If Almighty God were to withdraw His powerful word from creation the universe would cease to exist, there would be no order, nothing to sustain the universe;
“This is why man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God. So Christ, as the creative Word of God, sustains ‘all things by His powerful word’, and ‘in Him all things hold together’.”
We have already argued that man is unique in creation as being created in the image of God. Part of being created in the image of God tells us that “humanity does not truly exist apart from a special relationship with God.” It is in relationship with God that we, as human beings, understand our function within creation. Human beings are uniquely responsible to God in that we must answer to our maker.
Within creation humans were given dominion over the rest of creation. “Human life is defined by its God given freedom and by bounds and sanctions” which makes humanity responsible creatures. But, we only have sanctioned freedom. We are not completely autonomous beings, we do not have ‘free will’ is the absolute sense. God is the only free being in the universe.
“In Genesis 1:28 it is implied that we are created to make real choices between real options, even though this freedom is bound by the prescription to be fruitful and rule the earth. Without freedom to make real choices it would be impossible to rule…[but notice] they have no freedom as to the consequences if they eat of the one forbidden tree.”
Thus with freedom and responsibility comes a test of obedience in the prohibition placed on eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God designated this tree “as off limits as the means of showing the difference between good and evil.”
Remember, Jesus Christ is the center of history, which means He is the center of creation. Jesus was not only involved in the original creative act, but is also intimately associated with God continued providential care of creation. As the ‘true image’ of God, Jesus Christ is the point of contact between the creator and creation.
A Course On Biblical Theology
- Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, 103.
- Psalm 90:2.
- Psalm 90:2, 93:2.
- Deuteronomy 6:4-5; James 2:19.
- God was under no obligation to create, nor did he need to create.
- Daniel Fuller, The Unity of the Bible, 129.
- Romans 1:20.
- In this verse, when it says that God is understood through what has been made, the words “what has been made” come from one Greek word, the word poiema. It’s the word from which we get “poem.” The universe and everything in it is God’s work of art. In creation God has chosen to make Himself evident to all mankind. The universe is a poem about the glory of God.
- Colossians 1:16.
- Psalm 148; Psalm 104.
- In the creation narrative it is most emphatic that everything was created good. Six times in Genesis 1-2 God declares His work to be good.
- Psalm 19; 29; 50:6; 65; 104; 148; Job 12:7-9; Acts 14:17; 17:27; Romans 1:20.
- Christopher Wright, The Mission of God, 398.
- Isaiah 43:6-7.
- John Piper, Is Jesus an Egomaniac?, desiringGod.org
- L.H. Osborn, Creation, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 434.
- The “Creation vs. Evolution” debate will not be covered here as it is not in line with the purpose of this material. Just for clarity, I am taking the stance that the Genesis accounts are historical events.
- B.M. Fanning, Word, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 848.
- B.M. Fanning, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 849.
- Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26.
- There are several New Testament passages that refer to this: John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 11:3; 2 Peter 3:5-7.
- Osborn, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 430.
- This is often expressed with a Latin phrase, “God created ex nihilo.” (out of nothing)
- This is often referred to the “providence of God.”
- Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 93.
- Genesis 1:11-19, 1:24-30.
- Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 90.
- This is what is referred to as “God’s transcendence.” God is distinct from and beyond all things He has made.
- Hebrews 1:1-2a.
- B.M. Fanning, Word, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 850.
- 2 Corinthians 5:17-19.
- Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 94.
- Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 95.
- Goldsworthy, The Goldsworthy Trilogy, 53.
- While the words ‘Kingdom of God’ do not appear in the Old Testament the idea is woven through the whole of Scripture.
- Mark 1:15.
- Graeme Goldsworthy, Kingdom of God, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 619.
- Genesis 1:26, 27; 9:6.
- Edmund Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery, 19.
- Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery, 20.
- Anthony Hoekema, Created in God’s Image, 67.
- Hoekema, Created in God’s Image, 67.
- Psalm 8:5.
- Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 96.
- These observations are adapted from Anthony Hoekema’s excellent book Created in God’s Image, and can be found in Chapter 5 titled ‘The Image of God: A Theological Summary.’
- Deuteronomy 8:3, Psalm 104:24-30.
- Hebrews 1:3.
- Colossians 1:17.
- This tells us that all attempts to define humanity apart from relationship with God ultimately fail.
- Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 97.
- Genesis 1:26-30.
- Genesis 2:15-17.
- Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 98.
- Osborn, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 433-434.