A theology of Creation is absolutely critical for understanding a number of disputed doctrinal issues. The nature of the human person and marriage, salvation, the need to care for the environment: these all hinge on what we think God is up to in Creation. Controversies about how God created can obscure the more important question of why he created.
This question (“Why Creation?”) is not new. In his book He Shines in all That’s Fair (2001), Richard Mouw gives a description of the supralapsarian versus infralapsarian positions held by some in the Reformed tradition. A part of the issue is the order in which God did things: the supra position maintains that God first chose whom he would elect to salvation, and then created, while the infra position is that God first created and then chose the elect. The supra position subordinates Creation to election, making Creation purely instrumental. The infra position seems to leave the door open to God having purposes in Creation other than the revelation of the Elect. This is a broadbrush description of the infra/supra debate, but my point is that the question of why God created is important and has a long history.
A full discussion of the theology of Creation is beyond the scope of this post (and perhaps this blog), but I think I can show that Creation was a central point of emphasis for early Christians. And that can be shown by a look at the Gospel of John.
It is often noted that this Gospel is very different from the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). It has a more “reflective” feel, no doubt because it was written much later than the Synoptics. John is often painted as a “Hellenistic” Gospel, but it is profoundly Jewish. It has a strong relationship with the three major Jewish festivals, portrays Jesus as a second (and better) Moses, and could be thought of as a new Pentateuch (I will leave that latter point as an exercise for the reader).
We all know that Creation is a major recurring theme in the Old Testament. Our first clue that the same is true of John comes from comparing the opening with Genesis and that of John’s Gospel. Anyone reading John who knew anything about Judaism would be in the know: a book that begins with “In the beginning” takes the reader back to the first verse of Genesis. We are immediately put on notice that Creation is on the table as a theme. The prologue continues to allude to Genesis 1 with language of light and dark, and, with a slap to the Stoics, ties Creation to the Logos.
Other clues in John are not quite so obvious. An intriguing allusion occurs in John 1:19–2:12. This section begins with the Baptist’s testimony, “I am not the Messiah.” Note that three times (verses 1:29, 1:35, and 1:43) the text says “the next day.” Then 2:1 we have the very provocative words “On the third day.” The section ends with the Wedding at Cana. (Many have made much out of wanting to hire someone who can “walk on water;” I’d rather hire someone who can turn water into wine!) But see what the author has done; he has kept careful count of the days. And what we have, given the three “next days” and the one “On the third day,” is six days. What happened in six days? God created the world! And what happened on day six of Creation? Adam was created, and now in this six day motif, John has the “man” being revealed in his glory!
This pattern is very closely repeated in John 12-19. John 12 opens “Six days before the Passover.” We only have one “next day,” so we have to pay closer attention ourselves. Jesus dies the day before Passover, so again we have a six day period. This “sixth day” is quite startling. This time Pilate brings out a battered and beaten Jesus and proclaims “Behold the man!”
It is clear that the author wants us to be thinking of Creation. But the final references to Creation take us to a whole new place (pun intended). John 20 opens with the words “Early on the first day of the week,” and in case we missed what day it was, verse 19 says, “On the evening of that first day of the week.” Just as John has given us references so we can track the numbering of days, he is careful to let us know which day he is talking about.
With the exception of cultures with purely lunar calendars, our year has 365 days because that is the earth’s orbital period. Our months have (roughly) 28 days because of the moon’s orbital period. But why do we have 7 day weeks? There is no correspondence with astronomical cycles (sure 7 divides 28 evenly, but is that a strong enough reason?). There is a strong case to be made that we have 7 day weeks because of the Genesis creation story and the connection with the seventh day Sabbath.
So when John says, “The first day of the week,” there is a strong argument that he wants us to think of that primordial first week (our week is a faint echo of that first week, but for John it is a shout). We are meant to think we are in a story of Creation. But here, interestingly, the analogy with Genesis 1 breaks down, for the New Adam is already on the scene. Mary mistakes the risen Jesus for the gardener, but this is no mistake! Just as the first Adam was placed in the garden to tend and keep it, we have a new Adam in a new garden.
Paraphrasing John 20:30: there are many other allusions to Creation in John. But the case is made that John is a Gospel deeply about Creation, and, to New Creation. This suggests that the answer to the question of why God created goes much deeper than we might normally think. God is not finished with whatever he is up to. Creation remains “in his heart,” and has bearing on the answer to the question “who is the Gospel for” — it has bearing on all Creation.
For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:19-21)
The featured image was supplied by the author.