Creation and God’s Greatness

When we looked at who God is, we saw that God is great and sovereign. His sovereignty is seen in his independence.  In John 5, we are told that both Father and Son have life within themselves. They are not dependent upon anything outside of themselves for their being, identity, status or value.

The Independent God Creates

This is portrayed in God’s effortless creation simply by his Word. God is not dependent on any other being or matter when he creates.  He creates from nothing, sometimes referred to as Creation ex nihilo. We see this in John 1 and Revelation 4.

Dan Strange puts it this way: “Not only is the Lord personal but he is absolute or self-sufficient.”[1]

He sees this view of God the Creator as an essential starting point to our understanding of the world and life.

“The first building block of a Reformed Christian worldview is a doctrine of Creation ex nihilo that preserves the Creator-Creature distinction.”[2]

God Creates everything

Note that the Creation of everything from nothing really does include everything. This means that, historically, Christian writers took time to emphasise that the description of Creation in Genesis 1 includes the Heavens and Earth and therefore within that creation are other spiritual beings including angels.

Bavinck puts it this way,

“According to Holy Scripture, creation is divided into a spiritual and a material realm into heaven and earth, into ‘things in heaven and [things] on earth, things visible and [things] invisible (Col 1:16).”[3]

He goes on to observe that,

“The existence of such a spiritual realm is recognized in all religions. In addition to the actual gods, also a variety of demigods or heroes, demons, genii, spirits, souls, and so on have been the objects of religious veneration.”[4]

It is important to recognise this because, throughout history, there have always been reductionist tendencies so that life is seen purely in terms of what we can touch, smell and hear in the present time. Such scepticism about other spiritual beings goes back to New Testament times with the Sadducees, who denied both the Resurrection and the existence of angels (c.f. Acts 23:8) and continues with various philosophers and theologians throughout history who either have seen angels as metaphorical extensions of God’s actions or as humans.[5] Modern day materialists and empiricists deny outright the existence of a spiritual realm:

“In modern theology… only little is left of angels. Rationalists… while they do not deny the existence of angels, do deny their manifestation.”[6]

One problem with this is that the reaction to materialistic empiricism is often to go to the other extreme of spiritualism because,

“Ever and again we thirst for another world that is no less rich than this one. By the way of a reaction to it, materialism evokes spiritualism. But the spiritism in which this spiritualism today manifests itself in the lives of many people is nothing other than a new form of superstition.”[7]

In fact, so called spiritual manifestations are often seen to be just phenomena that can be explained away psychologically.[8] However, we cannot take this lightly because,

“One thing is certain: in numerous cases spiritism has a very injurious effect on the psyhcic and physical health of its practitioners, and it follows a path that is prohibited by Scripture (Deut 18:11 ff.). Between this world and the world beyond there is a gap that humans cannot bridge. If they nevertheless attempt to cross it, they lapse into superstition and become prey to the very spirits they have conjured up.”[9]

This is why it is so important that when we talk about angels, demons and the spiritual realm, we come back to what God reveals through Scripture rather than going along with speculation.

Exactly where angels appear in the Creation order isn’t stated and Calvin argues that it is unwise to argue about the exact timing of their creation.[10] Whilst Augustine notes,

“Where Scripture speaks of the world’s creation, it is not plainly said whether or when the angels were created; but if mention of them is made, it is implicitly under the name of ‘heaven’ when it is said, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,’ or perhaps rather under the name of light.”[11]

He goes on to insist that It can’t be prior to this because “before heaven and earth God seems to have made nothing”[12] whilst it must also have happened during the 6 days of Creation because angels are involved in praising God at creation (Job 38:7).[13] His personal view is that they were created when God created light.[14]

Angels have two types of ministry according to Bavinck: an extraordinary one and ordinary one.

“The extraordinary ministry of angels consists in accompanying the history of redemption at its cardinal points. They themselves do not bring about salvation, but they do participate in its history. They transmit revelations, protect God’s people, oppose his enemies, and perform an array of services in the kingdom of God.”[15]

In other words, their presence functions as a sign to what God is doing at a key point in history.

“Scripture also speaks of an ordinary ministry of angels. The primary feature of that ministry is that they praise god day and night (Jon 38:7; Isa. 6; Ps. 103:20; 148:2; Rev 5:11). Scripture conveys the impression that they do this in audible sounds, even though we cannot imagine what their speech and songs are like.”[16]

Their ministry is, on the one hand, designed to help and encourage us, as Calvin says:

“the point on which the Scriptures specifically insist is that which tends most to our comfort and to the confirmation of our faith, namely that angels are the ministers and dispensers of the divine bounty towards us. Accordingly, we are told how they watch for our safety, how they undertake our defence, direct our path and take heed that no evil befall us.”[17]

However, as we see in Bavinck’s comments, their role is not human-centric, even though we benefit; rather, their chief end, like ours, is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

And this brings us to a vital point. What we see about the greatness of God’s Creation should bring us to our knees in awe and wonder as we worship God.

God’s Creation reveals his Lordship and calls us to worship

Our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. We were made to worship. We saw this earlier when we discovered that the language of work in Eden (serving and keeping) is Temple or worship language.

God’s Lordship is shown through Creation because Creation itself worships Him (c.f. Palm 19).[18] Creation shows that God is Lord because it demonstrates his “control”[19] over it.  He is the Lord who “establishes his ownership of all things.” (Psalm 24:1-2)[20] His authority is demonstrated [21] because it comes into being through his word.[22] So Creation brings glory to God as we see his power, his majesty, his worth.

Creation causes worship because human beings were made to worship God. Dan Strange describes how we were made to be “religious.” He says,

“This religious nature…is not merely the capacity we have for relating to, worshipping, obeying or disobeying something or someone we consider ultimate, what we might call a generic religiosity, but is rather a particular religiosity: our relationship, worship and obedience or disobedience to the self-contained ontological Trinity, the living God of the Bible.”[23]

In other words, our only right response is to worship the true and living God. We were not made with a mere general awareness of deity, of the “something more”. We were made to know and be known by the Triune God. This is why idolatry is serious.

[1] Strange, For their Rock is not as our Rock, 58.

[2] Strange, For their Rock is not as our Rock, 58

[3] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation (Vol 2. Trans John Vriend, Ed John Bolt. Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker Academic, 2004), 444.

[4] Bavinck, God and Creation, 444.

[5] Bavinck, God and Creation, 444-445.

[6] Bavinck, God and Creation, 445.

[7] Bavinck, God and Creation, 446.

[8] Bavinck, God and Creation, 446.

[9] Bavinck, God and Creation, 446.

[10] Calvin, Institutes, I.xiv.4. (Beveridge 1:144).

[11] Augustine, The City of God, XI.9. (Dods:352).

[12] Augustine, The City of God, XI.9. (Dods:352).

[13] Augustine, The City of God, XI.9. (Dods:353).

[14] Augustine, The City of God, XI.9. (Dods:353).

[15] Bavinck, God and Creation, 463.

[16] Bavinck, God and Creation, 464.

[17] Calvin, Institutes, I.xiv.6. (Beveridge 1:145).

[18] Frame, Doctrine of God, 292.

[19] Frame, Doctrine of God, 292.

[20] Frame, Doctrine of God, 293.

[21] Frame, Doctrine of God, 293.

[22] Frame, Doctrine of God, 293.

[23] Strange, For their Rock is not as our Rock, 71.