At intervals through 2017 I pursued the question, “Are we on safe ground theologically to declare that not only is humanity corporately the creation of God, but you and I individually are God’s creations?”
It has been surprising just how difficult the topic of individual creation is to find in theological texts. It’s as if it is a non-issue in theology. I found brief mention in Eichrodt’s Theology of the Old Testament, and fuller mention, as might be expected, in Wolff’s Anthropology of the Old Testament (ET 1974), in section XI. Creation and Birth. William Brown is on to the issue in an essay, “Creatio Corporis and the Rhetoric of Defense in Job 10 and Psalm 139,” in God Who Creates (2000), edited by Brown and McBride.
Those two biblical passages are the best evidence for personal creation, and by themselves are enough to reassure me that we can claim to be made by God personally. But I was reassured finally to discover a theological precedent I should have been aware of before this. Martin Luther, whose 1517 door notice is being celebrated in this 500th anniversary year (surely you’ve heard!), was a big proponent of belief in personal creation. Here’s the first item from Luther’s Small Catechism (http://catechism.cph.org/en/creed.html):
The First Article: Creation
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
What does this mean? I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.
This is most certainly true.
I’m here to tell you that I don’t think the creation of the individual person is a non-issue for real people, for Joe and Jane in the pew, and the person who has never seen a pew. I believe that believing in our personal creation by God makes all the difference in the world for how we see ourselves.
I’ve explained this pretty thoroughly in a recent PowerPoint presentation, embedded hereafter.
The notes to the PowerPoint don’t show, so here they are for your reference, with slide numbers:
(2) Soskice challenge to limiting creation to the cosmic scale… Let’s take the challenge of starting with the cosmic scale and drilling down to the personal.
Reference: quoted in Brown, William P. “Creatio Corporis and the Rhetoric of Defense in Job 10 and Psalm 139,” in God Who Creates: Essays in Honor of W. Silbey Towner (edited by William P. Brown and S. Dean McBride; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 107–124 @ 108.
(3) From website about the Hubble Deep Field project:
“The Ultra Deep Field observations, taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys, represent a narrow, deep view of the cosmos. Peering into the Ultra Deep Field is like looking through a 2.5 metre-long soda straw.
In ground-based photographs, the patch of sky in which the galaxies reside (just one-tenth the diameter of the full Moon) is largely empty. Located in the constellation Fornax, the region is so empty that only a handful of stars within the Milky Way galaxy can be seen in the image.”
Map of local part of Orion Arm of Milky Way galaxy, out to 2K LY: http://www.atlasoftheuniverse.com/2000lys.html.
Reading: Isa. 40:25-28
25 “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.
27 Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God”?
28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.
(4) What can be seen in space with the naked eye?
A: “In the best sky conditions, the naked eye (with effort) can see objects with an apparent magnitude of 8.0. This reveals about 43,197 objects in the sky.
There are 9 galaxies visible to the naked eye that you might see when observing the sky, and there are about 13 nebulae that you might see.”
Page continues that we can realistically only see four galaxies: the Small & Large Magellanic Clouds, local galaxies to Milky Way (only from the southern hemisphere), M31 (Andromeda), and M33 (Triangulum).
So out of 100,000,000,000 galaxies (Fred Hoyle’s rule of thumb), we can see…four. Why are the rest there? Well, they bring God glory. They please him. He wants them there.
(5) Reading: W. Boreham, The Pageant Through the Bush, 17-19
“There is no world, among all the worlds, to be compared with this world. I am sure of that. The most pressing and unanimous call to Jupiter or Venus or Mars or Saturn will not tempt me to go if I can, by any frantic argument or artifice or manoeuvre, induce my fellow mortals to allow me to remain here a little longer. This is the world ; there can be no possible doubt about that. God so loved the world ‘—that is to say, He loved this one.
That is lovely! I revel in that thought. God has sprinkled the world with beautiful and gracious women ; but, whilst He has given each of us men the power to admire them all, we are each of us able to love only one of them supremely. May not this also be a reflection, an echo, an indication that we are fashioned after the image and similitude of the Most High ? For God has sprinkled His universe with beautiful worlds, as He has sprinkled this world with beautiful women. There are millions upon millions of them. And when God gazed upon the galaxies of worlds that He had made, He saw that they were very good. He looked admiringly upon worldhood, as we men gaze admiringly upon womanhood. And then with one of His worlds He fell in love. He loved it supremely, loved it with a love so fond, and so awful, and so deep, and so eternal, that we catch our breath as we think of it! He loved it with a love that led to the inexpressible mystery of Bethlehem, to the unutterable anguish of Gethsemane, to the unspeakable tragedy of Calvary. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.’ In the light of that stupendous declaration the world seems a terrible place. It seems a solemn and a sacred thing to be living in that one world towards which God Himself felt so tenderly! The place whereon we stand is holy ground!
And yet, after all, it is not the place. It is the people. It is ourselves. It is you. It is I. That is the rapture of it. He loved me, and gave Himself for me!”
(6) We saw the vast population of stars & galaxies in the cosmos, mostly way beyond the reach of natural vision.
- Platonism from early church times had a principle of ‘plenitude’: every possible corner of creation had to be filled/was filled with being/s. There is a truth here in the plenitude principle: God likes life to abound, and to occupy every possible niche. God loves life: loves creatures crawling everywhere, doing their thing. He likes life to find a way to occupy every nook and cranny. For the sea and sky to ‘teem’.
- Psalm 104 shows him taking as much trouble to feed the animals as to feed us. The life & sustenance of animals matters, even apart from our own as humans. The creations of days 3 & 5 and 6a are already good before we come along.
(7) Example: Noah movie: one question is whether humans have a right to exist, given their sinfulness, damaging the environment and damaging & killing each other. Noah believes his calling to be to supervise the final annihilation of the species, until his adopted daughter gets through to him that he has been given, not a mandate of extermination, but a choice.
- We shouldn’t feel ashamed to exist, and I think, theologically, we shouldn’t be ashamed to be the best of living creatures.
- Of course that doesn’t mean we have any right (or desire, hopefully) to abuse any creature that isn’t us. Surely it doesn’t make sense for God’s people to treat God’s own creative works with contempt. If we do, that is not just an environmental problem, it’s a theological problem.
- Psalm 148 says that all parts of creation can, like us, praise God (at least rhetorically?). But humans get a special experience in addition – the saving intervention of God (vv. 13-14). Creation is widespread; salvation is particular.
(8) Humans as spiritual and physical, animal and angel, dust and the image of God, the entity in which heaven and earth meet. No wonder we’re two-faced. But existing at this nexus, we’re unique.
(10) The Incarnation of Christ endorses the goodness of physical creation and the value of humanity, and flies in the face of gnostic derision of the body and the material.
(11) Returning to our initial question: How do we get from humanity’s creation to the individual’s creation, theologically? I.e. the Bible certainly claims that the first humans were God’s creation, or that humanity as a class is God’s creation. But what about me and you?
- First we need a doctrine of creation that has room for God working gradually and through natural means, as well as directly, instantaneously, and miraculously. None of us would deny that God can create something from nothing. But how does God usually create? How did he create, e.g. trees, lakes, stalagmites, mountains, craters, and people? Either He didn’t, and they are the natural outcome of what He made initially…or He created them gradually, incrementally, through natural processes of cause and effect.
- We need to acknowledge that alongside the teaching of God’s creation of the world, and even of humanity as type (Gen. 1:27, etc.), we need to place passages like Job 10:8-12, Psalm 19:13-16, Mal. 2:10 (?) and James 3:9, which say that God made us personally.
Docetism: heresy about Christ produced by this derision.