‘Maker of Heaven and Earth’

426938When Christians say in the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth,” and consider what it means, doubtless one of the first ideas that comes to the mind in our day and age is naturalistic (atheistic) evolution. This is completely understandable since any fundamental belief in creation – particularly creatio ex nihilo – stands in direct contradiction to what seems to be the prevailing philosophic-scientific theory of naturalism, “a theory denying that an event or object has a supernatural significance; specifically, the doctrine that scientific laws are adequate to account for all phenomena” without any reference to the divine or supernatural.[1]

None of this is new, per se. From the Judeo-Christian viewpoint (and most likely the Islamic, as well), humanity in its rebellion against God has always sought to explain the origins of life and the cosmos apart from its Creator, rather acting like a small child who believes that if s/he can’t see you, then you can’t see her, that if you’re in another room you practically don’t exist. St. Basil, one of the great early Church fathers, writing in the fourth century, addressed the problem of naturalists in his own day – and make no mistake, they were naturalists, even though their philosophical and scientific theories did not go by that name.

The philosophers of Greece have made much ado to explain nature, and not one of their systems has remained firm and unshaken, each being overturned by its successor. It is vain to refute them; they are sufficient in themselves to destroy one another. Those who were too ignorant to rise to a knowledge of God could not allow that an intelligent cause presided at the birth of the universe; a primary error that involved them in sad consequences… Deceived by their inherent atheism, it appeared to them that nothing governed or ruled the universe, and that all was given up to chance. To guard against this error, the writer on the creation from the very first words enlightens our understanding with the name of God: ‘In the beginning, God created.’ What glorious order![2]

And really this should be our attitude and approach to atheistic/naturalistic evolution; not that the scientific theory of evolution, strictly speaking, is wrong – albeit exalted almost as much as any religious doctrine ever was, to the point of being unquestionable – but it is vain to spend much time refuting the philosophical-scientific position of atheistic naturalism because it will eventually self-implode. Proponents of naturalistic evolution are deceived by their inherent atheism, believing that everything is a consequence of chance, despite enormous problems with that assertion and despite evidence to the contrary, but we have been guarded by divine revelation against such absurdities. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

No, we are not the products of atheistic, chance evolution; rather, we are the unique creation of the one sovereign God, with meaning, value, and purpose. And so we begin with the first words of Genesis and, of course, the Gospel of St. John the Beloved, who related the same account in brilliantly poetic fashion, in greater detail and packed with philosophical and theological import. As Jürgen Moltmann so aptly explains:

Creatio ex nihilo defines in a negative way the positive ground of creation in God’s good pleasure. Out of ‘the inner necessity of love,’ to use Barth’s phrase, the Creator creates something that corresponds to him and gives him pleasure. That is why in its contingency creation has meaning. This is the reason why it is pleasurable and lovable beyond ‘chance and necessity,’ as Jacques Monod puts it.[3]

It almost goes without saying that before we can ask important questions about God, before we can hope to truly know God and, consequently, to even begin to rightly understand life and the world around us, we must begin with God as Creator of all, “of heaven and earth.” As Thomas Oden points out, “To omit this theme would be like building a house without a foundation, or starting a symphony without the first note.”[4] And the first note we should strike from the biblical record is that there is a beginning. “In the beginning…” This is the beginning of the entire created order, including time. The world in which we live is not eternal. There was a beginning and so, too, there will be an ending, the consummation of all.[5] “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth,” writes St. John the Revelator, “for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.”[6]

Before God spoke all things into being, nothing existed. The cosmos and the material of which it is comprised simply did not exist before God called it into being by his Word. Again, St. Basil the Great makes the point:

Some have affirmed that heaven co-exists with God from all eternity; others that it (creation) is God himself without beginning or end, and the cause of the particular order of all things. One day, doubtless, their terrible condemnation will be the greater for all this worldly wisdom … since they have willfully shut their eyes to the knowledge of the truth.[7]

Why is this important? Because there is an innate tendency in sinful humanity to worship the creature rather than the Creator. In a sense, we often deify creation, though we may not think of it in this way. And Christians are, unfortunately, just as prone to do this, at least in our society. How? We crave nice homes and cars, good food and wine, plenty of friends and beauty, money and all sorts of luxury, vacations in the mountains or on the beach, and whatever else, all at the expense of devotion or any overt recognition of obligation to God the Creator. Everything that exists – time, material, feelings and emotions, other people – exists within the created order. God is the only uncreated being, within the Judeo-Christian (and Islamic) paradigms, so whatever we put ahead of God is tantamount to worshipping the creature rather than the Creator. The creation accounts of Scripture, properly understood, guard us against this errant tendency.

There is the Creator, who is apart from and above creation, but this is not and has never been the perspective of fallen humanity – that is, humanity enslaved to its own dark reasoning and folly. As Robert Jensen appropriately points out:

That God creates means there is other reality than God, and that it is really other than (God)… The point needed and needs such insistence. In the world’s religions the dominant understanding of our being and the being of our world is that it derives from deity by emanation of one sort or another. By this interpretation, either there finally is no reality other than the divine, or insofar as it is other, it is an illusion or degradation. We should note that modern secularist interpretations of the world’s derivation do not break this pattern, but merely exacerbate either the world’s divinity or its worthlessness or, in postmodernism, both at once.[8]

As we read in the account of Second Maccabees, “I beseech you, my child, to look at the heavens and the earth and see everything in them, and know that God made them out of nothing; so also he made the race of man in this way.”[9]

The second point we should consider is that the Creator has ordered all things according to divine purpose. “Then God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.’ And it was so.”[10] Later, “God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion[11] over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”[12]

God has ordered all things according to his purpose – according to Moltmann, an eschatologically fulfilled purpose[13] – and so, consequently, there is an intentional purpose in all. And the epitome of this purpose is stated very powerfully in the 21st chapter of the Revelation to St. John:

I heard a loud voice out of heaven saying, ‘Behold, God’s dwelling is with people, and he will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; neither will there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more. The first things have passed away.’ He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’[14]

As Moltmann explains:

The consummation of the creative process in the kingdom of glory is conceived and presented as God’s indwelling in the new creation… It is no longer merely heaven that is named as the place where God dwells; heaven and earth are now to be newly created so that God himself may dwell in them: finitum capax infiniti – the finite is able to contain the infinite. In the consummation, the hidden, historical indwellings of God in temple and people are to be universally fulfilled.[15]

“For the creation waits with eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed,” writes St. Paul, “that the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of decay into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.”[16] However, if God is not Creator of heaven and earth, then of course God cannot be re-Creator; consequently, we should realize just how important, just how fundamentally necessary the first opening words of the Creed are to our faith-religion, to Christianity in toto.

The third point we should bring to our attention is, perhaps, the most important of all – both anthropologically and theologically. When we affirm in the Apostles’ Creed that we believe “in God the Father, maker of heaven and earth,” we are not excluding the activity of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Scripture teaches, and in the Nicene Creed we confess, that it was through the Son that all things were created, and it was the Holy Spirit who enlivened, who vivified everything, as we profess that he is “the Lord and Giver of Life.” Likewise, of course, it is through the Son that redemption is accomplished and all things are re-created; again, the Spirit is the Lifegiver. The point is terribly important because, though we certainly believe in one God, we believe in one God in tri-unity – the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; ever one God; world without end..[17]

The implication of this is that God is intrinsically communal. In other words, God – one and only one God – is, nevertheless, community (or, we should say, Community). We certainly cannot explain this awesome Mystery, but this is obvious in the New Testament, implicit in the Old, and affirmed by the Catholic (Universal) Church from earliest times. Therefore, because God is Community – three Persons in one Godhead – we see community within the whole of the created order; indeed, the creation is community as well. While there are distinctly separate entities, yet there is also an intrinsic interdependence and harmony throughout the cosmos God created – that is, diversity within unity, unity in diversity. Point in fact, when we say “universe,” we mean one unity – or, as we said, community – created by the personal, communal God.

We do not live in a machine driven by some impersonal engine of nature. “The world God creates is not a thing, a ‘cosmos,’ but is rather a history … a history that is a world, in that it is purposive and so makes a whole… The world is not a dead apparatus in which a few living beings happen to find themselves; it is a garden and pasture of living beings…”[18] and is manifestly personal. This is reflected in the second creation account in Genesis:

The Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’ (So God created woman.) Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh…’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.[19]

From the very beginning, humans had real communion: Communion with God, communion with the animals, and communion with nature. Even still, God said the first man was alone and this was perceived as a deficiency that needed correction, because “the man” was alone in the sense that he was without that community based and centered upon commonly shared physiology and spirituality. So when God created woman, Adam responded by saying essentially, “Finally! Bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh! Someone constitutionally just like me.” Adam Clarke, late 17th/early 18th century British Methodist theologian and Bible scholar, adroitly teases out the meaning of this passage, particularly verse 18:

If the word (helper) be rendered scrupulously literally, it signifies one like, or as himself, standing opposite to or before him. And this implies that the woman was to be a perfect resemblance of the man, possessing neither inferiority nor superiority, but being in all things like and equal to himself. As man was made a social creature, it was not proper that he should be alone; for to be alone, i.e. without a matrimonial companion, was not good.[20]

God never intended loneliness within the created order; thus, with the creation of woman, humanity then enjoyed communion with its Creator, communion with nature and animal life, and communion among itself, i.e. intercommunion. In this divine act, God established the first distinctly human community within the larger community of creation; and with this he rounded out, so to speak, and completed creation. The culmination and completion of the beautiful was the introduction of human community, an intimate community that reflects, or images, the Community of the Holy Trinity. It should be no wonder, then, that this community is also reflected in the foretaste of the new creation we are given in and through Christ Jesus, and exactly in the same way, albeit to a much higher degree.

In the second creation account of Genesis, we have two distinct persons, the man and the woman, sharing one and the same nature and, indeed, joined together in (at least the prefiguration) of Holy Matrimony to become one, while yet retaining their own unique identities. Within the redemption of Christ, we have our Lord Jesus and his Bride, the Church, who are also joined together as the prototype of Holy Matrimony. And, of course we share the same nature because the eternally-begotten Son of God became flesh, so that St. Paul says the Church and Christ are joined together to become “one flesh. This is a great mystery,” he continues, “and I am applying it to Christ and the church.”[21]

This is why disunity in the Church is so intrinsically evil: When the devil tempted Adam and Eve, and they sinned, what happened? Humanity was separated from God. The communion humanity had enjoyed with God was ruptured; of course, the distinctly human community was disrupted as well, which explains why Cain murdered his brother, Abel. This explains all of the wars and violence, divorce, rapes, suicides, and all of the other tragedies of separation and destruction since that time.[22] Christ came to redeem humanity, heal and reconcile humanity to God and then, of course, to one another and to all of creation. This redemption and reconciliation between God and humanity, humans with humans, and humanity with the rest of creation constitutes the Church. The Church is that central part of God’s new creation, which will one day, despite all else, “make herself ready” for the marriage supper of the Lamb, clothing herself “with fine linen, bright and pure,” as St. John the Revelator teaches.[23]

It would probably be enough to say that Christ never intended more than one bride, nor did he intend to marry some multi-headed beast. Remember, the multi-headed beast in the Apocalypse is not presented as the Bride of Christ, despite the fact that the Church may resemble that seven-headed monstrosity in our own day and age! No, plainly Jesus intended and still intends his Church to be one community, another reflection of the Community of the Holy Trinity. And he intends to be united with the Church, his Bride, in the same sense in which man and woman are united in the Divine Mystery of Holy Matrimony. This community (or communion) of Christ and his Church stands at the center, or as the apex, of the new creation just as the community of man and woman was the culmination and center of the original creation.

So it is we have “been taught to put away our former way of life, our old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of our minds, and to clothe ourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness;”[24] to make “every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,”[25] as together we “grow up in all things into him who is the head,”[26] that is, Christ Jesus, so “that he might present” this community “to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”[27] But we don’t get any of this, any of this, unless we begin at the beginning of the Creed – in other words, at the beginning of our faith – with God as “maker of heaven and earth.” I suppose any number of beliefs could have been placed at the beginning of this ancient profession of faith, but the Spirit of the Lord so guided and directed our ancestors to wisely begin, “I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”

In this we not only confess what we believe about the origin of life and the cosmos; we here lay down the foundation of what we believe about life itself, about everything in life and the world around us – its beginning, its value, its purpose and destiny, and its final consummation. That’s quite a lot to say in such a short phrase, but we’re not making any trivial scientific or religious statement; we believe we’re speaking truth itself when we say, “I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” And we ought to fully understand and appreciate all of the important implications of this, of which we’ve only touched the surface in this essay.

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[1] So the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (2015); also note, naturalistic evolution makes no reference to divine superintendence or intervention at all; in fact, naturalistic evolution focuses exclusively upon the “seen” or discernable “natural” world. This theory is to be distinguished from theistic evolution, which posits God, deity or deities, the supernatural, etc. at the “first cause,” as it were, or progenitor-initiator in the whole process of evolution. In other words, there is a god and this god has in some sense “made” at least the material of life and the whole cosmos, and has provided at least some guidance, direction, and superintendence in the growth and maturation of the same. Note: Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, remarked, “The Christian idea of the world is that it originated n a very complicated process of evolution but that it nevertheless still comes in its depths from the Logos. It thus bears reason in itself.” As quoted by Cardinal Schönborn, Chance or Purpose? Creation, Evolution, and a Rational Faith, 5

[2] Basil, Hexaemeron, in Nicene Post-Nicene Fathers, 2.8:53

[3] Jürgen Moltmann, Science and Wisdom, 38-39

[4] Thomas Oden, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, The Living God, 228

[5] Cf. Robert Jensen, Systematic Theology, vol. 2, The Works of God, 11-14 passim

[6] Revelation 21.1 NKJV

[7] St. Basil, Op Cit, NPNF 2.8:54

[8] R. Jensen, Op Cit, 5; cf. also Allen and Springsted, Philosophy for Understanding Theology, 8

[9] II Maccabees 7.28, St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint (SAAS)

[10] Genesis 1.11 NRSV

[11] The word “dominion” is particularly troublesome and, very tragically, has been severely misunderstood and abused. As Moltmann observes, “The ecological crisis caused by the progressive destruction of nature has been brought about by Christianity and science jointly; and if human beings and nature want to win a chance to survive in the face of this crisis, Christianity and science must together revise their picture of the human being – both the view reflected in the traditional belief in creation (‘subdue the earth,’ Gen. 1.28), and the view held in Cartesian science, according to which the human being is ‘maître et possesseur de la nature’. (Op Cit, 33)

[12] Genesis 1.26-27 NRSV

[13] Jürgen Moltmann, Op Cit, particularly 44-47 passim

[14] Revelation 21.3-5a WEBA (World English Bible w/Apocypha)

[15] Moltmann, Op Cit, 45; cf. also Anne Clifford, Op Cit, 203-204

[16] Romans 8.19, 21 WEBA

[17] Note: This is, perhaps, a deficiency in the Apostles’ Creed, but most suitably corrected in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. (See Below); cf. Schönborn, Op Cit, 132-135; Anne Clifford, “Creation,” Systematic Theology: Roman Catholic Perspectives, 209

[18] R. Jensen, Op Cit, 14-15

[19] Genesis 2.23a, 24 ESV

[20] Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Bible, Genesis 1.18 (AV); cf. also Anne Clifford, “Creation,” Systematic Theology: Roman Catholic Perspectives, 202-203

[21] Ephesians 5.32 NRSV

[22] Note: One might, perhaps, wonder if I am taking the details of the Genesis narrative literally. My approach is what I might term a l’histoire au mythe approach; that is, that the narrative conveys the historic reality of the origins and subsequent “fall” of humanity, yet the narrative is mythical. Again, truth is assuredly conveyed, but not with an eye to the details of what, perhaps, actually unfolded. God created. All that God created was good, very good. Humanity enjoyed at first an unsullied communion with God, creation, and one another. Humanity rebelled against God and the goodness of God. Humanity “fell” into darkness, sin, and death. This is what is principally conveyed in the account.

[23] Revelation 19.7b-8 ESV

[24] Ephesians 4.22-24 NRSV

[25] Ephesians 4.3 NRSV

[26] Ephesians 4.15b NKJV

[27] Ephesians 5.27 NKJV

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