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The Holy Spirit in the Early Church
We have spoken of God, His reality, His being, His character. We come now to creation. Let us consider this under three heads: its origin, its nature, its climax.
I. The Origin of Creation
In Genesis 1:1 the origin is clearly stated-namely, God. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Hence: (1) the universe is not eternal, and (2) the universe is not a result of chance.
There are those who hold that the universe in some form has always existed. Its pattern may have varied, they assert, but there was something always there. One form of energy changes into another in a kind of eternal procession. To inquire where it came from originally is meaningless; the universe always has been.
The Christian faith answers no: the universe is not eternal. At a certain moment called "the beginning," God created. Out of preexistent material? No, out of nothing. As another verse of Scripture puts it, "(He) calls into existence the things that do not exist" (Romans 4:17). Further, the universe is not a chance event, coming into existence by some kind of spontaneous generation. Rather it came from God, according to His will and purpose.
If this be the case, as Christian faith affirms, then the universe takes on an entirely different cast. Without God it is a bit terrifying to contemplate that there is nothing beyond but billions of stars and planets and satellites almost lost in the unimaginable vastness of space. It all seems cold, and our little earth ridiculously small-and everything rather meaningless. But when one understands and believes that God is its Maker and that He must have had reason for creating it all, then the universe becomes friendly, and warm, yes, even purposeful.
This becomes even more heartwarming when one realizes that (to put it a bit peculiarly) "all of God" was involved in the act of creation-God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We say in the Apostles' Creed, "I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth." But we also believe that God the Son was in it, for the New Testament account of creation (John 1) says: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made..And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father."
The Word and the Son are identical; hence, though the account of creation in Genesis 1 does not mention the Son by that name, God does create through His word. "And God said" is a phrase that precedes every act of creation throughout the chapter.
Surely God the Holy Spirit was also active, for though the word Holy is not used this early in the biblical narrative, the Spirit of God is shown as participating in creation-"The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters" (Genesis 1:2).
The Psalmist put it beautifully in saying, "When thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they are created" (Psalm 104:30).
"All of God" was in it, which is only another way of saying that creation was no casual act of an unconcerned God. Rather God, humanly speaking, "threw Himself into it." Such makes us rejoice all the more as we contemplate the vastness of our universe.
Our universe is no chance incident without reason or cause, with nothing out there but unspeakable vastness and pinpoints of light. It is rather the deed of God.
II. The Method of Creation
The method wherein God created the heavens and the earth is clearly that of progressive acts. Creation does not happen all at once; rather it follows an order in the mind and word of God. Over a period of six days creation occurs, from the creation of light to the creation of man, in a succession of acts.
Here it seems important to add that the six days cannot refer to six twenty-four-hour days, since the sun which makes day as we know it is not created until the fourth day. The six days of Genesis 1 refer then to six periods of time during which God did a certain work. As 2 Peter says, "With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (3:8). Indeed a day could be a million, a billion, a trillion years, depending on God's ways of working.
Understanding this truth, one finds no contradiction with the scientific view of lengthy geological eras prior to the coming of man. Rather is this confirmation of the way creation has been continuing over a long period of time.
Striking also is the manner in which Genesis depicts the creation of life, beginning with plants and trees, then moving on to the living creatures first of the waters, then of the sky, then of the land, and finally man himself. This progression is confirmed by biological study which shows that man is a relatively late arrival on the scene. Behind him is all the process of creation which climaxes in his coming.
Incidentally, Christian people have sometimes been very much disturbed by doctrines of evolution, fearing that they contradict the Bible. To be sure, if such doctrines deny the creative power of God they are in contradiction. But if evolution be understood to mean that creation has taken a long, long time through one species after another, then this only confirms the Scripture-which has been saying the same thing for lo these many centuries. The method of creation in Genesis is that of progressive acts-and much biological science has been able to give us illustration of how that progression might have occurred.
The method again: God creates through His Word (His Son), with His Holy Spirit moving over everything. The creation develops from the formlessness and void and darkness of Genesis 1:2 to the creation of man in Genesis 1:26.
Every step along the way was a good step as God worked His plan out. Perhaps we think upon the ice ages of the past, great convulsions of the earth, prehistoric monsters-and tend to shudder. Was it not all a kind of tangled-up, godless world for a long time? But no, says Genesis, it was leading up to the creation of man: it was all good. Over and over in Genesis 1 an act of creation contains the sentence "And God saw that it was good." When it was all done, the Scripture reads, "And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good" (1:31).
The method of creation: the progressive acts of the Triune God-a marvel to contemplate.
III. The Climax of Creation
The climax of creation, as already mentioned, is the creation of man. Now we may add: the creation of man in the image of God.
"Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth....So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:26, 27).
Before inquiring as to what this means, another description of man's creation should be added from Genesis 2: "The Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being" (2:7).
This latter description points to man's creatureliness-that he is of the earth as are all other of God's creatures. This is not to be forgotten or denied: man is an animal-even if the highest and most advanced. He belongs to the animal kingdom.
However, it is also said of man that he was created in the image of God. In that respect he is different from all the rest of creation, for of no other created thing is this affirmed. Herein lies man's distinctiveness-creature, yes-but also made in the divine image.
But just what does this mean? Doubtless it refers to some likeness between God and man-"Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." This makes no reference to physical similarity, because "God is spirit" (John 4:24). Man's body therefore cannot be fashioned after God. There are indeed references in the Bible to God's hand, His face, His eyes, His finger, and so on-but these (as noted previously) must be understood in a figurative manner. They are used occasionally only to make more concrete the reality of God.
Again, then, what is the meaning of man's creation in the image of God? One possible answer is that since God is Trinity in Unity-man is somehow a trinity too. Note that the verse does say "in our image, after our likeness," and then farther on "in his own image." God is both more than one and yet also one. Various trinitarian aspects of man's inner nature are sometimes mentioned, such as, man is body, mind, and spirit; again, that he is a thinking, feeling, willing creature. A trinity outside man's own nature is that of his relationship to God and his neighbors, so that man is actually man only as he stands in a vital relationship to the Other above and the other about. The verse in Genesis speaking of man's creation in God's "own image" proceeds to say, "In the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." This would imply that man is only man in duality-with another person-and therefore in trinity: man with God above and his neighbor about (in this instance, at least, the neighbor being the other sex). God is Trinity within Himself-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; man is trinity without himself-existing in a relationship to God, to neighbor, and to self.
Whether this is precisely what the Scripture is saying is hard to know for certain. But of this we can be sure: that man is greatly different from all other creatures in that he is made for God-indeed, cannot really live without Him-and he is made for his neighbor and cannot really live without him either.
Note next that man is given a very high place in creation. Just after the words "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" follows "and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." Is not this still another aspect of man's being created in God's image? God, who has dominion over all things, has given man dominion over the living creatures of earth. Man images God in that he is made to rule, to be the master of God's creation, albeit under God's final rulership.
At times man may seem rather small, even insignificant, in comparison with the vastness of God's universe. Recall how the Psalmist felt (Psalm 8):
When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,
the moon and the stars which thou hast established;
what is man that thou art mindful of him,
and the son of man that thou dost care for him?
But then he goes on to marvel at man's high stature-(his creation in the image of God, if you will)-
Yet thou hast made him little less than God,
and dost crown him with glory and honor.
Thou hast given him dominion over the works of thy hands;
thou hast put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the sea.
Then does the Psalmist end by crying-
O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is thy name in all the earth!
Man, "little less than God," having dominion over God's own works: such is the climax of God's act of creation. Dust of the earth, creature alongside other creatures, but by God's will made in the divine image: such is the grandeur and glory of man.
If this be his grandeur and glory, man's joy and happiness lie in the wonder of his relation to God and his neighbor. For in this relationship of faith and love man fulfills his God-given nature.
The origin of creation-God; the method of creation-progressive acts; the climax-man in the divine image. To God be the glory!