What I Believe: Creation

Creation is a very complex subject. I believe God did create the heavens and the earth (and everything else) but not in six twenty-four hour days. I think creation required a long line of incremental steps and also time for created objects to mature to the state needed to make the earth suitable for human habitation. Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:3 tells us of God setting the stage for the story. It should not be over-interpreted as a description of all of creation. It is after all a rather short poem and I believe that it, like most poetry, cannot be interpreted literally. That said, there are two significant aspects of it. One is that everything physical in it is real and we have either experienced them or know about them. This led Isaac Newton to think that the passage was a description of end points of God’s creative actions. The second aspect is more subtle. I believe that breaking up the account of creation into days reflects the reality of the world we know coming into existence by stages.

 

This does not mean that I believe in evolution in any way, shape or form. Éttienne Gilson, a French philosopher, wrote in 1975, “Evolution is bad science and worse philosophy.” Since then, the science of evolution has gotten worse due to the vast increase of knowledge in the field of microbiology and the ideology of evolution has gone down several different paths.

 

The evolutionists have one thing, I think, that keeps them in the arena of evolutionist/creationist controversy. That is that life on earth has a long history. This is true even if some of the past and present scientific ideas about the age of the earth and how we got to the present will probably end up some day on a “blooper reel.”

 

We are told many times in Scripture about God’s propensity for creation What we are not told is how he does it.

Creation: Its Causes, Essence and End

“For myself I wanted to know nature after another fashion in its causes, in its essence, in its end.” (Cited in review of We Have Been Friends Together & Adventures in Grace by Raїssa Maritain, First Things, May 2016, p. 63)

What we call nature is the creation of God but only part of his creative activity. If we are to broaden the six days of creation to six stages, as it takes the complete Bible to tell us, we might say these are: (1) Conception of existence, (2) Physical creation, (3) Creation of minds, (4) Creation of human spirits, (5) Regeneration of our spirits (rebirth) and, (6) Re-creation of human bodies (resurrection). And then God presumably rests from creation for eternity, although there may be room in eternity for types of creation we have not been told about.

Causes of Creation

Creation is a product of both the mind and the power of an infinite being. It is so complex in its six manifestations that it requires not only an infinite deity to accomplish it but one that has three persons. The Father is the source of all creation. The Son is the active agent who serves the purposes of the Father and who both shapes creation and takes into own being a human person. The Holy Spirit accomplishes the spiritual parts of creation in accordance with the purposes of the Father and the Son.

Essence of Creation

The essence of creation is the bringing into existence of something that did not exist before. When we think about physical creation these can be objects as large as the universe or as small as the Higgs boson. We can note that none of these physical entities has either mind or spirit. This fact escapes the minds of the materialists who think their thoughts and everything else can be explained by what is only one part of creation.

Before there was any physical creation there was a planning session in heaven. This brought into being a literally cosmic plan for something that had never existed before. After physical creation came the creation of minds. This, of course, required the coming into existence of something else that was new—life.

There are various opinions about the role of the twenty-four elders described in the book of Revelation. They appear to be rather robotic but one of them does impart wisdom to John during one of his experiences in heaven. My own opinion is that they were created to advise the Trinity on what it is like to be finite. Before the Incarnation none of the Godhead had any experience with the limits of finite being. This may be why there appear to be some “kinks’ in the timeline of creation.

The wisdom of the elders is shown by their continual praise of the Father and Son. This is what our kind of finite beings would be doing if we were wise enough.

Back to our own reality, when our ancestors reached a certain level of physical and mental development they were ready to be given a living soul. This is something that had not existed before. It did not come from physical creation although its existence was part of God’s planning of creation. Since our souls are not part of physical creation they cannot be detected by physical means. This inability to be detected means that belief in their existence requires what is called faith. In other words, an action of our minds not our bodies.

End of Creation

The end of creation is not when the space-time continuum tears and time and space no longer exist. The ultimate end, meaning its defining purpose, is in the vast number of glorified humans who are to live with and praise their Creator forever. The end of creation would have been at the conclusion of a far straighter train of events if God had not introduced contingency and probability into his creative efforts. As it is, all the stages of creation involve vast complexities that continue to challenge the best of our human understanding.

Our Creation As Humans

We can think of the creation of humans by God as coming in three flavors: physical, spiritual, and anthropological. As a metaphor for this, when we consider our own creation, we can use an image of Neapolitan ice cream. This ice cream, of Italian origin, consists of three blocks of ice cream placed together in a single container. For American consumption, the flavors are vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. Like the ice cream we consist of three types of creation in a necessarily intimate relationship.

The vanilla can represent our physical creation. We have bodies composed of the same kinds of matter as the rest of the universe. These operate by the same principles that govern all living creatures. Chocolate can stand for our spiritual life and strawberry for the unique characteristics that make us human.

Most discussion of the coming into existence of people focuses on our physical creation. We are described in Genesis chapter 1 as being created much like all the other parts of God’s creation. This can lead to us regarding ourselves as primarily physical beings. Physical creation began with the bringing into existence of energy, matter, space, time, and all the laws that govern their interactions. If we were fully described simply by our being embedded in and part of the physical universe we Christians could still claim God as a marvelous Creator.

However, there is far more to us than can be encompassed in a physical existence. We are told of one additional component of our being in Genesis 1:26. That verse tells us that we were created in the image of God. At that time God had no body. It can only be the creation of our human spirits that allow the Bible to say that we are created in the image of God. After all, God the Father and the Holy Spirit only exist as spiritual beings and Christ did not have a physical body and human soul until the Incarnation.

Spiritual existence requires a place for it to occur. Since it cannot take place in the physical realm then of necessity there must a spiritual realm. This spiritual space is a larger realm than the physical since it contains all that takes place spiritually on the earth (in the universe) and also all that occurs in Heaven. It may also be regarded as a realm to which our access to knowledge and our theological understanding are both limited by the quality of our present spiritual existence. It can be noted here that our knowledge and understanding of the physical and anthropological realms are also limited, though in other ways.

You probably do not have any problem with the reality of physical and spiritual creation. Anthropological creation may be a new idea to you. It is the coming into existence of everything that makes us specifically human. We might look for evidence of anthropological creation in an unlikely place—genetics, or more properly, the lack of evidence of it in genetics. It is frequently written that we share 97 percent of our genes with some primate. It should be evident that, to throw out a number, 97 percent of our culture is different than that of primates. Thus it cannot be reasonably claimed that our anthropological nature is a product of our genetics—it is outside the physical realm. It is also not to be adequately explained as a product of our spiritual nature since it relates only to our life on earth.

The early part of Genesis provides us with much information on God’s creation of our anthropological natures. We are told of language, music, religion, psychology, invention, community, government and far more. All were created by God to add to our richness of being. Thus was added to our uniqueness what we might call an unexpected taste of strawberry flavor.

It takes these three types of creation to define what we are as human beings. And (quite plausibly) it takes a God in three Persons to have conceived of creatures such as us.

Unique in All the Universe

Evolutionists and creationists have spent a long time arguing about how humans came to be. There are two basic ideas: (1) we are the result of a very, very long chain of fortuities which produced our existence, or (2) we are the creation of an infinite Creator. The arguments have mostly been about our physical existence which we share with all the rest of the universe. However, there is another side to our existence which may be unique in all the universe.

In his book, God’s Planet, Owen Gingerich quotes with approval (according to a review done by Stephen Barr for First Things) the following statement of Pope John Paul II:

With man, we find ourselves facing a different ontological order—an ontological leap we could say. . . . The moment of passage into the spiritual realm is not something that can be observed with research in the fields of physics and chemistry—although we can nevertheless discern, through experimental research, a series of very valuable signs of what is specifically human life. But the experience of metaphysical knowledge, of self-consciousness and self-awareness, of moral conscience, of liberty, or of aesthetic and religious experience—these must be analyzed through philosophical reflection, while theology seeks to clarify the ultimate meaning of the Creator’s designs.

I think creationists would have done better to argue with the social scientists over the ideas the Pope expresses. The “soft” sciences are notably weak in their understanding of the aspects of our humanity resulting from our spiritual nature. This is evidenced by the large number of variant opinions and the lack of assured predictions of human actions. It might not be too much to say that they are more suited to satire and parody than to guiding public policy or as instructions on how to live a human life.

There are many reasons for the lack of unity within the social sciences. One reason that Gingerich rightly points out is that, “the transition to a spiritual being . . . does not fossilize.” This would not be necessarily an impossible obstacle to the scientific understanding of the spiritual nature of humans. After all, physicists study many particles that can only be observed by their impact on other particles. So the need for indirect knowledge of spiritual reality cannot be the total reason for the neglect of its study in the social sciences.

As most people realize, the secular rejection of spiritual understandings of human existence and behavior are based on various ideologies. Materialism, naturalism, scientism, atheism all hold that there is nothing outside the physical realm to be studied. Since proponents of these ideologies are generally proud of their intellectual capacity it is surprising they do not realize the gigantic defect in their exclusionary logic. Namely, that nothing is found unless it is looked for.

People who, in many cases, are willing to go to the ends of the earth or even to search the stars to find the entire extent of life should be willing to look into themselves to see there is a unique form of life within them—one with the potential to live forever. Unfortunately most of them have a great resistance to doing so.

From the Present World to the New Creation

The book of Revelation, beginning from two points in the present world (the history we live in), tells us what happens to some part of humanity on their way to the new and final creation we find at the end of the book. This segment of people is those whose names are written in the book of life (Revelation 20:12). The destiny of the rest is to be thrown into a lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).

There are many people who object for many different reasons to the idea of everyone having to face a pass/fail situation to remain in existence. Thus we should look at how Revelation gets us to this point. The books starts with a man named John, most likely the apostle, on the island of Patmos in the Mediterranean Sea around AD 95. It is a Sunday and he enters into a condition of spiritual perception described as being in the Spirit. This state allows him to see spiritual realities with the same clarity and intensity as he normally saw physical realities. Thus begins a series of visions that continue to the end of the book.

The first vision concerns the seven churches in Asia Minor to which the book is addressed. In it we find that even in Christian churches there are people who may pass and also who may fail. If this surprises us we should remember Jesus told his disciples in the parable of the weeds (Matthew 13) that there were going to be people in the Christian churches until he returned who were sons of the evil one and who would then be thrown into the fire.

The next series of visions, collectively described as the opening of seven seals, are an outline of human history. The test here is how people react to the events of history. Those who have faith in Christ are meant to persevere in their faith while others are seeing only disasters and the wrath of God or, in our time, both the absence of God and any meaning to what happens. The “seal” visions go counter to the optimism in Western culture that has been a staple of secular, and much nominally Christian, thinking since the Enlightenment.

The “trumpet” visions provide us pictures of psychological disasters. The events that occur create fear, anxiety and other types of psychological pain. The last three of the seven trumpets produce such pain they are called three woes. Surprisingly enough the third woe is the return of Christ which means it is time for everyone to find out who has passed and who will be destroyed. Certainly, the highest of possible anxieties will be in those who do not have a true assurance of their faith in Jesus Christ.

This second part of Revelation starts at Revelation 11:19 or Revelation 12:1 depending on how those verses are understood. In any case, it is here that the visions enter the realm of the spiritual. This means that what occurs affects the world in a different way than the events of the first half of the book.

The first vision in this section provides us a vision of a beautiful woman descending from heaven. The immediate symbolism is that of the creation of the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai. The larger meaning is that of God’s good purposes for humanity. We see this in the birth of a male child who is obviously Jesus Christ. The steps between his birth on earth and his enthronement in heaven are omitted. The good promised to those who are faithful to Christ is expanded on throughout the remainder of the book.

Next there comes the bad news for humanity. John sees a war in heaven in which the good angels defeat Satan and his minions and cast them down to earth. We are told in 2 Peter 5:8 that the devil seeks out individuals to destroy but he also has larger projects for human destruction as we are told in various symbols.

The initial symbol is described as a beast coming out of the sea. Again there appear to be two aspects to what is represented by the beast. The concrete aspect of it could be as a symbol of the Roman Empire. However, just as the woman has ramifications all through history so does this first beast. The larger symbolism is that of nations that wage war against the people of God. The impetus that Satan supplies to these nations we may call “nationalism.”

The second beast is pictured as coming out of the earth. It supports the power of the first beast and insures that the beast out of the sea is continued to be worshipped, even though at some point it had been severely injured. We might see this beast as “secularism” because in it we find a worship of the natural world and the promotion of technology as an ultimate good. This beast may also be symbolized by the false prophet who is introduced in chapter 16.

The role of the beasts and the false prophet is to deceive people about the reality of God’s good purpose for humanity. This is done by the creation of false ideologies that people can serve and in doing so be kept from serving God, which is where their true interest lies. They also allow Satan to achieve the destruction of human life that is his main goal. There are many “isms” that Satan has used and is using, far more than can be listed. A new one is pathological altruism which is defined as doing good to feel good regardless if anyone is helped by it. It seems also that almost anything that is joined to Christianity, such as social activism, church unity or older causes such as temperance are probably deceptions created by Satan.

The name Babylon is used four different times in Revelation as the description of a decadent entity. Far be it from me to be able to provide any certainties as to exactly what these entities are. One of the difficulties in interpreting Revelation is that we do not know where we are in all the things that are presented to us in a variety of ways.

There are far more things going on in Revelation than I have even mentioned. However, returning to my original purpose, it is time to take a look at how we get from our present world to the final creation and to do that we need first to see what this world is like.

Our present world is part of a universe that, as best we know, began with an immense amount of energy coming into existence. This energy was contained in a rapidly and constantly expanding four-dimensional entity called the space-time continuum. This energy is the source of all matter. We know, thanks to special relativity, how energy and matter are related. Matter and energy, and the forces that govern them, constitute the material universe.

Physics is always subject to revision but it seems now that gravity, which is produced by deformation of the space-time continuum, does not fit into the Standard Model of physical forces that includes the strong force, the weak force and electromagnetism. This appears to make it reasonable that gravity can be thought of as a part of the immaterial part of the universe constituted by space and time.

It was not too long ago that scientists did not know the universe was expanding, that time was variable and that gravity was a deformation of space. This did not prevent materialists from claiming that everything was matter and energy and nothing immaterial existed. They were obviously wrong about the universe but this did not prevent them from proclaiming the nonexistence of any spiritual realm. However, now it is reasonable to question any of their supposedly certain knowledge about the nonexistence of immaterial things.

Like the universe we humans have our material and immaterial components. Our immaterial part is often called our soul. Like space and time it is not governed by the laws of energy and matter. In its normal condition it, like the universe, is not eternal. However, unlike the universe, it has the possibility of becoming eternal through what is called a second birth. This new birth is a work of the Holy Spirit. In other words, here is a case of the spiritual realm entering the physical realm. And here we can see that immaterial things can influence our physical existence just as the space-time continuum shapes the material events of the universe.

The work of the Holy Spirit in those who will become eternal is the final creation coming into the present creation. It is what Jesus called the kingdom of God. However, this is only the beginning of the road to eternity. The next step which takes place in the present world is what could be called “solidification.” This is the process often called “sanctification” where people destined for eternity began to acquire the “being” required to live longer than nations, longer than the earth, longer than the universe. The step after this is physical death. There is no escaping it. Jesus had to go through it to lead others to everlasting life.

After physical death there is a state of spiritual existence. This seems to take several forms. It is sometimes thought of as a marginal existence in a place called “Hades” (the grave) or it can be, as in Revelation, participation in the eternal praise of God the Father and God the Son. The final stage of our existence is where people either receive a resurrection body in which they will live forever or they are sent to a second death where they cease to exist.

At this point we should ask ourselves why everybody does not urgently seek to become an inhabitant of the final creation. There are several reasons why this is so. Major causes are egotism, atheism, hedonism, intellectualism, and so forth, here are those isms again and they are all deceptions of Satan who seeks the destruction of individuals however he can.

There are reasons other than Satan’s deceits for people making the wrong choice. There are people who dislike the God of the Old Testament and/or the Jesus of the New Testament. We should pause here briefly and consider the mental state of people who think they are qualified to judge the being and purposes of God. Next, we can go on to those who love the things of the world too much. We are told in 1 John 2:16 that the cravings of sinful people, the ambitions for more, and the pride of accomplishments and possessions are not from God but from the world and as such cannot last. They and these things will have no place in the final creation.

Some traditional Christians think people make the wrong choice because of their rebellion against God. This may be flattery because what people seem to object to is the sacrifice of self that is required and the acknowledgment of fundamental defects in themselves. Some of those who go on to the second death are those who do not see any need to be any better than they are.

We do not know why Revelation shows so many people unable to acquire the eternal life that is to be found in Christ. Jesus, though, told his disciples in Matthew 7:13–14 that Christians needed to enter the final creation through a narrow gate and that there would be only a few who found the road to eternal life. He also said there was a wide gate that leads to annihilation. This is the road to the second death. The book of Revelation is a long and dramatic exposition of these words of Jesus. We may not comprehend many of the details but the message is clear. Our choice of the direction of our lives must be always, and in perseverance through all things, along the narrow road.

The final creation we should seek is a new heaven and a new earth. John saw a great and wondrous woman come down to the present world to symbolize God’s purposes for it. In a later vision, chapter 21, John sees a bride descending on the new earth. She is also spectacular. The woman symbolizes the permanent union of Christ with those who inhabit the holy city described as the New Jerusalem.

The symbolism surrounding the bride and the rest of the final creation is complex. It may be best understood as a negation of the present world. In it there will be no death, mourning, pain or any of all the other ailments of the present world. There will be no evil people. They are specifically excluded. The description of the new heaven and earth seems to preclude it being a remaking or repurposing of the present world. This is no return to Eden but an entirely new existence in a completely new reality. In it all is good and everything in it will last forever. It will allow the people there to be what God saw them to be when he envisioned their existence before the creation of the present world.