Today I want to bring out two truths implied the Christian affirmation that God created “all things visible and invisible.” (1) We tend to locate God’s act of creation in the long past and apply it only to the first creatures. Most Christians are semi-deists; they think God acts in the world but only on occasion, in what are called miracles. But the doctrine of creation asserts that God is Creator in all time and space and of every creature that comes into existence. The world is God’s constant act of creating. God acted just as much as creator in giving you and me existence as he did in saying “let there be light.” We are just as dependent on God for our existence as was the first creature that came into being from nothing. We can allow this thought to inspire us to celebrate God’s love, grace and faithfulness or create in us resentment that we “owe” God so much, that we do not create ourselves and are obligated to obey his commands.
(2) Everything God made is good, and God made everything. There is sin and evil in the world, but the world itself is not evil. The affirmation that “everything is good” means that each and every creature was created for a purpose that serves the final end for which God made the world. There is no such thing as an evil entity, that is, a creature that should not exist and cannot be used for good. Sin and evil are misuses of created things, which are good in themselves. Accepting the Christian view that God created all things good should compel us to look for God’s wisdom in the created order of nature and seek God’s will concerning how to use the creation for good.
But there have always been those who deny the goodness of creation and suspect the Creator of malice. In the early centuries of Christianity (1st through 4th Centuries), some forms of Gnosticism including Manicheanism taught that a world as bad as ours had to be the work of an evil god. They rejected embodiment, passions, sex and eating meat as evil. They were not just vegetarians or vegans; they considered eating fruits and vegetables murder, unless you performed the proper ceremonies to free the spirit trapped within. The goal of this religion was escape from entrapment in the material world, and its practices and ceremonies were designed to facilitate this escape.
I see in contemporary culture some troubling analogies to the Manichean rejection of creation and the Creator. Perhaps this sounds implausible. After all, we live in a pleasure seeking, sensuous culture, not a world-denying one. Let me explain. Modern culture began with a general dissatisfaction with the evils attributed to the ancient social order. Thinkers sought first to persuade and enlighten their way to utopia. Revolutionaries found this method too slow and ineffective and turned to violent revolution to remake the social order. Both of these methods are still being used, but some unwanted conditions cannot plausibly be attributed to unjust social structures or to the physical malfunction evident in disease. Some are bound up with creation and the created order.
I am thinking of Genesis 1:27: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Jesus reaffirmed this created order in Mark 10:6-7: “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife.” We must be clear that both male and female are made “in the image of God.” Both are fully human and they are made for each other, to complete each other. Woman is not woman apart from man and man is not man apart from woman.
But there are distinctions that constitute the maleness and femaleness of each. It seems to me that if we really affirm the goodness of the Creator and the order God made, we will embrace and celebrate our maleness or femaleness and the mutually defining the relationship between the two. God made males with certain distinguishing characteristics. These characteristics are “good,” that is, they can be used for the good purposes for which God designed them. (They can also be misused.) God made females with certain distinguishing characteristics, and these characteristics are also “good,” that is, they can be used for the good purposes for which God designed them. (They, too, can be misused.) One set of characteristics is not better than the other, because what makes them “good” is their God-given purpose, not some humanly imagined ranking of goods. Hence men and women should seek their proper dignity and identity not in relation to humanly constructed social orders, which always reflect the fallen and sinful human condition, but in relation to God. Envy and competition, distain and domination or pride and shame arise from ignorance or rejection of the goodness of the Creator. Every gift is to be used for others. The Creator’s work should never be the occasion for pride or shame.
Contemporary culture does not think or speak this way about male and female, nor define the goodness of maleness or femaleness in terms of God’s purpose in creation. Instead, it speaks of “gender” (indeed of multiple genders), which it considers a socially constructed reality, and spreads it out in an infinite continuum. Increasingly, the dominant culture denies the “for each other” nature of male and female with its God-given goal of becoming “one flesh.” In place of a God-created natural teleology it substitutes individual preferences, male for female or female for female or male for male or both. Instead of accepting and celebrating God-created nature, it celebrates the human act of defying confining natural structures and asserting a self-liberated self. At the heart of the gender revolution lies a Manichean-like rejection of creation and the Creator. It seeks escape from entrapment in the confining male-female distinction (the “binary gender” construct) and mutuality, not by practicing asceticism and engaging in mystical ceremonies as the Manicheans did, but by willful acts of self-recreation, rearrangement and redirection. But the fundamental heresy is the same: creation is not the good work of the benevolent Creator to be embraced and celebrated but a condition from which to escape by any means possible.
I am wondering how we might reply to someone of a more Libertarian spirit that argues along these lines: “For the sake of argument, let’s grant that God did in fact create me and that without Him I would not exist. That does not mean I owe Him worship and obedience–I would not exist without my parents’ relationship, but that does not mean I need to worship them and obey their commands even once I am grown.” So I am basically wondering if there is a logical jump/implied premises in your presentation getting from the fact that God created us to the fact that we have a duty to worship and obey Him.
I am starting to think of other areas where our culture may deny the goodness of God’s created order for people. One example I can think of is committed monogomous relationships–a trend in our culture is the belief that monogamy is not good or not natural for us. Another example might be raising children in a mother-father household (as opposed to single-parent families, same-gender parent families, or even more “communal” approaches to raising children). Not sure if you had any thoughts on those, but it was just somewhere my mind jumped to when thinking about your points.
I think some of these Manichean twists on Creation have been in response to “church-ordained” twists on Creation. That is, it is not just these twists on God’s natural order of things that you mentioned above that indicate rebellion from how God created humans to be, live, and interact. For example, there are plenty of denials of Creation within male-female relationships as well: domestic abuse, gender inequality (to be distinguished from sameness), and patriarchy, just to name a few that have been prominent in Western culture. I think misinterpretations and misapplications of God’s Word throughout history have forced people — such as the LGBTQ community, feminists (of all ranges), and others — to go looking for other outlets of self-expression because the church has very rarely provided a safe, loving environment for people to come to terms with who they think/feel they are and who God created them to be. Sexuality especially has always been taboo despite its significance in our lives in relation to each other and to God. Because of our sinful nature, rebelling against how God created us is a struggle of all humans, and while the issue of sexuality/marriage/partnership/relationship is a prominent and important one, it is not the only sin that draws us away from who God created us (as individuals and as a species) to be.
Extremes provoke extremes. The job of a theologian is to think all the way to the foundations. We cannot rely on slogans and contemporary truisms. My post asserts that, according to the doctrine of creation, male and female are created for each other. Reason confirms this. Indeed, you are correct that there are many ways to deny or defy the Creator. But the gender issue is the current place where the issue comes to a focus theologically and philosophically. It seems to be the test case of today. What if one accepts the idea that being created male or female possess no moral imperatives? Surely one would have to say that being male or female is one of the more obvious created characteristics of human beings. But if one denies that there is any moral direction implicit in that divine choice, wouldn’t it follow that there are no moral imperatives implicit in any structure of creation? What does affirming God as creator then mean? We would need to derive all ethics from either humanistic sources, which without God are groundless. Or we need to derive them from the idea of a Savior God and an vision of a future freed from the limits of creation. But this is exactly what the Manicheans and other Gnostics did! They rejected the Creator and viewed the Savior as another God.
There is a danger, though, in misreading the moral imperatives contained within the structures of creation and biology. For example, several ancient cultures inferred from the nature of sexual intercourse that the man is meant as the dominating, penetrating force while the female is submissive and receiving. The illustration of a man sowing seeds onto fertile ground was cited as a parallel. From this, the imperative or even right of a man to be in a dominant or authoritarian position over the woman was derived. Few of us would agree with that interpretation of the implications of the sexual act, and yet that is one possible result of attempts to draw metaphysical conclusions and ethical imperatives from the structure of Creation.
Of course, all sorts of nonsense has been advocated on the basis of “nature”. Likewise all sorts of nonsense has been advocated by those who deny that there is a nature at all. My point is not about either set of nonsense. My point is the theological/philosophical justification for denying that ANY moral imperatives are rooted in the structures of creation. To your point about the nature of sexual intercourse becoming the basis for male domination. That was a silly argument attempting to justify domination that was already a reality. The basis for men dominating women in history is the empirical fact that men are much stronger and more aggressive that women. What you do with that empirical fact is an moral issue. Men can use their superior strength for good or evil. But use their strength they must. Historically, men have this choice and (most) women do not. And I doubt is technological advances have changed this situation fundamentally.
The fundamental rejection of a good Creator God has also led to a paradoxical polarization regarding our modern concepts of good and evil. I find it baffling that there is an increasing conviction that man is inherently good, and an equal if not greater wave of proponents, disillusioned by war and general evil, convinced that we are instinctively bad. Those that support that idea that man is inherently good generally evidence the random acts of kindness one may see day to day, or the innocence of a small child, or perhaps even the beauty of nature. And those oppose this view point to human cruelty, slavery, the gap between the rich and poor, genocide, and a whole host of other evils. Interestingly enough, one may find a 21st century atheist/agnostic/deist simultaneously arguing both for sides. Of course, there is a sort of truth in both, as some look at creation and others at original sin. However, this polarization would be reconciled if man looked not at nature, not at war, and not at himself, but simply at God.