What is creation? Quite often, when asked that question, everyday Christians would immediately direct attention to what has been made. One might say, "Look at the vast sky above, with its moon and stars, its sun and clouds which give rain from heaven." We might point to the ocean and all its deep mysteries or the Grand Canyon's majestic scenery. This is not a wrong answer to the question. Theologians of the Christian theological tradition, however, give a more theocentric answer to that question. But if we ponder the question a bit more, contemplating how the Bible presents to us the account of creation in Genesis 1, our answer would start with God and go out from there.
When defining the doctrine of creation, Herman Bavinck says, "[Creation is] that act of God through which, by his sovereign will, he brought the entire world out of nonbeing into being that is distinct from his own being."1 Bavinck started his definition from the theocentric standpoint. Creation is an act of God. This definition is important for it clearly upholds a Creator/creature distinction.
Creation is of another order of being than that of divine being. Divine being is; created being is brought into existence by God. There are two orders of being: created being and non-created, or divine, being. The former is finite (i.e., having bounds or limits according to its created capacities); the latter infinite (i.e., having no bounds or limits according to its uncreated essence and is thus incomprehensible to the creature). The former is temporal (i.e., it began-to-be with time and exists in relation to it); the latter eternal (i.e., ever existing, "without beginning or end and apart from all succession and change")2. The former is dependent; the latter independent. Creatures are contingent; God is not. As John of Damascus said long ago, "All things are distant from God...by nature."3 Created nature and divine nature are both distinct and different in kind.
Bringing things into being distinct from himself makes God the efficient cause of creation. That is, God, and God alone, the triune God, brought creation into existence without any change in God the Trinity. Since he is pure act, or not becoming or able to become in any sense, God alone is able to bring about the existence of things without change in himself. In fact, change in God is impossible. Divine existence is not one of "incomplete realization," as Richard Muller puts it.4 God is "the fully actualized being, the only being not in potency..."5 Muller continues:
"...God in himself, considered essentially or personally, is not in potentia because the divine essence and persons are eternally perfect, and the inward life of the Godhead is eternally complete and fully realized."6
God does not possess some sort of potency, some latent potential, to become what he is not. Nothing can change God; not creation nor even God himself. The execution of divine power, then, does not make God what he is not; it reveals or manifests who he is.
Creation is a work of God, bringing being into being "distinct from his own being," as Bavinck says. The Creator is of a different order of being from the creation; God is not like us. This distinction is crucial to maintain. As Thomas Weinandy says, "As Creator, God...is not one of the things created, and is thus completely other than all else that exists."7 John Webster's penetrating words are to the point:
The difference between creator and creature is infinite, not just 'very great'; 'creator' does not merely refer to the supreme causal power by which the world is explained, for God would then be simply a 'principle superior to the world,' or 'the biggest thing around.' Such conceptions falter by making God one term in a relation, and so only comparatively, not absolutely, different. . . . God the creator is not simply the most excellent of beings, because the distinction between uncreated and created being is not a distinction within created being but one between orders of being; God is not one item in a totality, even the most eminently powerful item in the set of all things.
The simple, infinite, eternal, immutable, and impassible triune God brings into existence a vast array of diverse creatures out of the fullness of his being. He brings creatures into being, sustains them, and mysteriously moves them in their ever-changing existence with no change in him.
Confessing divine simplicity, eternity, infinity, immutability, and impassibility means that God cannot change from within or from without because of what he is and what he is not. He is God, the simple and immutable Creator. He is not in any sense a mutable creature, nor does he become one, in the sense of changing divine being. He is, according to Muller, "free from all mutation of being, attributes, place, or will..."9 God can and does reveal who he is to creatures, but he does not refashion himself or add attributes, or perfections, to do so. By creating, God does not become something he was not in order to reveal who he is; he simply reveals who he is by creation, conservation, re-creation, and consummation indicating to creatures that he is, that he is present, and that he is worthy of our praise.
Let all the earth fear the LORD; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast. (Psalm 33:8-9)
1. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, gen. ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 2:416.
2. Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, Second Edition (Grand 3. As quoted in Ian A. McFarland, From Nothing: A Theology of Creation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 59.
4. Muller Dictionary, 11.
5. Muller Dictionary, 11.
6. Muller, Dictionary, 11. Muller goes on to state the following: "This view of God as fully actualized being lies at the heart of the scholastic exposition of the doctrine of divine immutability . . . Immutability does not indicate inactivity or unrelatedness, but the fulfillment of being."
7. Thomas Weinandy, "Human Suffering and the Impassibility of God," Testamentum Imperium Volume 2, 2009: 1. This can be found on-line at (http://www.preciousheart.net/ti/2009/52-). Accessed 9 February 2015.
8. John Webster, God without Measure: Working Papers in Christian Theology, Volume I, God and the Works of God (London, Oxford, New York, New Delhi, Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2016), 1:91.
9. Muller Dictionary, 162.
Richard C. Barcellos, is pastor of Grace Reformed Baptist Church, Palmdale, CA and Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at IRBS Theological Seminary. He is the author of Getting the Garden Right: Adam's Work and God's Rest in Light of Christ and The Covenant of Works: Its Confessional and Scriptural Basis.