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God's Work In Creation(Excerpted from the book A Christian’s Calling in the World, by Marc Kolden. To order, click here or call Centered Life at 651-641-3353.)
How are Christian believers to live appropriately in the world of daily life, the world we call “secular,” and how do we think that God is related to that world? What follows is a proposal for a way of thinking that is true to the Bible and to the heritage of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation—a “framework” to help Christians make sense of and live in the exciting and daunting world of the early twenty-first century.
First, to speak of life in the natural and social world a Christian must speak of the doctrine of creation. The Christian doctrine of creation says that nothing exists with which God is not involved. The biblical understanding of creation tells us that in our daily life we have to do with God because God gives daily life and this earth and our neighbors and even our social structures. God gives these in large part through human activity, but it is still God who gives all these things, according to the Bible.
The most important point for us to remember is that the biblical view of creation is not that “once upon a time” God created these things and now they just run of their own accord. The Bible says that not only did God create in the beginning but that in every moment God is creating, that each of us and everything in the world depends upon God continually creating and preserving or we and everything else would cease to be. Martin Luther knew this: in his Catechisms he speaks of the God who “has created and still preserves my eyes and ears and all my powers” and who “daily provides abundantly” for all the needs of my life.” Psalm 104 is the most vivid portrayal of this; the whole Psalm is about God’s creative work and most of the verbs—the action words—are in the present tense.
We often forget this and are misled in our thinking and speaking. For example, we may say about someone that “she doesn’t have a relationship with God.” What we probably mean is that this person doesn’t believe in God, but it is dead wrong to say that someone isn’t related to God; people wouldn’t be alive if God weren’t relating to them in every moment. A famous preacher once said that you can tell if God is working in your life if your nose works! (He got that also from Psalm 104.)
Another thing we often say is that “God works through the church.” Of course. That is a good thing to say, but we sometimes seem to imply that God isn’t working anyplace else. And that is dead wrong again. God is constantly at work in the whole world, not only in the church or among believers. One of our tasks as Christ’s followers is to proclaim the truth about God so that all those in and through whom God is working but who don’t know it yet may hear and believe.
Second, why do we need to put so much emphasis on God’s creative work? Because it doesn’t make much sense to speak of our callings in the world if the world has nothing to do with God. If the world were godless or totally secular, then why would we have any divine callings there at all? Yet in our time that is how many people, including many believers, think about the world. We say, “it’s a godforsaken place.” Or, our experience of life’s trials and pain is so great that we think God must be somewhere else. Or, sin in so prominent in the world—just watch the evening news—that we can’t see how the world can belong to God.
And there is truth in those feelings. We can’t deal with the world only as God’s good creation, even though the most important thing the Bible says about all of God’s creative work is that it is “very good”—and that even includes God’s verdict on each of us (Gen. 1:31). Yet we all know that this is not the whole story. The Bible also speaks of sin. And again, when it speaks of sin, it doesn’t just speak of “once upon a time.” The apostle Paul wrote that “all [of us] have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. ). It’s not as simple as saying that Adam and Eve sinned long ago and the rest of us have simply inherited it; that would make sin into a kind of birth defect that is not our responsibility. Rather, Paul treats Adam as a type, a pattern of us all, and he says that “in Adam” we all sinned (see Rom. -14). Not only by an action or two but by falling into bondage, into a faithless propensity to sin in every aspect of our lives. We humans, the crown of God’s creation, beings who are only a little less than God (Ps. 8), have by our sin put the whole natural world into bondage to sin so that it “groans” until we are finally set free (Rom. 8:21-23).
Therefore, sin is a very important qualifier of the world’s goodness. Yet we shouldn’t let our belief in the seriousness of sin make us forget that God still creates anew each day and that everything that comes from God is good—even though we constantly pervert it. This is true for human beings as well: that which we are essentially—human—is good, even though we constantly misuse and demean our own humanness. The point here is this: for the Bible the existence of sin is never a reason to abandon the world, as some Christians mistakenly have thought. God’s still gives us roles, duties, tasks, relationships, responsibilities, opportunities, and challenges precisely in the world; and God gives us the commandments, and our own reason and abilities, and our societal institutions and communities, to aid us in living in the world. Our faith helps us see this and sets us free and motivates us to serve in the world.
Third, we need to ask how this emphasis on God’s creative work relates to our salvation in Jesus Christ. Sometimes Christians have thought (wrongly) that salvation is an escape from the world—a flight to heaven, a preoccupation with the “spiritual” over the material, a retreat to religion away from daily life. But this does not fit with the way the Bible portrays God’s saving act in sending Jesus Christ. Jesus came because God so loved the world; he took on flesh and became truly human; he came that we might have abundant life; and our eternal hope is for the resurrection of our bodies and for a new heaven and a new earth. Jesus enacted what was always true: that God is a “down-to-earth” God. Our sin is when we flee the earth and our humanness, our neighbors and our callings in daily life—when we don’t believe God’s word that it is good to be a human creature and instead seek to rise above our creatureliness and “lord it over” others or (conversely) to sink beneath our human status and flee from freedom and responsibility into mere sensate existence (giving in to despair, drugs, cynicism, conformity, or whatever).
Redemption through Christ is to reclaim and restore, and complete and fulfill, the creative work of God—not to abandon it. Christianity first of all is about life, not religion. The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath. Believing in Christ and receiving the forgiveness of our sins is to set us free to be faithful creatures, people who can believe once again that this life is good because it comes from God, who can see other people not merely as competitors or “pains in the neck” or interruptions or enemies but as neighbors—as those through whom God comes to us and to whom God comes through us.
If we are in Christ we are new creations. We are restored to play a role in God’s world, even in the midst of our own and the world’s sin. One of the temptations of Jesus was to worship the devil as the “ruler of this world;” but to give into this temptation would have been for Jesus to “let the world go to the devil” even though the world actually belongs to God. This very well may be our temptation also, especially in difficult times, but here we are well advised to stick with Jesus, in whom God was, reconciling the world to himself, not letting it go to the devil.
Questions to think about and discuss:
Good resources for thinking about ourselves as God’s creatures in God’s creation are Martin Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms, especially the explanations to the first article of the Apostles’ Creed and the petition of the Lord’s Prayer to “Give us this day our daily bread.”
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