This paper has been written by me in the course of my theological studies at European Nazarene College (www.eunc.edu). You may use this text as a part of your work provided that you give credits to its author – Petar Neychev. If you have questions – please, leave a comment or contact me through the Contact Us page.
Being careful enough not to underestimate the remaining aspects of the doctrine of God one could confidently say that the doctrine of God as a Creator is of immeasurable importance – a firm foundation for the Christian (and also Jewish) faith. Due to the fact that this doctrine is what the Scripture addresses at its very beginning, and the role it plays as a foundation for the following doctrines on the person of God, a discussion on the topic will always involve certain references to issues such as: the problem of evil, the purpose of creation, Christianity (or faith) and science.
The brief overview of this doctrine from a Wesleyan perspective, which the current work aims to present to the reader, will undoubtedly touch these topics, but will not engage with them in details due to their complicity and vast majority of differing views. In the following lines you will be introduced to the doctrine of God as Creator. Although throughout the paper one may mainly read theological presuppositions and/or claims, the conclusion at the end will attempt to place the discussion in the practical context of life today.
(The material of this section is derived from Dunning and Lodahl unless else mentioned. For more information, please refer to the bibliography.)
The latin term is used in theological language to express the idea of “creation out of nothing.” To dive into the depths of this statement directly I would mention several of the implications from it: God is the ultimate source of all things, since God is the Source of all things, there is nothing else than Him alone that is worthy of creation’s praise; all creation is dependent on God. The last major implication – that God creates with freedom and purpose will be discussed in more detail in the following section.
The first implication – that God is the source of all things has played a major role as a weapon against dualism – both in history and today. It is used as the main opposition to heresies claiming that all material is bad and only the soul is good. Next to that stands the recognition that God alone is worthy of our praise. This is closely tied with the dependence of humanity on God. By this various forms of superstitious faith are disclaimed. At the same time, the dependency on God and the creation out of nothing lead to some deviations such as believing that creation is out of God, but not out of nothing. If it would be so, theology would run into a problem, which Dunning describes as “an interpretation of creation as emanation, where God’s nature is projected into reality like the rays of the sun emanate from the source, as in Neoplatonism. In that imagery the distinction between infinite and finite reality are obscured.” (Dunning, 224) Thus, accepting that creation is out of nothing through the dependence on God one avoids the problem and emphasizes the importance of God’s continuous nurturing presence and power, which is what sustains creation in its existence.
Suggesting that everything is out of nothing through God immediately leads to the question of evil, and the logical conclusion that it must also be through God. If we were to choose dualism, the problem of evil would not be present, since in that case it is attributed to another person. However, according both the Old and the New Testament this is not the case. A careful interpretation of Scripture would show that the Old Testament writers attributed both good and evil to God. We find the same trend in the New Testament, which strengthens the connection and continuity between the two. Thus, moral evil in the Wesleyan tradition is defined as the “misuse of human freedom” (Lodahl 55) or in other words: “a perversion of the good the God created” (Dunning 242). The quest for resolving the problem of natural evil – the evil which is not a direct result of the actions or the lack thereof of humans, still continues in the sense that there is not such a clear-cut and simplified explanation.
The creation account in the book of Genesis introduces an interesting repetition of the phrase “it was very good.” This suggests that creation indeed was very good in the eyes of its Father – the Creator. As Lodahl states it, this means that “creation is capable of fulfilling God’s purposes” (Lodahl 63). This is how close the connection between creation’s goodness and its purpose is! In addition Dunning suggests that a creation with a purpose implies a personal Creator.(1) Knowing the purpose of a person, however, requires that we have a revelation from the person themselves – in this case, God’s personal revelation through His Word and Jesus Christ.(2)
The term providence is often used to describe the purposeness of God, but as well to lay emphasis on the claim that He also “guides to the achievement of that purpose” (Dunning 256). If we would agree on the purpose of God and continue with discussing the ways in which he helps creation and more specifically – humanity to achieve it we will still end up before two general categories of providence – general and special. The general providence has to do with God sustaining creation in a way that it depends on Him for each and every moment, while special providence concerns the human affairs.
There are two important practical implications which should not be omitted: what is “good” according to God, and how he guides us towards that. The answer of both can be derived from the careful analysis of the passage in Romans 8:28-29. It makes clear that “good” is for humans to be conformed to the image of God’s Son, but not any form of self-centered gain or pleasure, which often happens to be the result of a misinterpretation. The passage goes deeper to show that not each and every single experience in the believer’s life comes directly from God. However, God is always able to lead each event to result in the “good” which was previously briefly defined.(3)
In the context of the doctrine of providence one may also raise the question of free will, and how much of that is present having said everything above. Although this is a very delicate topic, for which we seem to lack ability to fully comprehend rationally, there is still some guidance. The main Wesleyan theological suggestion to this issue is that “God does not determine one’s choices, but He influences them” (Dunning 258). This “influence” however, always leaves room for the person to act differently if they willfully decide not to conform to the will of God. How this is possible in the context of a mighty God Creator could be explained only through God’s love for His creation. This love explains the self-limitation of God.
The biblical account of the creation offers a rich field for work for both theologians and scientists. Although most biblical scholars today would agree that the biblical account of creation cannot be used as a scientific proof (or disproof), a number of people, including Christians tend to claim it as such. From a theological viewpoint it is clear that this is not the intention of the writer. In addition, when speaking about God’s transcendence and freedom in the story of creation we cannot claim that this text can be called a scientific account, because speaking or writing about such would involve a previous experience of the same. Yet, we have not had the experience of a divine Creator calling a world into being out of nothing. This is also the reason why we can only use analogies as we touch the issue.(4) Thus, a scientific discussion based on the biblical text would be invalid. This, however should not be confused with the attempts of human reason to grasp at least until some degree the mystery of the created order, as far as it does not try to answer the question “How?”, which would be impossible having explained the relationship between the Creator and creation.(5)
From a theological perspective the account in Genesis gives us a very good description of God’s nature. One of the aspects which are not as obvious, but yet, well covered is the issue of the Godhead. Dunning summarizes it very well, also providing biblical support for the claim:
“The biblical witness testifies that the Father, Son, and Spirit were all involved in the creation act/process (Col. 1:16-17; John 1:3; Gen. 1:2; 1 Cor. 8:6; Ps. 104:30). Thus when we speak of God the Creator, we speak of the total Godhead” (6)
Thus, the creation account, seen from a Wesleyan perspective does not explain scientifically the “how” of the act/process, but at the same time leaves an open door for the search of reason towards finding out more about it, in spite of the fact that a full comprehension of it is not within our capabilities.
The inevitable practical application of the proper interpretation of the doctrine of God as Creator involves a major change in the person’s life. It does not provide and easy way out of the problem of evil, but certainly brings comfort through the stress on purposeness and constant, unceasing sustenance by God. It once again makes us ponder about God’s greatness and might in the fact that He who is able to create out of nothing is willing to be so personal with us. Finally, other than preventing us from misinterpretation, this doctrine provides solid ground for understanding the remaining of God’s Word as it is intended – strongly resisting the scientific drives of today’s thinking.
Dunning, H. Ray, Grace, Faith and Holiness. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1988
Lodahl, M., The Story of God: Wesleyan Theology and Biblical Narrative. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1994.
Runyon, T., The new creation : John Wesley’s theology today. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998