We believe that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and all things therein, visible and invisible; and that God is continually working through His creation to sustain it and to nurture His creatures.
We believe that all things are foreseen in the wisdom of God, so that God knows whatsoever can or cannot come to pass upon all supposed conditions. All events are present with God from everlasting to everlasting; but His knowledge of them does not in any sense cause them, nor does He decree all events which He knows will occur.
The Doctrine of Creation and Divine Government addresses two essential aspects of our theology: (1) the formation of all matter and life, and (2) time and history within God’s realm. This Article describes our understanding of God’s creative work and how time and history fit within God’s work.
The first part of Article 5 deals with the creation of all things. The overarching aim is to name God as Creator. Genesis 1:1 states unambiguously, “In the beginning, God created…” This is the beginning of the narrative history of creation. We, in the middle of the story, can know the beginning of the story because we hear the story from the One who was in the beginning (Bonhoeffer 29–30). We are introduced to the Eternal Lord who stands over and above creation, and by the very act of speaking creates matter out of nothingness. Therefore, God remains wholly God, the Source of nature but never its substance, and to which the creation remains wholly dependent, giving glory and honor to God as Creator (Bonhoeffer 40–41). The Genesis account ultimately centers on two extremely important questions: “Who?” and “Why?”
As for the Who, it cannot be restated enough that we believe God created the heavens and the earth. As Karl Barth so simplistically yet powerfully stated, “To believe that God has created the world is thus to take a bold step” (Barth 8). Out of God’s will and establishment, God brought into existence a reality which is distinct from God’s own. We do not believe that the universe appeared out of its own vacuum, nor that a cosmic coincidence is the only reason human beings now inhabit this planet. On the contrary, we believe that God—the One who creates, who speaks, and whose breath moved across the face of the deep—created everything that is not God, from the largest galaxy to the smallest particle. Furthermore, there is nothing, seen or unseen, that owes its existence to anyone or anything else other than God. As such, all things are absolutely dependent and upheld by God (Barth 18).
This leads inevitably to the question of “Why?” “That God is continually working…” glimpses at the complexity of this part of our theology. Even though God was perfect in God’s existence, needing nothing to fulfill or complete His existence, God acted out of the freedom of God’s love to create that which is distinctive from Godself (Barth 15). At its core, creation is a supreme gift of God. And it is this gift that God continues to maintain and oversee. Thus, God has willfully entered into communion with God’s creation, and in particular, humanity, who bears the image of God. These acts of sustaining and nurturing reveal that God is continually engaged with God’s creation. The Creator remains the Creator and is actively present with the creation (Barth 13). Because of God’s intimate relationship with all of creation, even its fall into corruption did not result in God’s abandonment. Through the work of Jesus Christ, God continues to redeem creation, ultimately bringing it to full renewal (Romans 8:19–23, Revelation 21:1–5).
The second part of Article 5 addresses the place of time and history within God’s eternal realm. We must acknowledge that God not only stands above all time, but that God created time itself. In God’s pure divine existence, God is “before, above and after all time, so that time is really in Him” (Barth 68).
For humans, it’s mind-boggling to comprehend time on a cosmic level. We are immersed in our concept of time—of days, of hours, and of minutes. Likewise, we see history as linear—starting in the past and marching ever forward. Within this time-bound framework, we encounter God at work within God’s creation. Because God is not limited in any sense by creation, God is not limited by time. God is before time and after time, having knowledge of what was, what is, and what will be. To assert that God is unaware of occurrences across time is to assert that time has control over God, which is inconsistent with God’s omniscient character. Therefore, how do we rectify God apart from time with God within time, along with God’s knowledge of all things but not God’s predetermination of all things?
To do so, we turn to the Christian theological concept of kenoticism, which is the laying aside of the divine nature. Kenotic theology is used to describe the incarnation of Jesus Christ when God the Son emptied himself (Philippians 2:6–8). It is incorrectly viewed when seen as the renunciation of divinity. It is more appropriately seen as an expression of deity, for Jesus “emptied himself” only because He is God. As J. B. Lightfoot described, “He divested Himself, not of His divine nature, for this was impossible, but of the glories, the prerogatives, of Deity” (Lightfoot 112). God the Son placed Godself within the limitations of time because of God’s deep love for creation.
Because God takes God’s creation seriously, the temporal structure of creation must also be important to God as well. God, by a complex act of divine will, created a temporal universe to which God relates in a manner that is suitable to creation’s nature (Wainwright 456–457, 582). In taking creation into Godself, God has taken time into Godself as well, which is seen in God’s self-limitation in creation. By no means does this impugn upon God’s sovereignty, for there is no force (in this case, time) that can limit God’s power. Rather, God’s own will through God’s interaction with the temporal creation, brings knowledge of all events yet doesn’t order or yield those events. There is the act of the human will at work in creation of which God has perfect knowledge. But God’s knowledge of human will doesn’t determine human will because of God’s self-limitation within the temporal realm of human existence. Nevertheless, God’s ultimate will to bring creation and humanity to redemption through Christ continues to thrive unabated and will never be impeded.
Article 5 is a theological statement of assurance, for it reminds us that we have been lovingly created by God, as well as declares that God’s wisdom and will are continually at work in His created order. We have not come into being out of happenstance, nor are we observed from a distance by a disinterested deity. Rather, we are encouraged and supported by a God who is intimately at work within the temporal realm He has created.
Barth, Karl. The Doctrine of Creation: III. 1. Church Dogmatics. London: T & T Clark International, 2004.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Creation and Fall. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997.
Lightfoot, J.B. St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians. London: Macmillan and Co., 1890.
Wainwright, Geoffrey. Doxology: The Praise of God in Worship, Doctrine, and Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.