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In a previous post I talked about the world as God “intends”. But what exactly are God’s intentions for the world? The danger is that we simply think about what kind of world we would like and ascribe our desires to God. We need to look at this question more objectively.
To discover what kind of world God does intend, I shall take as my starting point the Genesis accounts of creation. From these accounts, I shall draw out some key features, characteristics, or attributes of the world as God intended it. However, this approach raises two further questions which I need to address before we can go any further.
The first question is: Why look for God’s creative intentions in Genesis, as opposed to other parts of the Bible? The second is: How might we use Genesis to uncover the divine intentions? We tackle each of these in turn.
When it comes to thinking about the Christian doctrine of creation, there are any number of Biblical starting points. To pick just three representative examples from the Old Testament: Psalm 24:1-2 speaks of a reigning God who founds the earth; Isaiah 40:25-28 invites the reader to contemplate the power of the Creator of the heavens; and Proverbs 8:27-29 is a reminder of God’s creative wisdom. Each of these passages affirms that creation is the work of God and illuminates the nature of the Creator. Yet none of them says anything about the nature of creation itself.
In the book of Job, we find a sustained divine monologue on the character and qualities of creation (Job 38–39). The sea has fixed limits (38:10), snow and hail are kept in storehouses (38:22), and the wings of the ostrich flap joyfully (39:13). However, the book of Job’s unrelenting onslaught of rhetorical questions only goes to highlight the limitations of human knowledge. We do not find insight into God’s purposes, but rather are drawn towards the realisation that God’s purposes can never fully be grasped by the human mind.
This profusion of possible starting points causes us to step back and consider more carefully where it is that we find God’s intentions for his created world. There are two fundamentally different perspectives.
The first holds that God’s intentions can be found in the past – in God’s original creation as found, for example, in Genesis 1–2. If this is so, then God’s plan of salvation includes the restoration and healing of this world. In other words, we can’t simply anticipate a “new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1) but must also account for the restoration and re-establishment of the original Genesis creation. However, salvation is not simply a return to the “good old days” but is also an unfolding into the future. Thus, the second position holds that God’s intentions are found primarily in his eschatological new creation. As Moltmann puts it: “eschatology is no longer seen only in the light of creation; creation is also understood in the light of eschatology” (Moltmann, Jürgen; Science and Wisdom; Translated by Kohl, Margaret; Fortress Press; Minneapolis, MN; 2003; p. 34).
Despite the attractions of Moltmann’s position, I shall adopt the former perspective. Since doing so may be contested, in a later post I shall compare and contrast my own view with Moltmann’s. I shall ask whether a primarily eschatological perspective might have yielded the same or different insights. As it happens, we will discover a remarkable congruence between the “past first” and “future first” perspectives.
Thus, I turn to Genesis 1–2 as the basis for my approach. The position of these two chapters at the start of the Bible gives them a unique importance. By describing how things once were, they foreshadow how things could be. The Genesis text gives – albeit in poetic language – an account of the Creator’s plan for the world.
As we enter the world of Genesis 1–2, we gain the clearest view as to God’s original intention for creation. The description of God speaking creation into existence strongly suggests that the cosmos is no accident – the mere random coming together of matter – but is the deliberate, purposeful expression of God’s will and intention. This point is underlined by the frequent reiteration of the phrase: “God saw all that it was good.” God would not have declared creation to be “good” had it not expressed the divine will. Thus, the Genesis creation narratives are a useful starting point in determining God’s intentions.
The Genesis account of creation has been interpreted in many different ways and there is the danger that I simply choose a reading to yield the results I want. Thus, I need a valid method for identifying the key theological features of the creation narratives.
I could begin by identifying the contingent features described in Genesis 1–2. There are seed-bearing plants (Gen 1:11), two lights in the sky (1:16), great creatures of the sea (1:21) and human beings (1:26-27). However, such observations don’t reveal the kind of creation that God intended; they say nothing of its essence. Hence, I need a method of identifying the significant theological features. To do this, I shall build on the literary devices used in the passage and the fact that in poetry such as this, words are chosen with special care. Thus, I shall identify an essential feature of God’s intentions if:
Reading the text in this way reveals a number of important features which I will consider when I return to this topic.
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