Engaging the Journey – Chapter 2

Chapter 2 -Setting the stage: The Creator, His Creation and His stewards

The God who Created

The Paradoxes of the Living God

ParableOfSower
Public Domain, Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Parable of the Sower, from The Story of Christ
Series/Portfolio: The Story of Christ
Artist: Georg Pencz (German, Wroclaw ca. 1500–1550 Leipzig)
Date: 1534–35
Medium: Engraving
Dimensions: Sheet: 1 1/2 × 2 1/4 in. (3.8 × 5.7 cm)
Classification: Prints
Credit Line: Bequest of Grace M. Pugh, 1985
Accession Number: 1986.1180.114

What can we tell about an artist when we look at a work of art that the artist created? What can we find from the skill in using materials, the subject matter, the emotional content the values? Sometimes we can figure out more than other times, but if the life and times of the artist are revealed then we might be able to appreciate the artwork more[1]. So as we begin to explore what we can know about the Creator we can look both at his artwork, the creation, and what he has revealed to us.

So let us begin by looking at the living things God created. Sometimes, we think we can look around us and figure out what is living and what is not; but when look at the spectrum of living things, especially through the eyes of the scientists who specialize in it, it becomes more difficult to try to come up with a definition. In fact, one organization catalogued over 100 of them[2] … and none of them satisfy everybody. What does that say about the one who created those living things? If we get so confused about what was created, it is likely that we will get confused about the Creator.

As we look at how the Creator has revealed himself, one of the conclusions we can draw is that the Creator is full of paradoxes: characteristics that seem to oppose each other. So, for us to understand the Creator in terms of those paradoxes, we must hold those qualities in tension with each other. Sometimes we might not totally understand how these characteristics can all be true together, but that is what we should expect. If we cannot fully comprehend the creation, why should we think that we can fully comprehend the creator. We should also consider that if we ever think that we totally understand the Creator of the universe then we probably are not understanding things correctly – we are probably creating a god in our own image rather than the other way around.

This inability to totally understand God forces us to make speculations as we try to find a way to reason things about God. We do have to be careful though, for we will create all sorts of arguments with each other if we insist on certain speculations as the defined truth of God. It is true that God has revealed himself to us but, most of the time, in the Bible where we look to see how God has revealed himself to us, we are simply told about what is or about how God has interacted with people. There are many things about which we are not given explanations. It might be that if we study those revelations of God that we can draw some conclusions, but we need to be careful about making dogma out of something that we truly don’t understand. Unfortunately, we will see in future chapters that various theologians and congregations have sometimes split up over some of those issues which no one can fully understand.

Dynamic Tension

While these paradoxes regarding God have seemed to create tensions between different people who have tried to nail down which particular way to resolve various paradoxes, I submit that it may be more productive to simply accept the tensions between paradoxical attributes rather than nail down an understanding to a particular point. I give the following example we find in biological systems.

In biological life, it seems that there are no simple formulas, no simple rules. Although, on the one hand, there are underlying precisely defined processes like the laws of chemistry and physics, on the other hand, there are overlying complex and variable biological processes that are adaptable to circumstances around them. Even more, living organisms by themselves are noted by intricately balanced but unstable processes that, if the balance between processes fails, there is a most certain death. One of the standard definitions of life is that living things must maintain themselves away from equilibrium while at the same time maintaining internal order and organization[3].  If you examine the processes within living organisms, you will see that the internal structures seem to be stable. Yet, in fact, matter and energy are constantly flowing through them and the materials within the internal structures are being constantly refreshed. More remarkably, all of this activity is sustained by an array of complex sets of interdependent processes where one set of processes feeds off the by-products of other processes and visa-versa. All this activity is delicate in one sense, if some processes fail at one point the result can be death. In another sense, the processes are flexible, allowing an organism to live in a wide variety of circumstances (environments).

You can see this complexity on another level with the interactions of bone and muscle. In a given skeletal muscle, some fibers are attached to one bone in one direction and some fibers are attached to a bone in another direction. As the fibers within a muscle pull against one another the bones they are attached to move. Exactly which way the bones move is determined by the creature that controls the muscles, as the creature interacts with the environment and is determining what direction to go or what task to do. While it seems at one level that in a given muscle the fibers are working against one another and seem to work opposite to one another, they are in fact on a larger scale working with each other to accomplish particular tasks.

All of this seems to reflect what we see in spiritual life. On one level, the attributes we see in the living God, His holiness, grace, etc. never change although they are constantly interacting with each circumstance. As circumstances change, although it may seem that God’s response may change, it is not because God has changed, only that God’s dynamic response to different circumstances, whether globally or locally, has changed.

So as we consider this, it may seem that some of God’s characteristics conflict with each other or are pulling against one another. For instance, how is God’s perfect desire for justice able to be reconciled with God’s grace? Or how is it that He can be the Lord of all and able to also be the Servant of all? In fact, God is interacting with the world, determining what He wants to do and then coordinating His attributes to do what He desires. For example, although God’s authority and servant-hood seem to be in tension with one another, He is coordinating them to deal with our individual circumstances.  At some point He sees the need to demonstrate more authority and at other times, more servant-hood.

I call this interaction, Dynamic Tension; a process controlled by a person or an organism in which the attributes which seem to be pulling in different directions but are in fact working in concert with one another to accomplish particular goals.

We are blessed to have both creation itself and also God’s revelation available to us as we try to try to learn about the Creator[4]. Fortunately, it is to our blessing that we don’t have to know everything about God for us to know or understand him – otherwise there would be no hope. That still leaves us with paradoxes about God for us to examine and we will start exploring some of those paradoxes now.

Transcendent and Immanent

Gen 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth …

Isaiah 4:22 It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain And spreads them out like a tent to dwell

Philippians 2:6 Christ, “although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men.

 Genesis tells us there was a time when the universe, the heavens and the earth, began to exist. Before that moment of time, they did not exist – but before that beginning there was God and God created the universe. From that starting point, we can see the transcendent nature of God. He was not part of the universe (as pantheism claims) but he is apart from the universe. No matter what happens in the universe or to the universe, those things do not affect God who is separate from all that. Fortunately, we are not simply left with a God who is unreachably “out there” and are therefore left to fend for ourselves (as Deism believes); but in the chapters ahead we will examine many of the ways God has inserted himself into the middle of creation and even address how God is involved in ways we can’t even imagine.

This paradox of God’s transcendence and imminence has sometimes bewildered many who try to examine it through sheer logic[5], but as we unwrap the significance of this paradox, we discover many interesting attributes of God. Here are a few:

  • Regarding God’s Transcendence
    • God’s existence apart from creation, and apart from the brokenness of the world is described as his holiness. This holiness is so profound that mortal, sinful people (as we all are) could not stand to be his presence[6].
    • God’s omnipotence is seen in his ability to not only create the universe, but in his ability to sustain it.[7]
    • God’s omniscience is seen in his knowledge about the hairs on our head[8], our everyday actions[9] and even in our destiny[10]
    • God is present everywhere[11]
  • Regarding God’s Immanence
    • Although God is apart from the universe, He is the one who holds the universe together[12]
    • God is present throughout the earth and available to all who call for him and even to those who are not calling for him[13]
Timeless and in Time

Psalm 102:25-27 In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.

 Closely related to the paradox of how God is both transcendent and immanent is how God is both timeless and in time. Many scholars in philosophy and science have trouble difficulty trying to resolve questions such as: How can God even have both attributes? Did God create time or is God himself confined by time?  Is time static such that the past, present and future all exist simultaneously and that is how God see them or is time dynamic such that the future does not yet exist – and is therefore God does not yet know it?[14]

It is not practical to try to summarize all the arguments with all their nuances here. For our purposes, we will not try to resolve the many difficult theological/philosophical issues but, as Psalm 102 does, accept the finite mortality of our life on earth and the fact that God exists outside of that.[15]

Sovereign and Servant

Philippians 2:5-8 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

 There is a contemporary name for this juxtaposition of attributes: servant leadership. In this case, the one who is the creator and sustainer of all things does not wield that power in a self-centered way but uses that power to serve the needs of the very beings he created – even though they defied his authority and it cost him much anguish.

When the Creator decided to make creatures in his image, creatures that had the ability to love (and therefore the ability to choose to not love), he imbued these creatures with the ability to make independent decisions. Doing that required releasing some control and then providing enough space be given so that those creatures would be free to make choices.

Then, when those creatures violated that love, incurring an awful penalty, the Creator did not just mete out the penalty, but with compassion, and at great cost to himself, put in place a plan that would restore his relationship with his image-bearers. This costly plan would highlight an attribute that already had been revealed, the attribute of servanthood in which Creator acts on behalf of his creatures.

Not to be overlooked, the ability to create and sustain the universe necessitates tremendous knowledge and wisdom[16] as does the ability to create creatures in his image and then to be able to guide them in the midst of their missteps and varied circumstances. Were God to simply control each and every action in the universe, that would be difficult enough, but although God has things happen directly through his sovereign will, there are actions which he desires, but he gives us the option to obey or not (his will of command[17]). We cannot even begin to comprehend the vast knowledge and wisdom that God needs[18]. In fact, wisdom is so pervasive not only in creation but as part of the many ways God interacts with us that it is metaphorically portrayed to us in Proverbs as a person[19].

Merciful and Just

 2 Samuel 24:14 Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.”

Psalm 86:5 For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.

Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

Revelation 19:15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.

 

There is a common misunderstanding of how God is seen in the Old Testament vs. how God is seen in the New Testament. The perceived contrast has caused reactions such as thinking that they are two different Gods or ignoring the Old Testament while focusing exclusively on the New Testament. It is easy to see how this misperception happens while looking cursorily at the Bible, but this misperception can be resolved by looking more carefully into the text.

God’s love, mercy and grace can be seen in the Old Testament right near the beginning. There is grace in the placing the image of God on creatures that did nothing to earn it. There is mercy in the judgements meted onto Adam and Eve after their sin and grace in the provision of covering for their nakedness. While we could look at more particular instances of mercy and grace in the Old Testament, let’s just consider the meanings of the Hebrew words that have been translated as “mercy.”[20]  One Hebrew word, “racham” can also be translated as compassion and another “chesed” can be translated as steadfast loyalty and is seen as God’s steadfast compassion and loyalty to Israel even after repeated rejections from them.

But even beyond mercy and grace, God’s compares his love with his chosen people with the love of a husband to a wife. This Hebrew word that God often used for love, “ahavah,” refers to a giving type of love, which indeed was the way God showed his love to his chosen ones; even though time after time his people rejected him, God patiently worked through it all giving us a chance to see ourselves as we really are and the chance to put our trust in his unfailing love.

Wrath and justice in the New Testament can be seen in God’s strong desire to eliminate sin and in his zeal, even jealousy, about the welfare of his chosen ones. In both the Old and New Testaments, God is clear about his desire for justice and righteousness. God expresses his very clearly that he is angry when we try to cover-up our lack of justice with religious exercises or pretentiousness.

God’s response to injustice is his wrath. Although God’s wrath has been long covered by his patience and his desire that all people would come to him, his wrath will eventually be revealed when he comes back to earth to fully restore his kingdom on earth[21]. While he cautions us to allow him to carry out vengeance, that does not mean we should not be concerned by the injustice that we see. The Greek term “dikaiosuné” which is usually translated as “righteousness” can also be translated as “justice.[22]”  Jesus exemplified justice throughout his ministry and he encourages us to practice justice as well[23].

 God’s response to injustice that we most often see is patience and mercy – and we all need the kindness of God so that we can respond with repentance and receive forgiveness. However, God will eventually administer justice and respond with wrath[24].

Creative and Orderly

Isaiah 45:7-11 I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things. “Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit; let the earth cause them both to sprout; I the Lord have created it. “Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’? Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’ or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’” Thus says the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him: “Ask me of things to come; will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands? I made the earth and created man on it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host.

God’s creativity can be seen in the extremely diverse types of plants and animals: differences in colors and shapes; digesting food; moving and observing to name a few. The creativity we see is awesome. From out of nothingness, from no previous model, God created a whole system of particles and energy fields that interact with each other to form the building blocks of subatomic particles which are used to form atoms, which are used to form molecules of all sorts of complexity, which are then used to form stars and planets and, at least on one planet, were used to create living things like plants and animals in all their complexity and then those living things were used to create communities (ecosystems) that allowed living things to thrive and flourish

Yet, within the overwhelming creativity displayed and within all the diversity of living things there is an order that is controlled by a set of ordered processes, some of which we call scientific (natural) laws. Christians, like Rene Descartes, pursued these laws as an extension of God’s moral laws in the universe, which then led to the development of modern science[25].

The one God who is a Community

Matthew 3:16-17 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

It is sometimes said that a picture is worth a thousand words as it would take many words to describe the colors, shapes and expressions detailed in the picture. But sometimes, it can also be said that a word is worth a thousand pictures, as it is possible that one word in one document can be referenced to many other situations where it is used. For example, the first sentence in the Bible says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Now let’s consider the word “God.” In the Hebrew language that was used in the original writing of the first part of the Bible, that word is “Elohim.” The curious thing is that “Elohim” is a plural noun which could be translated as “gods” while the verb “created” (“bara” in Hebrew) is singular[26]. This combination of “Elohim” with a singular verb happens throughout the Old Testament part of the Bible and in all those cases, “elohim” is translated as the singular noun, “God”. So what’s the story with this?

On the one hand, the Bible is very strident in insisting that there is only one God. One of the central doctrines taught to the Jews is, “The LORD our God, the LORD is one[27],” which in the time frame that the Bible was written in, strongly contrasted with the other cultures with multiple gods. On the other hand, the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments, talks about God as Father and also God as Son and also God as Holy Spirit. This phenomenon shows up even as we look at Genesis 1, where we can see that God created and that the Spirit hovering over the water. We continue to see this concept of one God, but three persons referred to as God develop throughout scripture, both in the Old Testament as the New Testament.[28] So how do we make sense out of the insistence on there being one God while also revealing that there are multiple personalities associated with “God.” This is certainly a tough question that has created problems in the church (more on that later) and is but one thing among many that God seems to have revealed to us without explaining it.

The Good and Overflowing God

God created a good universe that reflected his character[29]. Into that universe he created creatures that reflected his character[30]. When his image-bearers rebelled, they and the world they inhabited suffered the consequences but then his image-bearers were relentlessly pursued with the intent of restoring not only them but all of creation as well to the good condition that he intended[31].

Within the story of creation and the relentless pursuit that followed, God’s character is revealed as he pours himself out even to the point of taking on the form of a man and the giving of himself to humility and suffering of being tortured to death on a cross. Even though all of creation is now marred by the rebellion, it is possible to examine the character of God as it is revealed in this outpouring of himself into his creation and his image-bearers.

Goodness, Generosity and Shalom

Psalms 69:16 Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.

Revisiting Genesis 1:1, we see God creating … everything in the heavens and the earth. The rest of that passage shows the orderliness in how the creation happened. We see that as God creates each set of creatures or things that God declares them to be good. Then after God creates humans, he declares “it was very good.” We will see later in Genesis that things got messed up, but at this point the core of everything in the universe, everything was good and beautiful and working as it should. Certainly, as we look around us now, it would be hard to say that everything is working as it should, but at the beginning, everything was good.

That goodness was further amplified when, despite the rebellion of his image-bearers, he tirelessly invited them to come back to him although they would continue rebelling over and over again. The generous invitation and re-invitation would be highlighted by the parable Jesus told which has been commonly called the “Prodigal Son” (Luke 15:11-32) in reference to the wastefully spending son but could equally called the “Prodigal God”[32] in reference to the extravagant giving of God.

These continuous and generous offers from God are to restore to us the good and generous life that God has intended from the beginning, life free from suffering and pain, life full of joy and peace, wholeness and health, contentment and completeness[33].

Trustworthy and Faithful

Psalm 100:5 For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

God has continued to offer us lives of goodness, generosity and shalom despite our continued waywardness. Our opportunity to experience the faithfulness of God comes as we hold to his promises, and even when we fail to hold to his promises[34]. Scripture is full of passages of God’s commitment to faithfulness despite the lack of our own[35] and those examples are helpful for us to hold onto as we experience our own trials and difficulties in life.

Self-sacrificing and Forgiving

Acts 2:36-38 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart,and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

God’s faithfulness to us is sealed in the love he showed to us by the ultimate sacrifice he made on our behalf. His commitment of love towards us could not be made any more clearly than through the excruciating death he suffered when he allowed us to put him on the cross in order that he should bear the penalties of our sins. And it is through His suffering and dying that he can offer us forgiveness for the sins we have committed[36].

Goodness and the Laws

Natural Laws

Amid all the creativity displayed in the universe we see there is an order to it all, that there is an overall structure to the universe. It’s the kind of order that inspired Christians in the past to develop a field that we now call science.[37] It’s within science that we examine orderly processes at work that we call the natural laws. These laws describe how all physical things behave: there is a force that pulls objects together that we call gravity, a force that causes objects with a positive charge to be attracted to objects with a negative charge that we call an electric force, etc. There is no disobeying these natural laws. If you think that you can try to violate them, for instance, standing on the top of a table and then jumping off and assuming you will not be subject to gravity but rather float without falling to the floor, you’d be wrong. You can’t violate gravity. You can try to set up circumstances that will cause other forces to come into play – such as airplanes do when they use aerodynamic forces that counteract gravity – but you simply can’t violate gravity, for there will be consequences if you try.

Moral Laws

By observing natural laws we can ascertain some aspects of the character of God. The order of the universe reveals a God of order. The creativity of the universe reveals a God of creativity. The natural laws that govern how things are supposed to behave reveals a God who expects things to behave, and that violations are not tolerated. But when image-bearers were brought into the world there was a new level of complexity added to this physical model constrained by natural, physical laws.

On the one hand, we image-bearers are physical creatures and are therefore subject to the natural laws, but on the other hand we image-bearers were created to reflect God’s transcendence and were even given dominion over the creation into which God had placed us. With that capacity we image-bearers were given the freedom to choose between good and evil. This freedom could not be given without some risk, because in order for image-bearers to be able to reflect God’s character of being good and choosing to do good there must be the possibility for the image-bearers to be able to choose to not be good.

And just as there are natural, physical laws that govern how physical things behave with consequences for trying to violate those laws, God has also imposed spiritual, moral laws to govern how the image-bearers ought to behave in the good universe He created with consequences for violating those moral laws.

The image-bearers and their intended future

John 15:8-11 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

As much as we can comprehend the character of God, we can comprehend what he has intended for those creatures that made in his image. Those image-bearing creatures are not gods or duplicates of God, but they are imbued with character of the God that made them. In this chapter we will specify some of the general ways in which God intends for us to reflect his image then, in later chapter, expound on those characteristics in more detail.

It was into this good universe that God prepared beforehand that God created creatures to bear his image. Good creatures – actually very good creatures – bearing his very good image, were placed into a world that was good. These very good image-bearers, these people, were given the task of taking care of the good creation that God blessed them with – and God declared it to be very good. The image-bearing creatures were created in the complex image of God – the one God who was a community within Himself, the God who was immensely creative, the God who was generous and loving beyond imagination, the God who is sovereign over the universe, the God who is above all things.

Transcendent and Immanent

Ecclesiastes 3:11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

God has placed each one of us in a particular time and place[38] and within that time and place and people he has plans for us[39]. Each of us has a particular mind and body with which we need to discern God’s calling for us in our time and place. Sometimes we can discern what particular things we are called to but very often we can discern what general plans he has for us; such plans are revealed in many places in scripture.

And though we are called to particular times, places and people, there are ways in which God’s transcendent character spills over onto us. The mark of his transcendence is even placed in each of our hearts[40]. The expressions of transcendence are impossible to avoid in our day and age: we were not born with the ability to fly but we can fly to the moon, we were not born to live under water but we are able to spend months at a time under water even at incredible depths, we were not born to run like a cheetah but we don’t even think about climbing into a vehicle and going more than 60 miles an hour for hours at a time, we can create works of art that show places we have never been, we can use the resources of the earth to generate more power than we can imagine … and the list goes on.

With our gift of transcendence, God has indicated that he has set us aside as his representatives, “to be holy as he is holy”[41]. We are not to merely live as earthly creatures but as creatures who represent the living God.

Made for Sovereignty and Service

Genesis 1:28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Matthew 23:11 The greatest among you shall be your servant.

God is the master of all creation, yet he has given to us the responsibility to take care of the earth[42]. It is out of that mastery that we have managed to use the resources of the earth to create all the technological advances that we have; unfortunately, in many cases we have abused our abilities; abusing not just the resources of the earth but abusing each other.

In our sinfulness we typically appeal to our call to sovereignty while forgetting our call to service. This very issue Jesus took care to remind us of on many occasions [43]. If we mistreat the earth that we are placed in or mistreat others we dishonor the one in whose image we are made and even the others of whom God has also placed his image. In fact, it is out of our call to sovereignty and service that we are called to love, to willingly give of ourselves to the service of others as God gave of himself to us.

There was a danger in God creating image-bearers: to make creatures that were lovers – just as He was a lover – meant giving these image-bearers the freedom to not love – for the ability to decide to love means being able to decide otherwise, to decide to not love. To allow creatures that were the capstone of creation the option to not love and therefore to break their relationship with their Creator, risked an awful catastrophe, a catastrophe that could affect the entirety of creation itself. The good creation, all of it, would become not so good[44].

And so it was, creation was prepared for God’s image-bearers, then those creatures were created in the image of the loving God with instructions to be stewards of the world God had made. Everything was good, and the first couple had had free access to the provisions in garden prepared for them. Only one restriction was placed before them, a restriction not meant to deprive them of anything good but meant to provide the opportunity to test their love, their obedience to the one who created them.

We all now know that those creatures failed their test and we daily experience the consequences of that failure. We also daily experience our incapacity to restore holiness on our own efforts, to love God with all of our heart and soul and mind and to love or to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Merciful and Just

Micah 6:8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Flowing out of our call to sovereignty and service is our call to mercy and justice. But just like the servant in the parable of the unmerciful servant[45] we can forget the mercies shown to us when we are dealing with each other. There is much that makes us yearn for justice in a world filled with cruelty, but we need to remember that as God acted on his own demands of justice, he yet found a way to bestow great mercy on us. In our own search for justice we should remember the last phrase of Micah 6:8[46], “to walk humbly with our God.”

Creative and Orderly

Exodus 35:31-38  and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship,  to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze,  in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft. And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan.  He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver—by any sort of workman or skilled designer.

Our creativity erupts early on in our life as our desire to play and is evidenced, of course, in the desire of parents to play with their children. Then there is no doubt about how uniquely creative we are in the way we express ourselves not only in all the various art forms we use but in the ways we can solve all sorts of problems – even to the creative ways we try to cover up our sins. No other creature can come close to expressing creativity the way we can.

Our ability to create – and even detect – order is also unmatched. Our ability to detect order is evident in the way we can detect patterns in sight or sound. The sense of order is evident in our ability to recognize the faces and even the voices of our mothers or fathers as infants. Our sense of order is then seen as we grow in our ability to recognize the patterns of letters and sounds and to recognize and respond to language – even languages. Our sense of order becomes more evident in our ability to create order out of many abstract concepts such as math, science, philosophy and many other areas.

Community

Matt 3:16-17  And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him,[c] and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

We are created in the image of the self-sufficient one who is a community in himself: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Although each one of us is individually made in that image, it is clear from the beginning that we were not made to be self-sufficient; we not only need to have a relationship with the God but also with each other. God allowed the first man to see that he needed another human before God presented with a women to be his ‘ezer kegnedo. In Hebrew, ‘ezer is usually translated as “helper” and is most often used to describe God helping his people[47]; kegnedo is usually translated as “in front of” or “opposite” or “parallel to”.

Later on in scripture we see that we are called to be a nation of priests[48] and a body where all the different parts have a purpose as they work together[49]. We are called not just to a restored relationship with the one who made us but are called together as a people to serve each other and to serve the world around us.

Goodness, generosity and shalom

2 Corinthians 9:6-8 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

Goodness, generosity and peace all fit together. We begin with the premise that we are representatives[50] of the Prince of Peace[51]. Scripture is full of encouragement for us to live in peace[52] because it is through peace that much else flows, including goodness and generosity. Goodness flows out of the shalom which is concerned with our overall well-being and in necessarily linked to justice, mercy and humility[53] – and we are not to be content with helping God to usher the minimal amounts of justice, mercy and humility into the world but the kind of shalom, goodness, peace, mercy and justice that stem from the overflowing way that God has brought all of those to us[54].

Trustworthy and Faithful

Luke 16:11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?

We can’t seem to avoid broken promises; whether it’s the one’s others make to us or that we make to others. We usually expect broken promises from some people because we know they lack sincerity. Then sometimes we experience broken promises because things happen beyond our control, or circumstances change, or sometimes priorities are changed. Yet, in the midst of all that, we are called as God’s ambassadors to reflect his faithfulness to us.  We are called to faithfulness in truth-telling[55], in love[56], in doing good[57], in prayer[58], in doing the work of the Lord[59], in entrusting other faithful believers to be faithful in sharing the gospel[60], and even just to confirm our calling[61].

Self-Sacrificing and Forgiving

Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Our life in God does not begin with anything we have done but rather with the sacrifice made by Christ Jesus, the perfect sacrifice that was made on our behalf to reconcile us to God. Then when by baptism we join him in his death, we can also be united with him in his resurrection[62]. It is that resurrection power that enables us to present ourselves as living sacrifices, to worship him by continually dying to our sins[63] and offering ourselves to the service of God and to others[64]. And just as the mercies of God flow into our lives, so those mercies should flow over into the mercy we extend to others on God’s behalf, just as Paul shows us by “appealing” to us instead of “commanding” us.

Continued creation and the intended future

Although these image-bearers had close, unhindered, intimate contact with their Creator, there was enough space given them to think freely, as if they were not being watched all the time. It was in this space that they were given the responsibility of being stewards over all the earth and over all the other creatures[65]. We were given the assignment to fill all the earth, discover its possibilities and care for the world the way that God would care for the world[66].

[1] https://mag.orangenius.com/storytelling-for-artists/

[2] http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20170101-there-are-over-100-definitions-for-life-and-all-are-wrong

[3] Capra, Fritjof, “The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding off Living Systems” c.1996 Anchor Books

[4] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/2010/08/25/augustine-evolution-and-two-books/

[5] https://billmuehlenberg.com/2013/08/05/on-gods-immanence-and-transcendence/; https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/denying-gods-transcendence/; https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/God-Is-Transcendent

[6] Isaiah 6:1-5

[7] Hebrews 1:3

[8] Matthew 10:30 

[9] Psalm 139:2-3 

[10] Romans 8:29 

[11] Jeremiah 23:23-24

[12] Colossians 1:17

[13] Acts 17:27; Psalm 139:7-12; Psalm 145:18 

[14] https://www.closertotruth.com/series/god-temporal-or-timeless

[15] For more discussion on this difficult topic see: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2015/02/23/is-god-timeless/, https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/scholarly-writings/divine-eternity/god-time-and-eternity/, http://themelios.thegospelcoalition.org/review/the-end-of-the-timeless-god, https://www.allaboutgod.com/god-is-infinite-bible-verses-faq.htm

[16] Proverbs 3:19; Job 12:13

[17] https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/what-is-the-will-of-god-and-how-do-we-know-it

[18] Romans 11:33-35; Isaiah 55:9

[19] Proverbs 1: 20-23.

[20] http://theconversation.com/what-is-the-true-meaning-of-mercy-72461

[21] 2 Peter 3:9; Romans 9:22-24.

[22] https://www.sbl-site.org/assets/pdfs/TBv2i5_Fosterjustice.pdf’; https://peacetheology.net/2012/03/01/justice-in-the-new-testament/

[23] Matthew 5:6 Matthew 6:33 Douay-Rheims Bible uses “justice” where most versions use “righteousness”

[24] Romans 1:18; Revelation 19:15

[25] http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2012/05/08/3498202.htm

[26] https://thykingdom2020.wordpress.com/2016/06/07/in-the-beginning-god-was-both-singular-and-plural-bara-elohim/

[27] Deuteronomy 6:3

[28] https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_330.cfm

[29] Romans 1:20

[30] Genesis 1:26-27.

[31] Romans 8:18-23

[32] http://www.timothykeller.com/books/the-prodigal-god

[33] https://www.therefinersfire.org/meaning_of_shalom.htm, https://www.blueletterbible.org/search/search.cfm?Criteria=shalom&t=HNV#s=s_primary_0_5

[34] Hebrews 10:23

[35] https://www.gotquestions.org/faithfulness-of-God.html

[36] Hebrews 10:11-18.

[37] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/davearmstrong/2015/10/christianity-crucial-to-the-origin-of-science.html, Christianity: Absolutely Crucial to the Origin of Science OCTOBER 18, 2015 BY DAVE ARMSTRONG

[38] Psalm 139:16; Acts 17:24-28

[39] 1 Corinthians 12: 1-31; Jeremiah 29:11 

[40] Ecclesiastes 3:11 

[41] Exodus 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9.

[42] Genesis 1:26-28

[43] Matthew 4:10; Matthew 23:11

[44] Romans 8:28

[45] Matthew 18:21-35

[46] Micah 6:8 

[47] https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=h5828, http://biblehub.com/hebrew/5048.htm

[48] Exodus 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9

[49] 1 Corinthians 12:12-13.

[50] 2 Corinthians 5:20

[51] Isaiah 9:6

[52] Isaiah 32:17; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Romans 12:18; Ephesians 6:15; Hebrews 12:14 d

[53] Micah 6:8; Philippians 2:1-5

[54] 1 Timothy 6:17-19 

[55] Proverbs 12:22.

[56] Proverbs 27:6; Matthew 23:23.

[57] Proverbs 14:22.

[58] Colossians 4:2.

[59] 1 Corinthians 15:58.

[60] 2 Timothy 2:2

[61] 1 Timothy 6:11-14 .

[62] Romans 6: 4-5

[63]  https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/present-your-bodies-as-a-living-sacrifice-to-god; https://carm.org/what-does-it-mean-to-be-a-living-sacrifice; http://opc.org/cce/livingsacrifice.html

[64] 1 Peter 2:10-12.

[65] Genesis 1:26:28

s[66] https://www.tvcresources.net/resource-library/talks/what-is-the-cultural-mandate

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