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The Theology of Creation

Creation theology is certainly evident in Scripture, although the doctrine of creation was developed in the early centuries of the church.

A sweeping theme of the Hebrew Scriptures is that the God who redeems Israel is the Creator of the universe. Theologies of creation are found in both the older Yahwist stories of Eden (Gen. 2:4b-25) and the lofty Priestly version involving the entire Biblical cosmology (Gen. 1:1-2:4a). Following the Flood — a mythological catastrophe of cosmic proportions in the Priestly narrative (Gen. 7:11) — a new covenant is made which includes all life, not just humanity (Gen. 9:9-17). This covenant is reflected in the prophets (cf. Hosea 2: 16-23) and taken up into the vision of "a new heaven and a new earth" (Isaiah 66: 17-25). Indeed the creation of the universe by the God of Israel is a theme running throughout the Hebrew testament, as Proverbs 8 so movingly portrays.

In the New Testament, Christ is seen as the new creation, the Word of God by which all things were made (John 1:1-3) and through whom the old has passed away (2 Cor. 5:17). Jesus teaches in parables drawn from nature, and his power as Messiah is evidenced in healing and nature miracles. The Resurrection of Christ is significant not only for humans but for all creation groaning in travail (Rom. 8:18-25). Finally, the parousia will bring about a "new heaven and a new earth" as promised to the prophets (2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21:1-4).

During the early history of the church, theologians fashioned a doctrine of creation using Biblical, philosophical, theological and liturgical tools. Actually the doctrine includes two related strands: creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing) and creatio continua (continuing creation).

Creatio ex nihilo stands for the radical contingency of all that is, the complete dependence of all beings on a transcendent God as the sole source of their existence. God's creative act is totally free; matter, space, time and even the laws of nature emerge out of God's unconditional choice. In this sense, `creation out of nothing' really means `not created out of anything prior.' Creatio ex nihilo also implies that God transcends the world. This means that the world is neither God nor a part of God's being. Yet being God's creation the world is not purposeless but filled with beauty and meaning and redeemed by God's saving love.

Along with the deeper philosophical sense of ontological dependence, creation has also been taken to entail a sort of religious historical cosmology. Genesis 1:1 in particular was frequently regarded literally as referring to the creation of the world at a finite time in the past. St. Thomas, for example, argued that philosophy could demonstrate the contingency of the world but not its age; only by revelation could Christians know that the age of the world is finite. These questions continue into twentieth century theology.

Christian theologians also want to lift up God's ongoing action in the world in terms of creatio continua. As immanent to the world, God acts continuously to create and sustain the world now and in the future. The creation tradition rejects a deism in which God's only creative act was at the beginning of a static, deterministic world, or even a more sophisticated theology of creation which still views all of the universe in terms of a single and unmodulated creative act. Instead reality is seen as incomplete and the future unpredictable; the world is in a process of becoming and the future is open to God's particular, saving and transforming acts. Ultimately God's faithfulness will bring all of reality to a just fulfillment at the end of the age.

Together creatio ex nihilo and creatio continua form complementary modes of interpreting the central theological insight that God the Creator is both transcendent to and immanent in all of creation.

Email link | Printer-friendly | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Robert Russell

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