The nature of God's creative activity

bible

There is one other area of misunderstanding that needs to be dealt with. It concerns the nature of God's creative activity. Among some who accept the reality of God as the creator of the universe, there has often been the tendency to regard his activity as being rather like a watchmaker. He created it all, including the natural laws by which it would be governed, and then wound it up and left it to run very much under its own steam. From time to time, as he sees necessary, he tinkers with the mechanism, and that is what we call a "miracle". The problem with this view is that anything which we can explain, or translate into a mathematical formula, is regarded as due to natural causes, whereas anything we can't explain is due to supernatural causes, or God's direct activity. In this sense God then becomes what has been termed the "God of the gaps".

"God is not in the gaps, but in every place, whether it appears to us full or empty"

A classic example of this is found in a letter which Isaac Newton wrote to the Master of his College at Cambridge: "the diurnal rotations of the planets could not be derived from gravity, but required a divine arm to impress it on them." In other words, "natural law" (in this case gravity) is responsible for the orbiting of the earth round the sun, but "God" is responsible for its rotation on its own axis (because Newton didn't have any other explanation for it). The obvious problem with this view is that, as we discover more about the natural laws that govern nature, God is gradually edged out of his own universe. This misunderstanding led to much of the conflict between some scientists and some Christians in the last century, and deserved Julian Huxley's stinging scorn in Religion and Revelation that "Operationally, God is beginning to resemble not a ruler but the last fading smile of a cosmic Cheshire Cat."

Professor Donald MacKay, in Science and the Christian Faith Today, says that this "dispute deserved to die, because it was not really between science and Christianity at all, but between mistaken views of each." Unfortunately, it is a view that still keeps cropping up.

The picture of God in relation to his creation given to us in the Bible is very different. He is certainly distinct from his creation and not to be confused with it, as some would believe. However, he is very much involved in it, sustaining it and achieving his purposes through it. God is not in the gaps, but in every place, whether it appears to us full or empty. "'Do not I fill heaven and earth?' declares the Lord" (Jeremiah 23:24). God is said through Christ to be "sustaining all things by his powerful word" so that "in him all things hold together" (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:17).

"The Universe is not in any sense necessary for the existence of God, but God is necessary for the continued existence of the Universe" J.Stafford-Wright

The processes of nature are portrayed, not as automatic mechanisms, but as due to his personal activity. This comes out clearly in passages such as Psalm 104 and Job 37. The so-called consistent "laws" of nature are merely expressions of God's faithfulness and his own consistency. Donald Mackay said that "the laws of nature we discover are not alternatives to divine activity but only our codification of that activity in its normal manifestations."

This does not mean that he may not give a certain freedom to nature, within boundaries, to develop in its own way, similar to the way he allows humans freedom. Neither does it mean that he cannot act in ways that seem to us contrary to those laws when he chooses to do so. He is not a prisoner within his creation.

J. Stafford Wright, in God's Answer, expresses this relationship between God and his creation well when he says:

God the Creator is different from a human creator. If I make a piece of furniture, its continued existence does not depend upon my own existence. When I die the piece of furniture will still be here: my life is not in it. But if the Bible is correct, the relation of God to the Universe has in it something more. God himself sustains the Universe in existence so that if it were possible for God to die, at that moment the Universe would fall into nothingness...The Universe is not in any sense necessary for the existence of God, but God is necessary for the continued existence of the Universe.

The emphasis in the Bible does not locate creation in any particular instance, even though it appears that our present universe of time and space had a definite beginning. The focus is on God giving existence to all of reality.

The logical consequence of this is that, if it were possible for science to work out exactly how the universe developed, according to certain defined laws, from the first millisecond of the big bang until the present, this, in itself, would say nothing at all about whether God was present in the process or not. It certainly does not rule him out. The Bible declares that he is present in the total process. If, however, we want to look at the likelihood of it happening without God, then those who would argue for that appear to have massive evidence stacked against them.

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