The Givingness of God

August 30, 2018

 

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.            

   Genesis 1:1, 26

 

For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.             

   John 5:1

 

‘For the nature of the things that come to be, inasmuch as they exist out of non-being, is unstable, weak, and mortal when considered in itself.’                                                            

   Against the Greeks 41, Athanasius

 

   All creation is by the grace of God. That is to say that all creation exists because of the givingness of God. We are derivative not original. When we study humanity and creation from a Christian point of view, this is an essential truth which reveals to us both God’s nature and our own nature. Now it is important that we realize this: grace did not simply appear when the Son of God became incarnate. Instead, the existence of all creation has its dependence on God’s initial grace in creation.

   Before we dwell much more on creation, we must take one step further back and acknowledge the nature of God. God is triune in nature: three persons, one essence. The persons we name Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and these three persons have always existed in perfect harmony. They relate to one another metaphorically as Father, Son, and Spirit. These eternal relationships have been described by the church like this: the Father is unoriginate, the Son is eternally begotten from the Father, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. We see these processions described in another way in John 5.1. The Father has life in himself: which is to say that he is unoriginate with relation to his person. The Father has granted the Son to have life in himself. Thus the Son both is granted life, but also has this life welling up from within himself. He is eternally granted life by the Father and yet has this life in himself (presumably because the Son has the exact same nature as the Father). In these things we see that within the triune nature of God, there is an eternal givingness within, and in creation this givingness overflows to all creation (especially highlighted by the creation of humanity which is created in his very image and likeness). It is as though creation is God’s first external act of grace (we should not neglect the fact that grace is a form of a gift).

   This brings us to man’s nature. If we were to consider our nature, one thing that we begin to realize is that without the persistent gift and grace of God, no part of creation would be maintained; it would disintegrate into nothingness. A medieval author, Nicolaus Cusanus, talks about the vision of God. Now his little thought on God’s vision is not what you might imagine. It is more in line with our current discussion: We exist because of God’s vision of us; if he were to look away, as it were, we would cease to exist. In our mechanical, deistic framework, we do not regularly uphold such an understanding of God’s upholding the world, but Nicolaus is closer to scripture than our framework. The Son upholds the universe by the word of his power; for by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-- all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. In the Son, all things hold together. We more likely believe the false truth that the laws of science hold things together. There are laws of science because God’s upholding reflects his character: there is a regularity, and yet we acknowledge that God works beyond our perception, which we call miracles. Miracles are God working in the world in a different way that we are used to.

   So creation is held together by God, and this means that humanity is weak without this gift of God. Like Athanasius says, ‘created things exists out of non-being, is unstable, weak, and mortal when considered in itself.’ Of ourselves, humanity is weak, but because of the gift of life from God, which Genesis described as breathing life into man, we live, and even though man fell into sin and opposed God, our God spoke through the prophet Ezekiel about an even greater gift of God. The curse of God on humanity is sin and death, but through the prophet Ezekiel God promises a greater gift of grace: he calls the prophet to prophecy over dead bones, which is to say prophecy over those who have experienced fully the curse of God in Genesis 3. And we see the givingness of God. The dry bones get their flesh and tendons replaced, and they are given new life. What were dry, dead bones becomes a new created humanity, and in this prophetic image, we see that Christ’s work of dying for sinners will bring new life to the dead. So for the church which rests in the work of Christ, each individual member of the church was once dead, but is now experiencing in part the resurrection life. And as the Spirit of God is given to the Church, the church itself receives this great gift of God’s Spirit with power and deed. Having been enlivened, we are enabled to live whole lives in a way that not even Adam could have done. He was only able to anticipate such a glorious grace in redeeming humanity from the curse on his race. May we find great hope and joy in such truth.

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