The doctrine of creation deals with origins. Where did we come from? How did the universe and life come into existence? The doctrine of providence picks up where creation ends. It is concerned with God’s management of the universe. How involved is God in the affairs of life? Especially my life? This article will look at these two related doctrines. Doctrines that can be quite controversial.
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
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The question of how the universe came into existence is a debate that divides the world and the church today. On one side are those who will claim that it is the product of an intentional creator. While on the other side are those who deny a creator and argue for some form of as-yet unknown natural process.
Which camp you find yourself in is largely a product of your belief, or lack of belief, in God. If you deny the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient God, then there could have been no creator involved in the origin of the universe. On the other hand, if you believe in an all-powerful God, creation being an act of that God is a logical conclusion.
This article takes the position that everything we can see around us is the product of an intelligent and powerful creator we identify as God. No attempt will be made to provide a rationale for the naturalist perspective that denies God’s existence.
In the Beginning
The Bible is clear that “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). This passage tells us two significant things. First, there was a beginning. The universe is not eternal, it has not always existed. This is a point that has near universal agreement, even among most of those who deny the existence of God.
And, secondly, God created it. For the ancient Hebrews, heaven and earth simply signified what’s above us and what’s below us. And that constitutes the totality of all that is. This passage itself does not require creation ex-nihilo. But Hebrews 11:3, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” does.
There is little disagreement within orthodox Christianity about these two points. However, there is considerable disagreement within Christianity concerning many of the details of the creation. A creation that is described in the remainder of the first chapter of Genesis.
Old or Young
The first chapter of Genesis describes creation unfolding over the course of six days, followed by a day in which God rested. Throughout most of history, that has been little reason to doubt that God created the universe over a span of six days just a few thousand years ago. It has only been in recent centuries that there has been any reason to doubt this account.
With the advent of modern science, especially geology and cosmology, this conception of the age of the earth and universe has been challenged. Geological evidence points to an earth that is close to 4.5 billion years old. And cosmology argues for an even older universe, on the order of nearly 14 billion years old. On top of that, the science of biology posits a slow development of all life forms evolving from a common ancestor rather than an individual creation of each species.
This has divided Christians into two primary camps. Those who reject what science has to say about the development of the universe and the life it contains. And those who are willing to accept what science claims. The former will argue for a young creation, rejecting evolution. The second will argue for an old creation. And they may or may not be willing to accept some form of evolution.
The Genesis Creation Accounts and Science
The first two chapters of Genesis contain two creation accounts. The first is focused on the creation and population of the earth, while the second account is more concerned with the creation of the first humans. The traditional approach until recently has been to take these accounts as accurate descriptions of God’s creative activity.
But with the advent of modern science, there has been a tendency by many to try and reconcile these accounts with the claims of modern science. There have been a variety of approaches to dealing with these differences. Some have rejected the Genesis accounts as being simple ancient legends with no basis in reality. At the other extreme are those who reject anything in modern science that seems in conflict with the traditional reading of Genesis. And in between these two positions are a number of attempts to reconcile the two.
If the Bible is the inspired, truthful, and authoritative word of God, then we cannot ignore what he tells us in the Genesis creation accounts. By the same token, creation itself reveals God’s nature and power to us (Rom. 1:20), so we should not be quick to dismiss what the creation reveals to us about the work of our creator. God’s two revelations in the Bible and the creation both teach us and are not at odds with each other. When they appear to be, the problem is in our understanding of one, or both, of them.
What Really Matters?
Discussing the different ways of resolving Genesis and science are beyond the scope of this article. If you are interested I briefly mention them in an article on the work of God. But there are some things that I believe are important in any reconciliation attempt.
- God’s revelation is always true. This includes both the inspired Scripture as well as the creation.
- If there seems to be a conflict between the two, the problem is with my understanding of one, or both, of his revelations.
- The Bible is not a science book. It has been given to us to enable us to faithfully serve our Lord (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Regardless of how you understand the first chapter of Genesis, the following are the most important truths that it contains.
- God is our creator. As well as everything else that exists.
- The creation works according to God’s design.
- Humanity was created in the image of God and has a responsibility for the rest of the creation.
- The mechanics of how and when God created the universe and life are of lesser importance.
While creation deals with the origin of the universe and the life it contains, providence is concerned with God’s activity in his creation since then. Providence can be roughly divided into two categories. The first has to do with the preservation of his creation. The second deals with the governance of his creation.
In Colossians 1:17, Paul says that “in [Christ] all things hold together.” And. Hebrews 1:3, we are told that Christ is “sustaining all things by his powerful word.” Christ is the sustaining power of the universe. You might see that the elementary forces of nature; gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces; are what hold the creation together and keep it functioning. But, were God to remove them, the universe would simply cease. The creation owes its continued existence to God’s sustaining power.
How much control does God exert over the affairs of life on earth? Is he like a puppet master who pulls all the strings? More like an orchestra conductor who provides direction that, if followed, produces beautiful music? Only occasionally involved, but mostly letting us decide our own course? Or completely uninvolved?
The Bible tells us that God is involved in every aspect of a nation’s life (Acts 17:26). In 1 Corinthians 4:7, Paul tells us that it is God who made each of us as we are. And in Proverbs 16:33, we find that God is involved even in the circumstances and decisions of our individual lives.
This makes it clear that God is not uninvolved in the affairs of this world. Nor does he only get occasionally involved. The Bible describes a God who is involved with every aspect of life. Is there no room then for humans to act apart from God’s explicit direction?
Most believers seem to hold to what I am calling general governance. While God is sovereign over all of his creation as well as the affairs of humans, he does allow a certain amount of autonomy. But just how much is allowed is a matter of debate. Most will agree that the choice of fruit I added to this morning’s oatmeal was solely my choice. And, more significantly, when I sin, it is my choice, and I bear the responsibility for it.
Probably the biggest disagreement concerns an individual’s ability to accept or reject God’s offer of salvation. Many, myself included, believe that is a choice that God enables us to make on our own. But there are just as many who understand that to be solely under God’s control. I understand the repeated calls to believe in the Lord Jesus to indicate that we do have a choice to make.
On the other side are those who believe that God controls every aspect of a person’s life. This is sometimes called divine determinism. And there are passages in the Scripture that would support this position. Proverbs 16:33, mentioned above, along with a number of other proverbs, certainly seem to support that position.
But there are other passages that would argue against it. In Jeremiah 7:31 and Jeremiah 19:5, God said that the people were engaged in an activity that he had not commanded, not had it entered his mind. In 1 Samuel 23:9-13, there is an account of David inquiring of the Lord about Saul. The Lord initially told David that Saul would come to the town of Keilah, where David was hiding. But when David left that town, Saul did not come. If divine determinism were true, then this story does not make sense. Only if Saul was free to choose to go to Keilah or not go, does this story make sense.
But maybe the biggest argument against divine determinism is that it makes God the author of evil. If everything I do was predestined by God, then when I do evil, I am doing it because God made me. God is, in the end, responsible for my actions. And that is contrary to the nature of God expressed in the Bible (Jam. 1:13-14).
Sovereignty and providence are two words used to describe God that would be easy to confuse. But they are not the same thing. Sovereignty refers to God’s authority to rule. He is the ruler of all creation, both physical and spiritual. And he has the right and power to do whatever he wants.
Providence, and creation, both describe aspects of what he does as sovereign. As sovereign, he created. And, as sovereign, he manages his creation.
Questions to Think About
- What position do you hold concerning the age of creation and how God went about creating? What impact does that have on your life and faith? What impact would it have on your faith if you discovered you were wrong?
- How much involvement does God have in the world today? As well as in your daily life?
- How do you reconcile God’s providence and the presence of evil in the world?
You are welcome to respond to these questions in the comment section below. If you do, be sure to check the “Notify me” checkbox just above the Post Comment button so you can get any feedback. Note that all comments are moderated. Only respectful comments relevant to the topic will be posted.
Posts in the Discipleship Series
- Bible Study – Discipleship 101
- Spending Time Together – Discipleship 102
- Worshipping Together – Discipleship 103
- Drawing Near in Prayer – Discipleship 104
- Understanding Who God Is – Doctrine 201
- What Is Humanity – Doctrine 202
- What Is Sin? – Doctrine 203
- Jesus: Our Savior – Doctrine 204
- Gifted to Serve: Discipleship 301
- Meditation, Solitude, and Fasting: Discipleship 302
- What Is the Bible? – Doctrine 401
- The Nature and Work of the Holy Spirit: Doctrine 402
- What Is the Church?: Doctrine 403
- Creation and Providence – Doctrine 404
- The Doctrine of the Kingdom of God
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
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