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Self-Creation (Part 1)

A Message by R.C. Sproul

How do you convince nonbelievers that the universe was created by God, as it states in Genesis 1:1? One effective approach is to show them the irrational alternatives. In this lesson, Dr. R.C. Sproul exposes several of the unreasonable theories proposed by nonbelievers, as he addresses the notion of "self-creation."

From the series: Defending Your Faith

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. article

    Creation Ex Nihilo

  2. article

    Intelligent Design

  3. blog-post

    In the Beginning God

Creation Ex Nihilo

Derek Thomas

No sentence is more pregnant with meaning than the opening one of the Bible: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). It tells us several things all at once, four of which are worth reflecting upon: First and foremost, it tells us that God is the ultimate Being. Before there was a universe, there was God. He exists independently of matter and sequence of time. God transcends space and time. He is not limited by spatial considerations (He is everywhere in His fullness continually). Nor is He locked into the present in any way. It is not strictly accurate to say that before the universe was created there was “nothing,” for this, too, is a spatial and temporal idea: before the created universe existed, there was God. Theologians speak of God’s immensity, infinity, and transcendence to describe this and our minds race at the thought of it, unable to take it in. All we can do is acquiesce and worship.

Second, everything that exists originates from God. Genesis employs a special Hebrew verb for the act of creation (bārā') the subject of which is always God. No other subject is employed or implied. Man, too, “creates” (poetry, music, literature, architectural wonders, for example) but not in this sense. “To create” is exclusively an act of God, and by employing it in the first and last verse of the creation story (1:1 and 2:4), the writer is employing something that looks like “bookends” that encase the central idea that God is at work. Easy as this is to write (and read!), try to imagine the power it takes to bring into existence the entire cosmos!

Third, He creates “out of nothing.” A grammatical possibility has given rise to at least one translation of the opening verses suggesting that when God began His work of creation, matter already existed: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void” (nrsv). Contrast that with the English Standard Version: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void.” The point of this second rendition is to emphasize a crucial issue that God created out of nothing (ex nihilo). Other ancient Near Eastern creation stories (from Egypt and Mesopotamia, for example) assume that their gods worked with material that already existed. However, biblical testimony here and elsewhere insists that at the point of the beginning there was nothing apart from God (Heb. 11:3; Rev. 4:11), and what exists apart from God was brought into being by Him.

Fourth, and this is particularly interesting, that which He initially creates is not its final form. He creates in order to employ further artistry and design. Beginners in Hebrew at seminaries can often be heard repeating a phrase from Genesis 1:2: “The earth was without form and void.” What God initially brought into being was “tōhu vabōhu,” “formless and empty mass.” Initially, the created universe had no distinctive shape; its structure would be formed by the artistry and design of God. In this sense, we are like God. We, too, fashion and mold and make things that are often beautiful. It is, in part, what Genesis 1:26–27 means by saying that Adam was created “in the image of God.” Man, too, creates, or better, re-creates, shapes his environment in such a way as to reflect something pleasing and good. Once man fell, this capacity became as much a liability as a blessing: his capacity to fashion became a means to idolatry.

What should we make of this? Again, several responsive features are worth consideration, but two will suffice here:

In the first place, God is to be worshiped as the Creator; creation is to be viewed as a reflection of the signature of God. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). “O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures” (Ps. 104:24). We live out our lives in a world that He has created and sustains. All around us and within us there are fingerprints betraying His handiwork. Knowing this (as we do whether we acknowledge it or not) should make us live dependently, reverently, and expectantly.

In the second place, creation is never to be viewed as inherently evil (as some philosophies have taught). God intends in His plan of salvation to re-create this fallen world and provide for His redeemed children “a new heavens and new earth” in which to live. Even now, the present creation waits (8:19) — subjected to futility as it has been by sin (Rom. 8:20) — groaning in sounds that resemble childbirth (8:22), for the “new world” (Matt 19:28), the home of the righteous (2 Peter 3:13). The resurrected redeemed will thus dwell in a (transformed) physical universe in union and communion with their resurrected Lord. This strand of biblical teaching ensures that we never view creation (and our physical bodies) apart from God’s claim of ownership and demand for holiness. We are, as Paul insists, to present our “bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” as an act of “spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1). The story of creation signals that we are God’s handiwork — made by Him and for Him and that (through redemption) forever.

Intelligent Design

R.C. Sproul Jr.

 

The culture wars are heating up again. Such, I suppose, ought not to surprise me. Evangelical professor of sociology James Davidson Hunter published his book Culture Wars in 1992. Therein he argued that the real dividing line in modern culture was not between right wing and left wing, not between Christians and non-Christians, but between the orthodox and the progressives. The orthodox, he argued, were all those who affirmed some sort of transcendent source of truth and morality. The progressives denied the transcendent. The orthodox included then not only evangelical Christians, but conservative Roman Catholics, orthodox Jews, fundamentalist Muslims, and even old-school Mormons. The latter, by contrast, included liberal Protestants, nominal Roman Catholics, unobservant Jews, non-strict Muslims, and doubting Mormons. Our “allies” in the culture war together affirmed that there was a God and that this God has revealed Himself and His will for men. What they disagreed about was who this God is and what He has told us.

Hunter’s work begat more books on the same theme. Michael Horton published Beyond Culture Wars. Peter Kreeft wrote Ecumenical Jihad. Hunter penned a sequel, Before the Shooting Starts. Even David Wells’ trenchant series of theological books, beginning with No Place for Truth, carried a heavy sociological tinge to them. But then, for some reason, the culture wars seemed to die down. Perhaps it was the shock of September 11 that directed our focus elsewhere. That the same kind of rhetoric is rising again, however, at least suggests a different explanation. Could it be that we beat our cultural plows into swords when a Democrat occupies the White House and beat our swords into plows when a Republican holds court?

The culture wars, rightly understood, are ultimately only one manifestation of the broader war first declared in Genesis 3. There God promised the serpent that He would put enmity between him and the woman, between his seed and her seed. He promised in the end that the serpent would bruise the heel of the seed of the woman but also that his head would be crushed. As we remember this reality, and that this war will not be fully finished until Jesus returns, we remember to live our lives in light of this war. We prepare ourselves for battle, and we seek the wisdom to discern who our enemies and friends are, as well as where the battle lines have been drawn.

It is not difficult, for instance, to discern the Devil’s hoof prints all over naturalistic Darwinism. That this is folly is easy enough to discern. Those, on the other hand, who stand ready to affirm the historicity and the inerrancy of the Genesis account of creation are our friends and co-belligerents. Where though, do we place that movement known as Intelligent Design? Are these scholars and scientists friend or foe?

Advocates of Intelligent Design have a great deal going for them. First, they rightly reject the obvious folly of Darwinism. In an age where the acceptance of Darwinian dogma is virtually a loyalty test for acceptance into the academic realm, these men have stood firm and faithful. They have been wounded grievously by our enemies. Second, these good men have made strong, even compelling cases for the necessity of design in the creation of the universe. They are, in a manner of speaking, not only thinking God’s thoughts after Him, but are teaching others to do the same. And third, they have, happily, embarrassed our enemies. Darwinists come off rightly as half-armed when battling wits with ID advocates.

For those of us glass-half-empty people, however, there remain important questions. It is well and good to reject Darwinism. However, this is not at all the same thing as championing the truthfulness of the Word of God. Do we long for the day when the world affirms that there is a maker of heaven and earth or do we long for the day when the world confesses that Jesus Christ, by whom all things were made, is Lord of heaven and earth? Are we, when we seek to answer the question of origins without appealing to the revelation of the Originator, answering a fool according to his folly, as we ought (Prov. 26:5), or are we answering a fool according to his folly as we ought not (v. 4)?

In the end, Christian advocates of Intelligent Design at least have this right — that the God who made the world reveals Himself in and through the world. We need never fear learning from the creation. It, after all, declares His glory day after day. On the other hand, it is not merely the general revelation of God where we must stand, but on the Word of God. There is the solid ground. There is safety and security. We need not seek to curry favor with those who would gainsay the Word of God. We need instead to call them to repentance.

Our allies in the great war are all those for whom our Commander has died. That includes, of course, not just Christians committed to the biblical account of creation. It also includes those committed to Intelligent Design. It even includes those who trust in the finished work of Christ alone, while affirming theistic evolution. All of us, wherever we are on this spectrum, however, need to strive daily to be more faithful to His Word, to be set apart and distinct from the world around us. And all of us are called to love one another along the way.

 

In the Beginning God

R.C. Sproul

When Genesis speaks of a beginning, it is referring to the advent of the universe in time and space. It is not positing a beginning to God but a beginning to the creative work of God. One of the most enigmatic questions of philosophy and theology relates to the nature of time. Was the universe created in time, or was it created along with time? Did time exist before creation, or did it come into being with creation? Most classical theologians affirm that time correlates with creation. That is, before matter was created, time, at least as we know it, did not exist. How one approaches this question of the origin of time is usually bound up with how one understands the nature of time. Some see time not as an objective reality but merely as a category or construction of the mind.

However we conceive of time, we can agree that the ordinary manner by which we measure time requires a relationship between matter and motion. A simple clock uses hands that move around the face of a dial. We measure time by the motion of these hands. Or we may use an hourglass, which measures time by the passing of sand through a narrow aperture in the glass. The sundial measures time by the movement of a shadow. There are many devices to measure time, but in the final analysis they all rely on some sort of motion relative to some type of matter.

If there is no matter, we cannot measure motion. If we cannot measure motion, we cannot measure time. However, just because we cannot measure time without matter does not mean that without matter time does not exist. Genesis merely asserts that the universe had a beginning. It does not explicitly declare that time began with the universe. That concept is derived via speculative philosophy. The philosophical concerns are usually linked to our broader understanding of the nature of God. Especially when we declare with Scripture that God is eternal, the question of His relationship to time arises. Does His eternality mean that He is somehow outside of time, that He is timeless? Or does His eternality mean that He exists in an endless dimension of time?

If there ever was a time when absolutely nothing existed, all there could possibly be now is nothing. —R.C. Sproul

However we answer this question, we conclude that God Himself never had a beginning. He exists infinitely with respect to space and eternally with respect to time. His existence has neither a starting point nor an ending point. The dimensions of His existence are from everlasting to everlasting. This means that He always has been and always will be.

In the Beginning God

Because God Himself had no beginning, He was already there in the beginning. He antedates the created order. When we affirm that God is eternal, we are also saying that He possesses the attribute of aseity, or self-existence. This means that God eternally has existed of Himself and in Himself. He is not a contingent being. He did not derive from some other source. He is not dependent on any power outside Himself in order to exist. He has no father or mother. He is not an effect of some antecedent cause. In a word, He is not a creature. No creature has the power of being in and of itself. All creatures are contingent, derived, and dependent. This is the essence of their creatureliness.

In the Beginning God Created

Thinkers hostile to theism have sought every means imaginable to provide a rational alternative to the notion of an eternal, self-existent deity. Some have argued for an eternal universe, though with great difficulty. Usually the temporal beginning of the universe is granted, but with a reluctance to assign its cause to an eternal, self-existent being. The usual alternative is some sort of self-creation, which, in whatever form it takes, falls into irrationality and absurdity. To assert the self-creation of anything is to leap into the abyss of the absurd because for something to create itself, it would have had to exist before it existed to do the job. It would have had to be and not be at the same time and in the same relationship. Some speak of self-creation in terms of spontaneous generation, which is just another name for self-creation. This would involve the logically impossible event of something coming from nothing. If there ever was a time when absolutely nothing existed, all there could possibly be now is nothing. Even that statement is problematic because there can never be nothing; if nothing ever was, then it would be something and not nothing.


Excerpt from God's Love by R.C. Sproul. Available now from the Ligonier Store.

Copyright 2012 R.C. Sproul. God's Love published by David C Cook. Publisher permission required to reproduce. All rights reserved.

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