That All Things Were Created Good
The beginning of any account of our redemption must consider God's goodness. All things, we are told, were created good. Our main difficulties in believing this are the reality of death and the evil done by mankind; each of these will be discussed in more detail going forward. Still, for what we see in creation, our basic impression is that God is good. When we look at the stars or the sea we have no difficulty believing that God is good; we have difficulty believing he could be otherwise. The world is filled with things that evoke awe and wonder, things that stir up images of paradise in our minds and call out that this world itself is, or was, paradise. Each thing of beauty is a reminder of heaven, showing a facet of the mind of the maker, drawing us toward him. Each thing God creates has some mark of him. This goodness of God and its reflection in creation is the basis of the experienced goodness of life as well as the basis for the understanding of good and evil.
If this were the whole of it, if everything in our lives called out to us "God is good", the questions about evil would never have been asked. The next post discusses the image of God and the fall of man; the one after that focuses on death. The remainder of this post is addressed to a closely related subject, the "best of all possible worlds" views of creation which are popular in some circles. My main aims in the following section are to return to a view of creation that is directly rooted in Scripture's discussion of creation, and to review how God implements his lordship in this world without revoking the gift he gave us at creation, our sub-lordship within the boundaries he has established.
The Best of All Possible Worlds?
(Again, unless you have a particular interest in the "Best of All Possible Worlds" theories, you may want to just skip to the next post on the image of God and the fall of man.)
Every now and then I hear arguments whether this world is the best of all possible worlds. These arguments usually assume first that all actual happenings in this world were specifically decreed by God and desired by God; and second that God, in his act of creation, chose one set of possibilities above all other sets of possibilities as the best set of possibilities for this world. As with so many speculative theologies, we may ask, "Where has God made that known to us?" and "How would someone know whether or not that were true?"
But this variety of "best worlds" argument has some problems beyond its speculation. It supposes a world which was, at the outset, compromised with evil. But in the account of the world's creation -- regardless of whether you take it as literal or symbolic -- there still remains the fact that the world is said to be very good in every way. Where is there a hint that this world was already directed towards all the evil which has since come? And where is a thing which God would have done differently to create another of these "possible worlds"? If all actual events were decreed by God at creation, then each specific thing -- for example, the fact that my parents had two children, or my mother's parents also had two children -- this is supposed to be decreed at the creation of the world. But what was it that God did in creation that ordained how many children my ancestors would have? What, in the act of the world's creation, would have been different if God had desired for my mother to have three children instead of two? Would the sun have been made differently? Would the plants have reproduced differently? Would the days and nights have been established differently to cause my ancestors, or yours, to behave differently? What, in the act of creation, determined or decreed any of that?
All of that is just by way of pointing out one thing: the view that all actual events were decreed by God at the time of creation is unsupported by anything in the account of creation. From that account it seems more likely, and logically it is more straightforward, that this world itself contained all those possibilities within it at its beginning. This would imply that, rather than God decreeing each specific action in the world at the foundation of the world, that he decreed the range of possibilities and fixed the boundaries within which our actions would take place. This would imply that God gave his consent to any outcome within that range, rather than specifically decreeing which outcome must occur, for many things in this world. For instance, in the account of Job, we do not see that God decreed for Job's children to be killed by a collapsing building; but he did consent to catastrophes befalling Job up to a certain limit. Again in other places in Scripture we see God enacting his lordship over this world not by decreeing each specific action for others, but by decreeing the limits within which he will allow others to act. In various places, the Bible describes God's relationship to his people as a landlord to his tenants or a wealthy man to his stewards, where God is not said to decree each action that the tenants or stewards do, but to lay out the boundaries of what they may do. In this way God's action at the larger level determines many things and sets the boundaries for all things, but he has still left stewardship, responsibility, and some participation in the actual results in mankind's hands. Within the boundaries he has set, our actions make a genuine difference.
At this point some theological camps would still deny that mankind has any latitude in his actions based on God's foreknowledge of our actions, and that all things happen only because God desires exactly that to happen. The basic premise is that God cannot change. If, they say, God's knowledge of what we do changes, then God himself changes. Therefore, they say, God's knowledge does not change and therefore, they say, mankind's latitude to direct himself is an illusion not a reality. While it is doubtful that a change in God's knowledge, rather than a change in God Himself, was meant when it was said that God does not change, even this is likely beside the point. God can know what we do for all eternity, and still not have decreed it, if that is his choice. If he is omnipotent and omniscient, then he has the power to allow room within boundaries for us and still have full knowledge of what we will do. The question is not what God can do, for most of us will allow that God can do all things which are not self-contradictory; the question is what God has chosen to do. We have been told that God made us in his image, and in Scripture we are shown a number of situations in which God is said to set limits for the actions of others rather than make specific decrees for those actions.
How Much Freedom?
Other schools of theology would make room for mankind to participate in our own salvation, and not only by living it out or working it out, but even at the point when we are still enemies of God. But this is getting ahead of myself, and the next point to cover is what happened to mankind.
Index for systematic theology series