Today’s post is by Dr. Brian Mattson, Senior Scholar of Public Theology for the Center For Cultural Leadership, continuing his series on The Apostles’ Creed. You can fan his Facebook page (Dr. Brian G. Mattson), follow him on Twitter (@BrianGMattson), and read his blog (www.drbrianmattson.com).
The late Douglas Adams begins his book, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (a sequel to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), with these words:
The story thus far:
In the beginning the universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.
Not only is this humorous in its fashion, but it is also a perfect expression of the pagan concept of creation. And the root of it is the notion that the dysfunction of the present world in which we live is “given” with creation itself. This is why all the ancient cosmogonies or origin myths held in common the view that creation was the result of strife of some sort, a battle between rival gods and so forth. According to paganism, creation was born under a bad moon.
No less was this the view of the heretical Gnostic sects in the early centuries. The church found itself contending with groups that emphatically denied that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the creator of the universe. Yes, they spoke of Jesus and his “Father,” but they did not identify this “Father” as the God of Genesis 1:1. Yahweh, the creator of heaven and earth, was a “demiurge,” an ignorant, low-level deity who basically made a “bad move” by creating the world of space, matter, and time. Jesus revealed, in fact, a god heretofore completely unknown, a “Father” above and beyond the creator of heaven and earth.
And so the Gnostics, following standard operating procedure for pagan worldviews, were among those whom, as Adams puts it, widely regarded creation as a “bad move.” The source of our problems and dysfunction is that we live in a world given to suffering, and the cause of that suffering is matter and time. Think of it: are we not betrayed by our bodies when we lust and envy? Are we not betrayed by time, as things continually change and our accomplishments seem so fleeting? Surely the “good” life must transcend this messy place, and our true home must be spiritual instead of material.
Was this only a challenge to the early church? By no means! Neo-paganism (Druidism, Wicca, Deep Ecology, etc.) believes that death is the natural state of affairs and that history is the continual cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Buddhism and Hinduism believe that our “problem” is that we are caught up on an endless “wheel of existence,” the illusory world of matter and time. We must transcend our bodies and achieve “oneness” with the spiritual reality above and beyond us.
And, lo and behold, even the dominant creation myth of so-called “secular” science today fundamentally agrees: the raw tooth and claw, decay, suffering and death, is an intrinsic part of the created order. To be alive in the world is to be in peril, and reality consists in the fundamental law of “natural selection” or “survival of the fittest.”
The ancient Babylonians and Egyptians, the Greek philosophers and poets, the Gnostic teachers of the early church, the great Eastern Religions, contemporary neo-pagans and mystics, as well as the “rational” adherents of Neo-Darwinism – now, that is quite a collection of diverse people! They all agree that the problems and sufferings of this life have their source in creation itself. Creation has made a lot of people very angry and is widely regarded as a very bad move, indeed.
It is astonishing, counter-cultural, and entirely unique, then, when the early church confessed so boldly: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.”
The God who made everything is the “Father,” the very same deity revealed by Jesus Christ.
More than that, the God who made everything is also “Almighty.” There is no spiritual reality above and beyond him. He is not a “lower level” demiurge at all, but rather the supreme authority.
By identifying God as both the supreme authority and the creator of all things, the church declares that whatever problems the world presents to us, whatever our sufferings, our pain, our dysfunction, it is not part of the design. It is not creation’s fault nor, by extension, God’s fault. This is incredibly significant in many ways, but let me linger on just one.
We do not reflect often enough on the significance of Paul’s tiny little statement in Romans 5:12 that sin “entered the world.” This one phrase is perhaps the most anti-pagan, anti-Gnostic phrase in the Bible. It means that sin is not of the essence of the world. It is not “given” with creation. It is not characteristic of creation. Sin is an interloper. It is a mysterious parasite that makes an otherwise functional world dysfunctional.
Every major religion gives up on the world as a lost cause. The ideal is to escape the world by spiritually transcending it. How different the Christian message! Because sin “entered” the world, because the suffering and dysfunction is not “given” with the world as such, creation is capable of being redeemed. The affirmation that God, the Supreme One, is the Creator of all things is an affirmation of unparalleled hope. The parasite can be removed. That which is dirty can be made clean. That which is ugly can be made beautiful again. That which is sick can be healed. As Bono and U2 sing so poignantly:
What once was hurt / What once was friction
What left a mark / No longer stings
Because grace makes beauty / Out of ugly things
The Christian doctrine of creation is a profound counter to the prevailing universal view that the world is beyond repair. For behold! The Creator of Heaven and Earth is making all things new!