If the God is the creator, then creation shows us who God is. As we saw in the previous chapter, nature is one of the books that God has written to reveal his character. “What can be known about God is plain,” wrote the apostle Paul, “because God has shown it. . . . His invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Rom. 1:19–20). Keen observers of nature recognize the handiwork of God and draw sound inferences about his attributes. “This most beautiful system of sun, planets, and comets,” wrote Sir Isaac Newton, “could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.” Gerard Manley Hopkins made the same point more poetically: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”
At the same time that it teaches us who God is, creation also teaches us who we are. This is one of the fundamental questions any worldview has to answer: Who am I, and why am I here? In his poem “The Buried Life,” Matthew Arnold writes about our wild, deep, and thirsty longing “to know whence our lives come and where they go.” Evolutionary naturalism—as distinct from a theistic worldview in which any changes we observe in the natural world are under the sovereign direction of God—says that we are merely the product of meaningless chance, and thus our lives do not have any given purpose or final destiny. Once we accept the theories of Charles Darwin, writes Christopher Manes, then we must “face the fact that the observation of nature has revealed not one scrap of evidence that humanity is superior or special, or even particularly more interesting than, say, lichen.” According to this culturally dominant creation story, the only purpose we have is whatever purpose we find for ourselves. “Gone is purpose,” writes the Oxford chemist Peter Atkins. “Gone is the afterlife, gone is the soul, gone is protection through prayer, gone is design, gone is false comfort. All that is left is an exhilarating loneliness and the recognition that through science we can come to an understanding of ourselves and this glorious cosmos.”
Christianity responds by saying that our lives come from God. Thus our longing is satisfied in a person, or rather, three persons. The climax of creation came on the sixth day, when God said, “Let us make man” (Gen. 1:26). This divine declaration rules out the humanistic idea—first popularized by the ancient Greek philosopher Protagoras—that “man is the measure of all things.” We did not make ourselves, and thus we cannot claim any right to define our identity. Who we are and what we are is ordained by God our maker. This truth is reinforced as the story of creation unfolds and God addresses the first man and the first woman directly, telling them to be fruitful and multiply, to subdue and rule the earth, and to eat from every tree except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen. 1:28–30; 2:16–17). We depend on God to speak to us and tell us the meaning and purpose of our existence.
The reason many people rebel against dependence on God is that they would prefer to determine their own destiny. Like the existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, they claim, “There is no human nature, because there is no God to have a conception of it. . . . Man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself.” If what we are is not given to us by God, then we are free to live as we please, which is a dominating desire in Western culture, especially. The consequences of this worldview are lived out in broken lives and written into the art and literature of uncertainty and despair. By contrast, the Christian worldview maintains that human beings are not the random result of molecules in motion; we are the crown of creation, the highest product of creative design, the object of divine affection and intention. Although we come from the dust of the ground, God breathed life into us to make us living beings, body and soul (Gen. 2:7).
When God performed this creative act, he made us in his own image. This high privilege must be of crucial importance because it is mentioned three times in the space of two verses: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. . . .’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:26–27). Like a newly minted coin, an image is something fashioned according to the pattern of an original. Therefore, for women and men to be made in the divine image is for us to be made like God—in such aspects of our personhood as rationality, spirituality, creativity, community, morality, and authority. What constitutes the unique sanctity of all human life—from conception to the grave, and beyond—is that God has made us like himself. This is the biblical view of the human person.
The divine image gives us an important clue about what human beings are made for. If who we are is a reflection of who God is, then we do not exist by ourselves or for ourselves but in relationship to God. God has made us like himself so that we can hear him, know him, love him, worship him, and serve him. The Westminster Shorter Catechism famously summarizes our purpose in relationship to God by saying that humanity’s “chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” God’s primary goal is his glory, as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit each try to honor one another. Within their eternal fellowship, the three persons of the Trinity are not self-seeking but self-giving. This is also God’s intention for us. We are not designed or destined for our purposes but for his. We are made to display God’s triune majesty, and we have no purpose or significance apart from him. Our highest joy and true reason for being is to take pleasure in the infinite beauty of God. So the psalmist teaches us to say, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory” (Ps. 115:1).
How to Glorify God
There is a creator, and there are creatures made in his image who are called to glorify him—that is, to give him all of the worship and honor that someone with his supreme majesty deserves.
The place where we glorify our maker is within his good creation. Here we remember the value judgment that our creator placed on everything he made. After each day of creation, God looked at what he had made and saw that it was good. And when he was finished, “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). Over against the dualistic worldview of Islam, for example, which maintains that good and evil are equally ultimate, the Bible says that what God made in the beginning was perfectly good. This divine approbation gives us the Christian view of creation: it was all made good for the glory of God, with the further implication that there should be no separation between the sacred and the secular. If God created everything good, then his people cannot restrict their faith to private religion but must pursue his purposes in every sphere of life, whether public or private. Christianity is a world-affirming worldview that embraces the entire creation as a gift from God.
Admittedly, some Christians have always been suspicious of at least some aspects of creation. When it comes to physical pleasures such as good food and fine drink, they often abstain, but when they indulge, they do it with the suspicion of a guilty conscience. The apostle Paul rejected this sub-Christian worldview by celebrating the bounty of creation: “Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim. 4:4); “so, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). This does not mean that the good things of God’s creation are not subject to sinful abuse, as we shall see. But the good things we do in the body—even basic things such as eating and drinking—are under the blessing of our Creator God. The body is not an impediment to the soul but an instrument for glorifying God.
Here we can make some direct connections to daily life. Our real worldview is not merely the one we say we believe but the one we actually live in the world. It is not an intellectual construct but a set of practices. So how do we live out the Christian doctrine of creation?
We start from the premise that God made us to glorify him in his good creation. The Children’s Catechism expresses this truth with beautiful simplicity:
- Who made you? God.
- What else did God make? God made all things.
- Why did God make you and all things? For his own glory.
These questions are simple enough for even the smallest child to learn, and yet anyone who knows the answers is well on the way to knowing the Christian worldview. All we need to do now is to extend the goal of glorifying God to every aspect of life. We fully understand the purpose of anything we do to the extent that we understand the particular way that it brings praise to God. Whatever we are doing—whether we are playing baseball, shoveling snow, or choosing artwork to hang on the wall—we ought to be able to say (and know why we say it), “This is for you, Lord. It is all for your glory.”
In what ways can we give glory to God? Most obviously, perhaps, we glorify God with our praise, worshiping the creator rather than anything in his good creation. It is not enough for us simply to acknowledge God’s bare existence; we must celebrate his majesty by singing and speaking the honor of his name. “God is glorified,” said Jonathan Edwards, “not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in.” This is where we will find our highest joy and greatest satisfaction: in the worship of our Creator God. Augustine famously said, “You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” We are made for praise, as Augustine understood. Everyone finds someone or something to worship. But the only object of worship that brings true satisfaction to the soul is the one true God.
We are also called to glorify God with our bodies. The doctrine of creation affirms the goodness of the human body as designed and manufactured by God. The body is not the source of sinful corruption; nor is it a prison that the soul needs to escape. Rather, the body is part of God’s good creation, and therefore it can be used for his glory. Our eyes and ears, hands and feet, and mouths and brains are all instruments for serving God.
The inherent goodness of our bodies includes our sexuality. God has made us as sexual beings, male and female, and this too is part of the creation that God called “good.” The Christian worldview celebrates sexual intercourse as a gift to be received in marriage with gratitude, reverence, and joy. When God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28), it was his design for this mandate to be fulfilled exclusively through marital relations. The sexual intimacy that Adam and Eve shared was the seal of their covenant relationship, expressing their total spiritual union in covenant before God. Their sons and daughters would spring from the joy of their one-flesh union.
The doctrine of creation thus affirms marriage—and beyond marriage, the family—as the basic love relationship and building block of human society. It further specifies that marriage consists of one man united to one woman in a love covenant for life (a specification that morally excludes any sexual union outside the sacred vows of marriage). The biblical ethic for sexuality does not come from some arbitrary decree (still less from human invention), but from the very structure of creation itself.
So does the Bible’s call to community. God told Adam that it was not good for him to be alone (Gen. 2:18). This was the only thing in all creation that God said was not good: Adam’s loneliness. As a human being he was a social being, made to live in community, sharing life in interdependent relationships with other people made in the image of God. From the beginning, God gave him a woman to be his partner, and in time their loving relationship would grow into a family, a community, a city. This was God’s design, and as a result, creation carried within it the potentiality of culture.
This does not mean, of course, that God calls everyone to be married. Marriage is part of God’s good creation—a divinely ordained institution that is crucial to God’s purposes for humanity and a primary place for husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, to live for the glory of God. Yet singleness is a prime opportunity to live with single-hearted devotion to Christ, as the Bible emphasizes (1 Cor. 7:7–8, 32–35), and also as Jesus exemplified: in his earthly life, the Son of God remained single. Furthermore, our relationships as brothers and sisters in Christ give us all a place to belong. The church is not simply like a family. On the contrary, our family relationships in the body of Christ take precedence over our nuclear or biological family (Matt. 12:46–50). When God provided Eve for Adam, he was doing something more than establishing marriage: he was drawing all of his people into community.
We are also called to glorify God in our work. Work itself is not a result of humanity’s fall into sin but a good gift from God, given with creation. In the beginning work was not a curse, as some have believed, but a calling. God put Adam in the garden “to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15)—in other words, to take care of it. Then he gave Eve to serve as Adam’s helper in doing this good work, so that together as equal partners they could fulfill God’s calling. Just as God had done the work of creation (Gen. 2:2), so too he gave work to his people, as a gift. As Adam said to Eve in John Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost:
Man hath his daily work of body or mind
Appointed, which declares his dignity,
And the regard of Heaven on all his ways.
Whatever God has called us to do in our daily employment—whatever goods we produce and services we provide—is honorable because we are made in the image of a working God. Whether we are students or teachers or bankers or dancers, the Bible says, “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil” (Eccles. 2:24).
We are called to glorify God in our rest as well as in our work. This too is part of the created order. God did the work of creation in six days but rested on the seventh day (Gen. 2:2). Then, in his goodness, he gave us the benefit of imitating him by resting from our work one full day out of seven. God designed us to follow his pattern of labor and leisure (Gen. 2:3). The Sunday rest that comes through worship and God-centered recreation is part of what it means to be created in his image. But even beyond the divine gift of this weekly pattern, there are opportunities for leisure as well as labor in the rhythms of our daily routine. Many Christians leave too little time for play or else treat what ought to be play as another form of work. But hiking through the woods, playing tag with children, sailing a boat, knitting a scarf, and enjoying other body-renewing, soul-restoring forms of recreation give us opportunities to rest in God and enjoy the goodness of his gifts.