“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1, NKJV). That God exists, causing the creation of the heavens and the earth is clear—exegetically, theologically, and logically. Creation came about from God, though it is not God. That which was not, came to be, because God caused it to be. That which came to be did so by God, and God alone. Creation has no material cause. There were no material entities (or anything else) God utilized to create. God is, therefore, creation’s efficient cause, causing that which was not to be without any change in him. He created ex nihilo, that is, from nothing but himself.

Some questions that will be discussed in this article include the following: What does creation ex nihilo mean? Does creation change God in any sense? These are important questions, but an even more important question is this: Who is this God who created? Since creation assumes God exists, then his existence is fundamental to creation and necessary to it. Without God there is no creation. Theology proper, therefore, is of first importance and fundamental. Since this is the case, we will consider God the Creator, creation ex nihilo, then whether God changes, in any sense, by virtue of creation.

God the Creator

It should be clear that creatures are not self-created. That which does not exist cannot cause itself to exist. Man’s creator is God, the God who has revealed himself in creation, conservation, re-creation, and consummation. But who or what is this God? Since God exists and creatures come into existence, the first question should be in reference to God. Who or what is he? This is no small question. It should be our first question, since it is primary, of first importance, and fundamental. One of the reasons this is the case is because creation involves everything in relation to God. In other words, the doctrine of creation, as with the doctrine of God the Trinity, is a distributed doctrine. John Webster’s words capture what is meant by creation and theology proper as distributed doctrines. He says:

. . . the doctrine of creation is one of the two distributed doctrines in the corpus of Christian dogmatics. The first (both in sequence and in material primacy) distributed doctrine is the doctrine of the Trinity, of which all other articles of Christian teaching are an amplification or application, and which therefore permeates theological affirmations about every matter; theology talks about everything by talking about God. The doctrine of creation is the second distributed doctrine, although, because its scope is restricted to the opera Dei ad extra [i.e., the external works of God], its distribution is less comprehensive than that of the doctrine of the Trinity. Within this limit, the doctrine of creation is ubiquitous. It is not restricted to one particular point in the sequence of Christian doctrine, but provides orientation and a measure of governance to all that theology has to say about all things in relation to God.[1]

It is appropriate, therefore, to discuss theology proper before we discuss creation.

Since we are discussing God, creation ex nihilo, and divine immutability, it may help to use an old Protestant confession of faith to help us. The Second London Baptist Confession of 1677/89 (2LCF) says this in its chapter on creation:

In the beginning it pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, to create or make the world, and all things therein, whether visible of invisible, in the space of six days, and all very good (2LCF 4.1).

Notice that God is identified in a Trinitarian manner—“God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” This assumes previous confessional statements about theology proper, such as divine aseity, infinity, incomprehensibility, spirituality, invisibility, immensity, simplicity, impassibility, immutability, and eternity (2LCF 2.1). It also means that the creator is the Trinity—“God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (2LCF 2.3). Creation does not make God any of these things; nor does God make himself any of these things (or others) in order to create or relate to creatures. The one God who subsists in three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is the creator. The one God in three persons, who exists as such eternally and immutably, is the creator. He does not tinker with himself in order to reveal himself. According to the Bible (Gen. 1:1; John 1:3; Job 26:13) and the confession, God—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—manifests himself via creation. Note well that he manifests (i.e., reveals) and note well what he manifests (i.e., himself).

God the creator is the eternal and immutable three in one. By creating, God does not become something he was not in order to reveal who he is; he simply reveals who he is by creation, conservation, re-creation, and consummation. Click To Tweet

Creation ex nihilo

What is creation? Quite often, when asked that question, everyday Christians immediately direct attention to what has been made. One might say, “Look at the vast sky above, with its moon and stars, its sun and clouds which give rain from heaven.” We might point to the ocean and all its deep mysteries or the Grand Canyon’s majestic scenery. This is not a wrong answer to the question. Theologians of the Christian theological tradition, however, give a more theocentric answer to that question. This is certainly due to the fact that they are theologians. But if we ponder the question a bit more, contemplating how the Bible presents to us the account of creation in Genesis 1, our answer would start with God and go out from there. For example, when defining the doctrine of creation, Herman Bavinck says, “[Creation is] that act of God through which, by his sovereign will, he brought the entire world out of nonbeing into being that is distinct from his own being.”[2] Notice that Bavinck begins his definition in a theocentric manner. Creation is an act of God. Bavinck’s definition is important for it clearly upholds a creator/creature distinction. Creation is of another order of being from divine being. Divine being is; created being is brought into existence by God. There are two orders of being: created being and non-created, or divine, being. The former is finite (i.e., having bounds or limits according to its created capacities); the latter infinite (i.e., having no bounds or limits according to its uncreated essence and is thus incomprehensible to the creature). The former is temporal (i.e., it began-to-be with time and exists in relation to it); the latter eternal (i.e., ever existing, “without beginning or end and apart from all succession and change”[3]). The former is dependent; the latter independent. Creatures are contingent; God is not. As John of Damascus said long ago, “All things are distant from God . . . by nature.”[4] Created nature and divine nature are both distinct and different in kind.

Creation ex nihilo entails that the eternal God, the immutable God, the infinite God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, brought creatures into existence without the use of existing materials. This also means creation brought no change in God, though it came from God. Things which come from God are teeming with change, though there is no change in God in bringing forth that which changes. Bringing things into being distinct from himself makes God the efficient cause of creation. That is, God, and God alone, the triune God, brought creation into existence without any change in God the Trinity. According to Edward Feser, “An efficient cause is that which brings something into existence.”[5] Feser adds elsewhere:

An efficient cause . . . is that which brings something into being . . . An efficient cause thus actualizes a potency, and it does so by exercising its own active potencies or powers.[6]

With reference to God, this means that, since he is pure act, or not becoming or able to become in any sense, he alone is able to bring about the existence of things without change in himself. In fact, change in God is impossible. Divine existence is not one of “incomplete realization,”[7] as Richard A. Muller puts it. God is “the fully actualized being, the only being not in potency . . . “[8] Muller continues:

. . . God in himself, considered essentially or personally, is not in potentia because the divine essence and persons are eternally perfect, and the inward life of the Godhead is eternally complete and fully realized.[9]

God does not possess some sort of potency, some latent potential, to become what he is not. Nothing can change God; not creation nor even God himself. The execution of divine power in creation, then, does not make God what he is not; it reveals, or manifests, who he is.

Creation ex nihilo is a work of God, bringing being into being “distinct from his own being,” as Bavinck says. The creator is of a different order of being from the creation; God is not like us. This distinction is crucial to maintain. As Thomas Weinandy says, “As Creator, God . . . is not one of the things created, and is thus completely other than all else that exists.”[10] Webster’s penetrating words are to the point:

The difference between creator and creature is infinite, not just ‘very great’; ‘creator’ does not merely refer to the supreme causal power by which the world is explained, for God would then be simply a ‘principle superior to the world,’ or ‘the biggest thing around.’ Such conceptions falter by making God one term in a relation, and so only comparatively, not absolutely, different. . . . God the creator is not simply the most excellent of beings, because the distinction between uncreated and created being is not a distinction within created being but one between orders of being; God is not one item in a totality, even the most eminently powerful item in the set of all things.[11]

The Immutable Creator

“God minus the world is still God the Holy Trinity,” says Fred Sanders.[12] I would like to add to this the following: “God plus the world is still God the Holy Trinity.” In other words, given creation or not, God is still God the Holy Trinity. Creation does not change God, nor does God change God in order to create or in order to relate to creatures. Creation does not entail divine mutation, though it does entail divine revelation. Creation does not entail divine mutation, though it does entail divine revelation. Click To Tweet No work of God changes God in any sense whatsoever. His external works reveal him. God is neither enhanced by what comes into being nor self-enhanced in order to cause things to come into being. Webster says, “[N]o enhancement of God is achieved by the world’s existence.”[13] Creation is brought into contingent being without any change in the supreme being, who is the triune God, the non-contingent cause of all contingent being. Creation is actuated, that is, caused, or effected. God the Trinity—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—caused that which has come into being to come into being without any change of being in divine being. The change (i.e., the coming into existence of creatures) goes forth from God’s being eternally and is reflective of that being, however. If change occurs in God due to creation or anything else, God would not be immutable in any meaningful sense. Confessing trinitarian creation requires that God remains God in the same sense God is God without creation. God just is, full stop. He is God, whether creation or not creation, and the God who just is is the three persons, or subsistences, we call the blessed Trinity. If one posits change in God due to creation or anything else, one denies divine simplicity, infinity, eternity, immutability, and impassibility, no matter how loudly he attempts to affirm either or both. For example, God is either immutable or mutable. God is either simple or composed of parts. There’s no tertium quid (i.e., a third something) option in God. Once any one of the divine perfections are compromised, all other divine perfections go with it.

Confessing divine simplicity, eternity, infinity, immutability, and impassibility (2LCF 2.1) means that God cannot change from within or from without because of what he is and what he is not. He is God, the simple and immutable creator; he is not in any sense a mutable creature, nor does he become one, in the sense of changing divine being. He is, according to Muller, “free from all mutation of being, attributes, place, or will . . .”[14] He can and does reveal who he is to creatures, but he does not refashion himself or add attributes, or perfections, to do so. By creating, God does not become something he was not in order to reveal who he is; he simply reveals who he is by creation, conservation, re-creation, and consummation.

Endnotes

[1] John Webster, God without Measure: Working Papers in Christian Theology, Volume I, God and the Works of God (London, Oxford, New York, New Delhi, Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2016), 117.

[2] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, gen. ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 2:416, hereafter RD.

[3] Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, Second Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1985, 2017), 18.

[4] As quoted in Ian A. McFarland, From Nothing: A Theology of Creation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 59.

[5] Edward Feser, Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction (Piscataway, NJ: Translation Books Rutgers University, 2014), 88.

[6] Feser, Scholastic Metaphysics, 42.

[7] Muller Dictionary, 11.

[8] Muller Dictionary, 11.

[9] Muller, Dictionary, 11. Muller goes on to state the following: “This view of God as fully actualized being lies at the heart of the scholastic exposition of the doctrine of divine immutability . . . Immutability does not indicate inactivity or unrelatedness, but the fulfillment of being.”

[10] Thomas Weinandy, “Human Suffering and the Impassibility of God,” Testamentum ImperiumVolume 2, 2009: 1. This can be found on-line at (http://www.preciousheart.net/ti/2009/52-). Accessed 9 February 2015.

[11] Webster, God without Measure, 1:91.

[12] Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God: how the Trinity changes everything (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 63.

[13] Webster, God without Measure, 1:91.

[14] Muller Dictionary, 162.

Editor’s Note: Much of this article is taken from Barcellos’ forthcoming book to be published by Christian Focus/Mentor, God Plus the World: Confessing the Doctrine of Trinitarian Creation–Accounting for the Confessional Formulation of Creation of Our Triune God.

Image credit: Frans Vandewalle – Van Gogh – Wheatfield with Cypresses