Category Archives: Creator

The scattered traces of his being

Have you ever wondered why we are here? Many of us have asked this question at one point or another. As Augustine hits his stride in this first book (XI) of Part 2 of The City of God he asks a number of incisive questions: why do we exist at this moment in time? Why here in this part of space? What is the origin of the two cities? When did time start?

As this book pivots away from ancient discussions on the spiritual realm to the very real existence of planet earth, Augustine is diving head first into deep waters. He is unafraid to tackle the biggest issues head on – the origin of humans, angels, demons, goodness, evil, and philosophy. Through it all he keeps his Rule of Faith to guide him in what is truthful, helpful and appropriate.

Two discussions in particular are worthy of highlighting: his treatment of the origin of pure & fallen angels and his masterful handling of God’s creative purpose (ie the who, how & why of creation).

It fascinating to read how Augustine builds his case using the creation account in Genesis 1. He proposes that time began with creation and that “the world was not created in time, but with time” – hypothesising that there is no time without change and motion, which both started with the act of creation.

Augustine refers to Job 38.7 as evidence that angels existed before stars were made. As the sun wasn’t made until Day 4 he proposes that the “Let their be light” of Day 1 refers to the creation of angelic beings, with the separation to greater and lesser light being the division of the obedient and fallen angels.

“Thus the angels, illuminated by that light by which they were created, themselves became lights, and are called “day”, by participation in the changeless light and day, which is the Word of God, through whom they themselves and all other things were made.”

XI.9

Building on his consideration of creation, Augustine reflects on God’s verdict on his work – declaring it is good. Like an expert surgeon he unpacks this divine declaration, on multiple levels. He recognises that “it is not that God discovered that it was good, after he had made it. Far from it… he is not discovering that fact but communicating it”.

Augustine goes on to say how God experiences things is totally different to us. He is not time bound like us mortals, no rather “he sees in some other manner, utterly remote from anything we experience or could imagine”. He says

“God comprehends all these (ie past, present & future) in a stable and eternal present. And with him there is no difference between seeing with the eyes and “seeing” with the mind, for he does not consist of mind and body”.

XI.21

So, says Augustine “he saw that what he had made was good when he saw that it was good that he should make it”. And why was it good that God should make such things? We find the answer by asking: “who made it, how he made it, and why he made it”. So for the statement Let their be light, the answer to these questions are: God / He said “let it be” / it was good!

“There can be no better author than God, no more effective skill than his word, no better cause than that a good product should be created by God, who is good.”

XI.21

This has tremendous implications as we consider our own existence: “We resemble the divine Trinity in that we exist; we know we exist, and we are glad of this existence and this knowledge” XI.26.

In a world that has lost its grip on the divine intent and pleasure behind our existence it is no surprise that we are also losing our sense of purpose, inherent self-worth and the preciousness of existence.

If we take one thing away from Book XI it should be that each and every one of us is crafted by the heart of a God of love who is delighted at his good handiwork. We are his prized possession – one he was willing to rescue by sacrificing his only Son. May we discovery this afresh this Easter Sunday.

The helpful ravens

In last Sunday’s children’s talk I continued the “guess the animal” theme with the following slides. After they had guessed which animal it was I asked the kids: “Who knows where this is? Whose been to London? We were there last September to see my brother. They say if they leave the tower it will fall down! Not sure about that, but they have been there for many years. Very famous place visited by tourists.

Jesus speaks about ravens in Luke 12.24. The ravens don’t have jobs – they don’t get up early like Mummy & Daddy to go to work and earn money. They don’t have a piggy bank or savings in the bank to pay for food. And yet God feeds them everyday – if that is what he does for them what will he do for his children, so don’t worry.

Also read in the book of Kings that the ravens fed Elijah! God could have fed Elijah himself, like the manna he sent to the Israelites – but he chose to use the ravens as his messengers, why?. So we can learn that God feeds the ravens and the ravens then feed Elijah – see the hand of God guiding his animals to provide for his child. A lesson for all of life.

Reminds us of God’s care for his children – says in the book of James that “every good and perfect gift is from above” – from God. Even our food, which we think comes from the supermarket in a plastic bag and then goes in the fridge came from God:

  • He gave your mummy and daddy the ability to earn money
  • He gave you parents that care about you and want the best for you
  • He gave us a good climate with lots of rain (!) & blessed the harvest to produce food
  • He gave us peace in our land so that companies can sell food in safety
  • We can buy it without fear of robbery and that our money will be accepted by the company we pay

All this is from God and its why we thank him before we eat the food. So the next time you say Grace, remember the ravens and the unseen hand of God behind everything we enjoy. And remember that even gifts from heaven are sometimes wrapped in ordinary boxes – but they are very precious from God our father.

The secret impulse of God

Book I Chapter XVI Section 1-9

How involved is God in His creation? Did He set up the laws of nature then step back to observe the outcome? Does He intervene only at certain times in order to fashion His desired outcomes? Does He control every motion within the universe moment by moment? Where do we put God’s involvement on the spectrum from blind watchmaker to micro-manager? This is the issue Calvin addresses in Chapter 16.

Calvin begins by refuting the notions of chance and fortune. He reasons that while inanimate objects are subject to innate properties, yet they “exert their force only in so far as directed by the immediate hand of God”.  They are merely instruments which “God constantly infuses with energy” and uses for His purpose. Calvin then illustrates this point using the example of the sun (and earth). He points to the occasions in the bible when at the prayer of Joshua and Hezekiah the shadow of the sun was stopped or moved back, respectively. Thus, although the earth appears bound by natural laws which govern its motion, it in reality it is governed by God.

So, God is able to overrule natural law when He so chooses, but isn’t this just a special case? Not so argues Calvin. By referring to many passages speaking of the intimate governance of God, Calvin argues that “not a drop of rain falls without the express command of God”. Here Calvin agrees with Augustine, who taught that “if anything is left to fortune, the world moves at random”. What seems to others as chance, “faith will recognise as the secret impulse of God”.

Response:

If we really believe that not one sparrow falls to the ground without His will (Matthew 10. 29, along with many other passages of similar teaching) then it is logical to believe that God is intimately involved in every single action within creation. While it may be logical, its hard to get our head around. How can all the seemingly random acts of creation – including animals, humans and the cosmos – at all times, in all places, over all history, be controlled and guided by a divine hand?

As finite creatures limited by time and space this is a hard concept to grasp. Much easier to say that God is in charge in some abstract disconnected way and that he occasionally steps in for the odd miracle or two. But He has not left this option open to us. This teaching gives us some insight into what omnipotent and omniscient really mean. How big is our God?

This doctrine immediately leads onto two key questions: if absolutely everything that happens is governed and directed by God, then how can we understand the occurrence of evil in the world and what role do our decisions and actions take in God’s providence? It is these questions that Calvin addresses in the next chapter. I’m looking forward to it already!!

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father…So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Matthew 10.29+31

Father, we see something of Your amazing power and care as we meditate on these truths. Help us resist the temptation to try explain how You do it, but rather help us to become lost in wonder and adoration at Your intimate involment in our world. Thank you for Your loving and personal care, Amen.

Every contact leaves a trace

Book I Chapter V Section 1-6

Those of you that watch CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) will recognise the motto – “every contact leaves a trace”. The evidence can always be found if you know where to look (and you’ve got the latest forensic technology!). Its uncanny how they always seem to be able to figure out the most complex crimes in around 45 minutes, but they manage it.

When it comes to investigating the evidence for a creator, Calvin makes exactly same point in this chapter.  That is, as well as the testimony of the divine seed within us (Chapter 3) we can know God through his creative activity – if we can interpret the evidence before us. We might not be able to see God directly, but Calvin argues that we can see his fingerprints on the world we live in and within our own bodies.

In particular Calvin focusses on the amazing complexity of the human mind and our faculty for reason and judgement. At one point he speaks of “the swift motions of the soul, its noble faculties and rare endowments” and is amazed that the very attributes which point so clearly to the hand of God have been the very things employed to conjure up arguments against the existence of God. He is almost exasperated when he asks the rhetorical question: “are so many treasures of heavenly wisdom employed in the guidance of such a worm as man, and shall the whole universe be denied the same privilege?”.

He goes on to say  “shall we, by means of a power of judging implanted in our breast distinguish between justice and injustice, and yet there be no judge in heaven?”. Where then did this innate sense of justice come from?

Response:

We are amazing creatures, but do we really think we are the pinnacle of the universe? If in our daily lives we give so much thought and consideration to what seems a simple task to someone who might observe us, why do we observe the highly complex activities of the natural world and say that it is all driven by chance?

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour…O Lord, our Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Psalm 8.3-5+9

Our Father, even when we are amazed at how complex our minds and bodies are, we are microscopic when placed alongside you. Yet you care for us and are tenderhearted towards us, you know our lives intimately and watch our every step. We are humbled by your attention and grateful for all our blessings, Amen.