My father had concerns that he was eager for his children to adopt. One was an animosity against materialism. He saw a world where the acquisition of stuff rule people's lives and didn't want his children to fall victim to its sway. In this effort, he never ceased reminding us not to put our affections on stuff because eventually, it would all burn. This theory he adopted from a reading of II Peter 3. These experiences started my process of thinking about the created order.
Having finished our examination of the character of God, we turn to discover a principle in His first work recorded in Scripture, creation. We must begin by asserting the truth of the creation narrative in the first two chapters of Genesis. Numerous theories have struggled with the relationship between the first and second chapter. While holding to the traditional understanding, I have no interest in entering into those debates here. Rather, we must understand that even in the church the doctrine of divine creation ex nihilo finds itself under attack.
Whatever theory you adopt about creation, Christianity proclaims that God created the world out of nothing and into nothing. God did not use preexisting matter to make the world, nor did He create into something that pre-existed. Where there was nothing, with nothing, God created the universe.
This type of theology has come under assault because of theories of science developed in conflict with scripture. The theory of evolution and concepts of time estimation argue against scripture. Sinful, human minds created theories to justify their rejection of God, even in their concepts about the origin of the universe. The data they collect to justify their theories may seem daunting. The Christian must decide whether he will accept as foundational truth the word of God or the word of man.
This debate brings to mind the seventeenth century battle over geocentrism and heliocentrism. Many choose to blame the church for its reluctance to accept new theories of science, justifying their reluctance with scripture. Traditional understandings should not be so easily swept aside for novelty. Yet the church must acknowledge that the Bible does not speak primarily about science. For every human theory, data can appear for its defense. Even geocentrism had its proofs. The rush to accept new theories of science has not proved beneficial to holiness.
If God created the world out of nothing and into nothing, what does this matter? The western world has seen an influx in the past two centuries of the theology of the east. As trade between east and west grew, the west grew in its knowledge about the religions of the east. With this understanding came syncretism and adoption. While not everything in eastern through appeared in the west, a number of ideas grew in unexamined adoption and popularity. Chief amongst these were concepts of divine origin.
In our previous discussion about God, we learned about the world's desire for a deity without personality. This desire originated from the west's acceptance of an eastern idea. Some have called it eastern pantheistic monism. "Eastern" means the idea's origin in the east. "Pantheistic" means the universe is god. "Monism" means all is one. This principle appears in many of the religious concepts of the east. It means that the universe is god and one. All things are a unity, and that god is in all things. You are the rock and the rock and you are god.
Christianity denies this concept. God is not His creation. God created out of nothing (ex nihilo). This proves that nothing is greater or pre-existing to God. God didn't need to use other stuff to create the universe. The principle of creation ex nihilo demonstrates the superiority and sovereign power of God.
But God also created into nothing. This means that the universe is not a part of God but something distinct, yet dependent upon God. Without God, the universe would cease to exists, but the universe isn't God. By this doctrine, Christianity denies pantheism, the idea that god is everything, and everything is god.
Christianity also denies panentheism. In contrast to pantheism which says that the universe is god, panentheism asserts that god is in everything. This also comes from certain easter religions. It constitutes a variant within eastern pantheistic monism. All are one, not due to all being god, but due to all having god within. I am one with the rock because god is in both me and the rock. While Christianity asserts the omnipresence of God, it denies the essential indwelling of God. God is present, but not inside, or part of all things. Again, God is not a part of His creation, though He is present everywhere within His creation.
The reason that the east maintained these concepts arose from their high opinion of nature. The nature is good. It is man that messes stuff up. What man needs to do then is to reconnect with the oneness found in nature. How they maintain this in the face of the diversity and war within nature is a discussion outside the bounds of this study.
Christianity understands the goodness of nature too, but in a different and more consistent way. At this point, we must deal with some linguistic challenges. In this series, we have used the term "the world" in a very negative way. By "the world" we mean the actions and thoughts of sinful humanity so ubiquitous that they can be considered as global. By this definition, we admit that "the world" involves the use of a stereotype. Modern society rejects stereotypes because they brand members of a group that may think or act different from the stereotype. This does not diminish the truth of the stereotype, but limits its descriptive power. Not everyone within the group will act or think like it, but sufficiently enough of them will that the description of the group generally fits. Racial and ethnic stereotype have the added detriment that they often hinder the proclamation of the gospel and ought not arise in the Christian's conversations.
"The world" is a stereotype that the Christian must use, since we find it in the Bible. John writes, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." (I John 2:15) Paul wrote, "And be not conformed to this world." (Romans 12:2) "The world" often refers to an undifferentiated group of humans that act and think sinfully. Jesus cautioned His disciples saying, "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." (John 15:18-19) Nevertheless, Jesus will also limit the stereotype by using the same word to mean all the people groups of the globe. "I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness." (John 12:46)
For the purposes of this study, in order to avoid confusion, we will limit our use of the term of art, "the world" to the acts and thoughts of sinful humanity that appear ubiquitous, or to those same themes revealed in scripture. In contrast, we will use "the created order" as a term of art to refer to a different use of the word "world." By this, we mean the universe God created, including man.
This distinction is necessary, for although the world is corrupt and corrupting, the created order was good and maintains some of its goodness, though bearing the stains of sin. The Bible requires us to make this distinction. In the creation account in Genesis 1, God sees all that He has made and pronounces it very good. Whatever the fall may have done to the created order, it originally was very good. The story of redemption also affirms the goodness of the created order. Paul describes the created order's current condition in chapter 8 of the letter to the church in Rome. "Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now." (Ro.8:21-22) Paul describes the creation as groaning in anticipation of the completion of redemption. The state of glory in Revelation depicts the created order as restored to its pre-fall glory and peace.
While materialism is evil, material is not. The created order was made for man. Genesis 1, whatever view you hold on the days of creation, describes God's preparatory steps to make the earth habitable for man. Man needed light, air, land, sun, and animals. God made paradise for man to inhabit and to enjoy. The created order is good, given to us by God for us to enjoy.
This requires discernment. We must separate the sinful corruption of the created order and our enjoyment of it, from our godly appreciation of the created order and our enjoyment of it. Many of our human appetites for that which the created order offers are not evil. Sin tempts us with faulty appetites, distorting how, how much, when, and where we enjoy those good things He created. In short, much of what we see in the created order is not evil, what we do with it often is.
If we would live Christian in an unchristian world, we must learn this discernment. Notice our use of the concept of the unchristian world. We use the stereotype to acknowledge that the majority of the things around us constitute temptations to act and think like the world. Living in the midst of that confusion is difficult. We have to apply scripture to that which confronts us to determine how to resist the temptations of the world while enjoying the benefits of the created order. We cannot simply revel in the world's sinful enjoyment. Neither can we retreat into asceticism, denying the truth of God's good gifts. The first calls God a miser. The second rejects His gifts. Instead, we must live Christian in the unchristian world.