A Brief Reflection on the Revelation of Creation’s Contingency

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)

Christianity holds in tension the belief that God is both knowable and unknowable. He can be truly known, but not fully known. His thoughts are higher, his ways are better, and his being is different, he simply is, which is one of the most mind boggling thoughts imaginable. In the words of Augustine, “We are speaking of God. Is it any wonder if you do not comprehend? For if you comprehend, it is not God you comprehend. Let it be a pious confession of ignorance rather than a rash profession of knowledge. To attain some slight knowledge of God is a great blessing; to comprehend him, however, is totally impossible.”1 And yet, this transcendent God has never been without witness in this world. Creation itself testifies even to the “otherness” of God, to His complete ontological separation from all things created.

I’m currently reading through my pre-ordered copy of Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of Creation by Gavin Ortlund (I’ve been pretty excited for this one to show up!) where he points out how Augustine saw the magnificence of God in his creative work. In Confessions Augustine states that, “I asked the whole mass of the universe about my God, and it replied, ‘I am not God. God is he who made me.’”2 Indeed, even now with modern science we can trace the universe back to its beginnings. We can see that there is a massive question of the ultimate cause of this universe, and as the universe itself has come into being, it cannot be the cause of its own being. C. John Collins puts it like this:

Even if the big bang does not prove that creation from nothing took place as inferred from Genesis 1:1, it is highly compatible with that theological conviction. As a beginning of the universe as we know it, it cannot be the result of physical causes within the universe and thus it puts a sharp point on questions of purpose and ultimate causation.3

Collins is cautious to rest his faith on creatio ex nihilo as a result of scientific inquiry (which I appreciate), but that visible question of ultimate causation is a part of God’s revelation. We see from it that we need something other than this universe for our existence, and that otherness points us to God. Logically all things contingent (ie this universe) are contingent to a final end point of non-contingency, which, by definition, God is. As Ortlund summaries Augustine’s views long before the big bang evidence, “God’s fundamental otherness does not enshroud him in darkness, but instead is the principle by which he is undeniably known.”4

  1. Augustine, Lectures on the Gospel of John, tractate 38; sourced from: Matthew Barrett, None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2019), 23
  2. Quote from: Augustine, Confessions; sourced from: Gavin Ortlund, Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of Creation: Ancient Wisdom for Current Controversy (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020), 32
  3. C. John Collins, Reading Genesis Well: Navigating History, Poetry, Science, and Truth in Genesis 1-11, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018), 261
  4. Ortlund, Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of Creation, 32

Crea

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

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