God Exists Outside of Creation

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Our Title is somewhat misleading, but this will become apparent within the context of our article (note that the article is from the manuscript of a sermon that was preached at our church).

Note also, these articles from sermons are largely based in what I have learned by reading various classical works regarding Classical Theism, as well as various contemporary works treating of this most foundational doctrine. Of all these works, the one I recommend to our readers of this blog would be Confessing the Impassible God: The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility, available here: (Reformed Baptist Academic Press) – to my mind, this is at least the most important theological book to come out in the last 50 years, if not longer.

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-God as a part of creation is seen in various man-made religions:

Pantheism – God is synonymous with the creation

Panentheism – The Creation is God becoming or manifesting Himself

Panentheism differentiates itself from pantheism, which holds that the divine is synonymous with the universe. In panentheism, the universe in the first formulation is practically the whole itself. In the second formulation, the universe and the divine are not ontologically equivalent. In panentheism, God is viewed as the eternal animating force behind the universe. Some versions suggest that the universe is nothing more than the manifest part of God. In some forms of panentheism, the cosmos exists within God, who in turn “transcends”, “pervades” or is “in” the cosmos. While pantheism asserts that ‘All is God’, panentheism goes further to claim that God is greater than the universe. In addition, some forms indicate that the universe is contained within God, like in the concept of Tzimtzum. Much Hindu thought is highly characterized by panentheism and pantheism. Hasidic Judaism merges the elite ideal of nullification to paradoxical transcendent Divine Panentheism, through intellectual articulation of inner dimensions of Kabbalah, with the populist emphasis on the panentheistic Divine immanence in everything and deeds of kindness (This definition was taken from online, however, I did not record the source – I had thought it was Wikepedia, but I could not again find it).

Deism holds God is outside of creation, and does not now interact with it; agnosticism holds we cannot know God, while atheism holds God does not exist.

  1. The Creator’s Existence (how does God exist, notdoes God exist”)

God does not exist as we know existence (as we know and experience existence, from the perspective of the creature). Because of our creaturely finitude, God reveals Himself by accommodating language to our creaturely capacities. This is the use of analogy we spoke about previously.

  1. God exists independently (Genesis 1:1) – God exists outside of creation – there was nothing but God, who is not a creation, and who called into being out of that nothing that which we know as creation.  This is what we intend by “Transcendence,” meaning “outside of, or beyond and independent of, creation.”

God has always enjoyed blessed communion in and of Himself, without any interaction with creation. This speaks to the Triune union of the divine Persons, as well. In theology this is called “Perichoresis,” which, regarding the triune God, refers to that eternal, infinite, unchanging blessedness within Himself He alone has (not experiences, as a creature) and would extend to all Persons of the Trinity. Mutual Union, Communion, Indwelling and Delighting in one another.[1] Chap. 2.2 of our confession sums this up nicely:

God, having all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of himself, is alone in and unto himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creature which he hath made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory in, by, unto, and upon them; he is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things, and he hath most sovereign dominion over all creatures, to do by them, for them, or upon them, whatsoever himself pleaseth…(LBC 2.2)

Because God is fully transcendent and a se (this is where we get the word aseity, from a, meaning of, and se, meaning self), which is to say He has life in and of Himself alone (cf. John 5:26); Because God is not bounded by creational limits, He is able to fully enter into His creation as He wills. Creation is other than God, because it derived from Him: “In Him we live and move and have our being,” (Acts 17:28a, where the apostle probably uses a quotation from the Greek poet Epimenides of Crete), but, contrariwise, God does not live and move and have His being in us – that is, He does not derive anything regarding or effecting His being from any other being or any other being’s actions, He is.

To show the difference between how God exists and we exist, let’s look at two passages: 1 Kings 18, and Acts 14:9-17. [2], [3], [4]

Note how the god of the false prophets is derided by Elijah by attributing to him the things which would be true of the created creatures, but cannot be true of the uncreated God.

Note how Paul and Barnabas appeal to the Greeks to cease acting as if they were divine by saying to them that they have the same nature as them, intending God has a nature completely other than those whom He created.

Because God is independent, a se, and absolute from His creation, He if fully and freely able to enter into and interact with that creation without being in any manner dependant upon, or becoming reliant upon, or needing reciprocation from that creation. Since He has always been blessed within Himself apart from creation (if the creation ceased, God would not stop being, change in any way, or cease being “most blessed within Himself, needing nothing), God is not, therefore, tied to His creation – He is not contingent upon His creation, but creation is entirely contingent. Because He is free from creation, He is free for (to) creation, and free to act within creation.[5]

Because God does not exist as we exist – because His existence is completely “other than” our existence, or indeed the existence of all that He created, we can only know Him by His acts within that which He created. We are unable to know Him as He is, but we are able to know Him as He reveals Himself within time, space, and matter – what men commonly call “reality,” “history,” and more precisely, as believers, we often call “redemptive history.” So, we must affirm, with the apostle Paul, that God has no need of anything from us (Acts 17:25a), and that, with Paul and Barnabas, that our nature – our being and existence – has nothing of His within it. However, Paul goes on to say that God, unconstrained by anything in His creation, nevertheless “gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” (Acts 17:25b)

Consequently, we have the “unique otherness” of our God and Creator as good news, because that which He created is subject to Him, despite His transcendence. Unlike the Deist, we do not believe He created then left us to our own devices, but that having created us for His pleasure to manifest His glory, He freely enters into that creation to give to us those things needful for not simply our existence, but pleasure and profit. (Of course, we do not mean pleasure in a carnal sense, or profit in a material sense, primarily, but for those who do not know God through belief in the work of Jesus Christ savingly, such is more than likely the only manner by which they will ever know anything of the goodness of God – Matthew 5:45b; Psalm 145:9). We say this is good news, because of the revealed character of God in His special revelation, Scripture (as we said last week, ontology precedes epistemology, therefore, our knowledge of God is necessarily derived by revelation, both general/natural, and special).

Two Different Lenses

One could look at the world through the lens of general revelation, and arrive at a conclusion about God, but that conclusion will be determined by what data is available to them, and that data, in turn, will be interpreted through their particular circumstances. Man does not always count that simply being born naturally is a good thing – their focus of their situation in life will inform their reason and emotions so that they make a choice based on these things, and many have determined it would have been better if they had not been born at all. We even see this in Scripture, as in Job 10:18-19 and Jeremiah 15:10. However, once a person has been reborn of the Holy Spirit from above, they have a refocused view of their situation that is informed by their union with God through His Spirit dwelling with their regenerate spirit, and this focus is informed and sharpened by Scripture used by the Holy Spirit. Although circumstances do not change for them, necessarily, their perspective changes, because the promises of God become more objective, regarding their present and ultimate reality, than their subjective experiences. One set of information about reality – their previous, unregenerate experience – is supplanted by a greater set of information about a greater reality – the special promises, admonitions, and instructions in the Scriptures tell them of their current estate, and that which is to come.

This is why we can say it is good news that God is unable to be affected by that which He created. Being perfect in all His ways, infinitely, eternally and unchangeably so, we are the beneficiaries of that perfection which He is. His goodness, which is unable to be measured and cannot change, is our baseline not only for viewing our present and future reality, but for viewing Him according to that which He reveals.

Prior to salvation, if we thought of God at all, it was not according to how he defines Himself ontologically. Even such as the ancient Greek philosophers and their modern counterparts could, and can, only approach God in metaphysical terms which they must filter through their lens of subjectivity. As such, they could never arrive at the solace of knowing the unknowable God revealed in Scripture, although God, in His providence, gave them to think deeply about such things. For those who are privileged to know God by His salvific grace, their subjectivity is filtered through His objective information about Himself – this is how we do theology, and how we arrive at proper doctrine (orthodox doctrine). The focus of our reality has changed, and it is by His doing that we learn that which speaks of Him in such a way that we are able to pray and ask Him to know Him more, which means that the doctrine is filtered into our thoughts and how we live, while at the same time exclaiming with the Psalmist, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” (Psalm 139:6)

Transcendence and Immanence

Exodus 3:14:  God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'”

We learn two things from God’s reply to Moses’ question regarding what name he is to identify the God who is saving the people of Israel from their bondage in Egypt: 1) He is – that is to say, He exists as He is, and 2) He exists as He is not only in a transcendent manner, but in an immanent manner.

The Israelites were not ignorant of the God of their Fathers, but they were in bondage within a nation and culture which had many gods, and these gods were identified by their names. Thus, the Israelites were used to such identification of a supposed deity by that which the false god was said to do in relation to those who worshipped it, which was intimated by that false god’s name.  In the Egyptian pantheon, one god was said to control the sun, another to usher those mummified into the afterlife, another to control earthquakes, and so forth. In a world where there was a pantheon of false gods, and each had different duties, or functions, assigned to them, Moses asked for the identifying name which would let the children of Israel know the One True God. God responds by not identifying Himself with any of those things which would be common to the false gods, but rather, by telling Moses that He exists, and that He exists in and of Himself. He is over the false gods, who rely on their existence in the concepts of men equated with them, and He is over that which He alone created – He is also with that which He alone created. His transcendence does not negate His immanence, but ensures it. The fact of God’s existence was (and is) grounded in His being, and as He is, He told Moses He thus relates to His people. Furthermore, in this passage, God tells Moses He is the God of the Israelites Fathers, and as such, He shows that is above all else – none of the ancient false gods ever had dominion over His activities in His creation, and they would not have such now. Being false, they were the personification of that which those nations who worshipped them saw in creation, while God, being the only One True God, called and saved His people to do that which was in honor and glory of His name, over and against all the claims of the people worshipping their false Gods.

In other words, as we have looked at, God was before time and space and matter. He was and is that who created all creation, and as such, has dominion over all creation. Because He is everlasting, with no beginning, and cannot change, He is the one who is present with His creation even while transcendent over it.

“While the revelation of God’s name to Israel, as well as Israel’s relation to him, is via a mediator, the foundation of both this revelation and this relation is God’s name. That is, because he is the eternal, infinite, I AM, God relates to Israel as such. Indeed, as Henry observes, the name I AM also denotes “what he is to his people.”[6]

Hear Matthew Henry regarding this passage about God’s self-definition:

  1. A name that denotes what he is in himself (Exo_3:14): I am that I am. This explains his name Jehovah, and signifies, (1.) That he is self-existent; he has his being of himself, and has no dependence upon any other: the greatest and best man in the world must say, By the grace of God I am what I am; but God says absolutely – and it is more than any creature, man or angel, can say – I am that I am. Being self-existent, he cannot but be self-sufficient, and therefore all-sufficient, and the inexhaustible fountain of being and bliss. (2.) That he is eternal and unchangeable, and always the same, yesterday, today, and forever; he will be what he will be and what he is; see Rev_1:8. (3.) That we cannot by searching find him out. This is such a name as checks all bold and curious enquiries concerning God, and in effect says, Ask not after my name, seeing it is secret, Jdg_13:18; Pro_30:4. Do we ask what is God? Let it suffice us to know that he is what he is, what he ever was, and ever will be. How little a portion is heard of him! Job_26:14. (4.) That he is faithful and true to all his promises, unchangeable in his word as well as in his nature, and not a man that he should lie. Let Israel know this, I AM hath sent me unto you.[7]

In other words, rather than creating a problem for relating to His creation and His people, God’s transcendence and complete self-dependence for His existence is the basis of His immanent relation to His people.

“The name YHWH reveals more than just God’s transcendence; it simultaneously discloses his immanence—and without conceiving of his transcendence as a problem that his immanence must overcome.”[8]

The Basis of God’s Immanent Relations and Dealings with His People is Grounded in His Being

Briefly, then, we must note how God’s people appeal to Him in His dealings with them, so we will look at a few texts, then we will make application of what this means to us as we relate to God and one another.

In Exodus 32, the people God led out from bondage according to His character indulge themselves in the idolatry of worshipping a false god as if that God is He who delivered them. Rather than seeing Moses as the intermediary (mediator) between themselves and God Almighty, the Israelites reverted to that which they had known in the land of bondage. While Moses was communing with God as He is, the Israelites spoke to His absence among them by referring to that which had kept them in bondage:

Exodus 32:1:  When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”

This was the grossest “going back to Egypt” perpetration of idolatry imaginable, especially in the face of all those miracles both in Egypt, and the wilderness, by which God had showed them who He is. In the face of this most egregious denial of the God who Delivers and Keeps, God spoke to Moses:

Exodus 32:9-10:  And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people.  Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.

What is Moses’ response?

But Moses implored the LORD his God and said, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?  Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people.”  Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.'” (Exodus 32:11-13)

“Moses, acting the part of national mediator, pleads for Israel’s existence. In verse 11, Moses “reminds” God that he acted “with great power and a mighty hand” (attributes normally ascribed to God’s transcendence) to bring Israel out of Egypt. Through Moses’ intercession, “the LORD [i.e., YHWH] relented from the harm he said he would do to his people” (Exod. 32:14).This relenting comes from the same YHWH—eternal, immutable, and self-existent—who revealed himself in the burning bush. The text grounds God’s decree to act toward Israel in mercy in his eternal, essential being. God’s immanent relationship to Israel is based on his being the unchangeable I AM.”[9]

Pastoral and Practical Implications

We have little time left, so let us consider that which is of the God whom we worship with the implications of who He is, and how He has disclosed Himself, to we who worship Him.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

‘“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”’  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).’” (Matthew 1:21-23 cf. Isaiah 7:14)

God HAS visited us, more surely and completely than He did the Israelites. He has visited us in such as way as to tell us He “is with us.”

He was with the Israelites in wilderness, but in a way where they could not approach Him except through the mediation of that one whom God has chosen to reveal Himself at that time, and the result of that mediation is recorded for us:

 “And as soon as you heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes, and your elders.  And you said, ‘Behold, the LORD our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire. This day we have seen God speak with man, and man still live. Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the LORD our God any more, we shall die.  For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of fire as we have, and has still lived?  Go near and hear all that the LORD our God will say, and speak to us all that the LORD our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.’  “And the LORD heard your words, when you spoke to me. And the LORD said to me, ‘I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken. Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!”’ (Deuteronomy 5:23-29)

They feared; we need not. God has blessed us in Christ to not only approach Him as He is, but to ask of Him that which we will, knowing our Mediator “ever lives to make intercession for us,” and that He has procured that way:

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)

We do not need to fear to face our Father and God as He is, and we can take comfort and solace, and grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, in our approach to Him, for we, through our High Priest and Mediator, are in the very presence of God, without barriers. We are Bold to give Him our petitions, and worship Him in front of His heavenly throne, for we have been given access by our Lord! We are gone beyond the fire and smoke, into His Holy presence! We ask, and already have received that which we ask for, because in Christ, “(our) Father knows what (we) need before (we) ask him. (Matthew 6:8b)

May we seek the immutable God for all our needs according to that which He has revealed of Himself, both before, and especially since, His revelation of Himself in Christ Jesus our Lord, “(who) gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:2b)

[1] Samuel Renihan, sermon on Genesis 1.1, 12-23-2012

[2] Two measures of seed – literally, “two seahs of seed.” The seah contained about three gallons. – Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, I Kings

[3] The cor (Heb. qōr) was equal to the homer, but it could be used for liquid measure as well (1 Kings 4:22; 5:11, 25; 2 Chron. 2:10; 27:5; Ezek. 45:14), in which case it would have contained about 35 gallons, and possibly up to 60 – Harper’s Bible Dictionary

[4] Fill four barrels – This was done to prevent any kind of suspicion that there was fire concealed under the altar. An ancient writer under the name of Chrysostom, quoted by Calmet, says that he had seen under the altars of the heathens, holes dug in the earth with funnels proceeding from them, and communicating with openings on the tops of the altars. In the former the priests concealed fire, which, communicating through the funnels with the holes, set fire to the wood and consumed the sacrifice; and thus the simple people were led to believe that the sacrifice was consumed by a miraculous fire. Elijah showed that no such knavery could be practiced in the present case. Had there been a concealed fire under the altar, as in the case mentioned above, the water that was thrown on the altar must have extinguished it most effectually. This very precaution has for ever put this miracle beyond the reach of suspicion. – Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible – 1 Kings 18:33

[5] ibid

[6] CONFESSING THE IMPASSIBLE GOD: The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility (hereafter CIG), EDITED BY Ronald S. Baines, Richard C. Barcellos, James P. Butler, Stefan T. Lindblad, James M. Renihan – RBAP (Reformed Baptist Academic Press), Palmdale, CA – Copyright © 2015 Richard C. Barcellos. All rights reserved – Chapter 3, The Old Testament on the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility: (I) Texts on the Nature of God, by Steve Garrick with Ronald S. Baines – pg. 95

[7] Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Exodus 3:14, Book 1, pg. 166 – Matthew Henry (1662 – 1714)

[8] CIG, chapter 3, pgs. 94-95

[9] CIG, chapter 3, pg. 96

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