Our Creative God
Tim Laniak, Ph.D.
Professor of Old Testament and former Dean of the Charlotte Campus
Let me begin this brief (and therefore audacious) refection on God’s creativity with a short summary of what the Bible says regarding creation. Genesis leads with a bold idea that only Yahweh is the Creator— He alone created everything in this world. In the context of rival worldviews, this likely constituted a polemic against any claims to the contrary. Nothing else is to be worshipped because, after all, everything except God is derivative. Genesis 1 describes God’s creative acts as issuing from a divine word. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible,” (Heb. 11:3). A succession of powerful, life-creating words is at the heart of the panoramic description of creation.
Genesis 1 is also characterized by order, and perhaps more to the point, ordering. God orchestrates the creation in a succession of days, beginning with the domains for all things and then the respective inhabitants of each domain. The puzzle pieces fall into place, one by one, until the humans are created and given a sacred, royal trust to rule over God’s world. Genesis 2, the “zoom lens” view of the sixth day, provides a different angle of vision on our Creator God. He creates a world that is, in all of its diversity, pleasurably beautiful. This may already be hinted at in the simple words, “it was very good,” repeated in Genesis 1. Chapter 2 goes even further to stir the senses. The trees are, “pleasing to the eye and good for food.” You can virtually hear the bubbling streams that led from Eden to the four great rivers. You can smell the “aromatic resin” and perhaps catch a glimpse of shimmering gold and onyx.
Adam takes the invitation to name the various animals that are living with him safely in this stunning paradise. And then God creates Eve to join Adam in their shameless, naked enjoyment of God’s created world—an expansive garden of delightful differentiation of life forms, sizes, colors, textures and elements. Think of the garden described lyric after lyric in the Song of Songs. Who wouldn’t, while looking and smelling and tasting in this exotic garden, admire the creative mind behind it all?
That gives you a sense of what a fairly quick read of Genesis 1 and 2 says. Taking the rest of the Bible (and a bit of Ancient Near Eastern background) into account, you can also recognize some implicit analogies about this Creator God. Before I mention them, let me assure you that I’m not trying to turn God into a human. That’s the last thing the biblical creation account allows for! But the Bible does engage in what we call “anthropomorphisms.” That is, we are invited to think about God in terms of human qualities and roles. This is a massive accommodation to us created beings, but one that graciously makes an invisible God more understandable and more accessible.
First, God is the Divine Architect who fashions the world according to his predetermined design. In the prophets and wisdom literature we hear about God “laying the foundations of the earth.” He asks Job if he was there when he “marked off the earth’s foundations” and “stretched a measuring line across it.” Job wasn’t there when the footings were set and the cornerstone was laid “while the morning stars sang together and the angels shouted for joy” (Job 38:4-9; cf. Prov. 8:27-31). The heavens were filled with the sounds of astonishment and delight when the Architect took what was in his mind and made it visible in space.
God is the Divine King who chose to create and order a kingdom. The Kingdom of God is not just a New Testament concept. It is a notion of life the way God intended, grounded in this initial design. His Sabbath rest hints of “sitting down” on his throne in a cosmic realm over which He alone reigns— a realm where all his enemies are “under his feet.”
God is also the Divine Craftsman who “makes” (‘asah) and “forms” (yatsar) things that he calls into being. Forming Adam from the ground (‘adamah), in particular, is the result of God “getting his hands dirty.” And Eve’s creation equally engages God in an intimate, personal way. He, literally, “built” her from a rib taken from Adam. We are, as humans, a mix of divine breath and the dust of the earth. God continues to create each one of us and to “form” every day of our lives (Ps. 139:13-17).
It isn’t hard to spot the Divine Gardener at work in Paradise. “The Lord God planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed” (Gen. 2:8). God brought Adam and Eve into the creative project that he had begun. They would oversee and contribute to the fertile productivity of this garden. This was not only the organic environment where they would work. Eden was a covenantal farm, with one tree that brought perpetual life and another tree that brought an end to that life.
Finally, God the Divine Father is here in Eden as the spiritual parent of the first humans. You find a hint of that when the same language of “image and likeness” is used as Adam has his own son, Seth. Luke will later trace the genealogy of Jesus all the way back to Adam, “the son of God.” Sonship is perhaps as “creative” as any analogy. Reproduction is the most direct way that any person contributes to the creation of another.
Have you forgotten just how creative God is? Look around at the world he created. Do you see the fingerprints of a master Architect? A sovereign King? An engaged Craftsman? An imaginative Gardener? Your eternal Father? I certainly hope so!
Dr. Tim Laniak (M.Div.’89) is Professor of Old Testament and former Dean of the Charlotte Campus. He has served as a missionary in 15 countries in Europe, Asia and the Middle East; as the Director of the International Fellowship House in Boston; and as a welfare housing manager for elderly immigrants in Brookline, Massachusetts. For more insight on topics addressed in this article, see his book Finding the Lost Images of God (Zondervan, 2012).