This is blog number 2 by our very own, Tyler Cowden…
In a way, one can think of all that exists in two, and only two, categories. There is a “Maker” category, and a “heaven and earth” category—Creator and creature, Potter and clay (Is. 64:8). I speak here of concrete things which exist, leaving aside for the moment abstract notions, real as they may be, like “evil” (all language about which needs careful qualification).
We have already spoken of the existence of God, particularly the Father, who is the ultimate Originator and Planner, the One who decrees all things. Now we focus on His act of creation, and the all-important distinction between His own being and that of the things He has created. All creation reveals something of God’s character, power, and glory as God, in a broad sense “imaging” Him (while in a narrower sense humans alone are made in God’s “image,” cf. Gen. 1:27). Yet through that revelation we only catch a glimpse of the fullness of who God is.
Scripture tells us that Yahweh the living God is holy. The word group “holy,” “sanctified,” “holiness,” etc., speaks of distinction, separation, otherness, set-apartness, dedication, and consecration—true. But as D. A. Carson points out often in lectures, the further one spirals closer and closer to the heart of the biblical definition of “holy,” one cannot help but see that it is almost a synonym for God Himself! The point of calling such inherently profane items as the pots and shovels used in the tabernacle “holy” is that they are dedicated to the service of the Holy One…the One who is Himself utterly unique and “other.”
God’s holy “otherness” consists not only in His moral purity as the righteous Judge of the earth, but in His essential difference from everything He has created. The word “essential” here is necessary, intentional, and technical. For God has condescended to relate Himself to His creatures in true, literal, vital, dynamic relationship, through covenant, culminating in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This involves His taking upon Himself, ad extra, attributes of His creation, without changing who He is essentially (without changing anything of His essence as the eternal, unchangeable, sovereign God).
Yet God, in Himself—in His own inherent nature—remains forever different from His creation at every point. This is clear even in the way we, as limited creatures, are forced to speak about His essential attributes. Many of the words we use to describe His essential being are negative, in the sense of expressing “negation”: infinite, immutable, impassible. Our creaturely minds by nature cannot comprehend the fullness of who God is; hence our need of His “coming down” and revealing Himself to us in covenant.
The importance of maintaining the complete, permanent, and infinite difference between God’s essential being and that of creation can hardly be overstated. Supposing an inkling or more of univocal (one-to-one) identity between God in Himself, and creation as such, has long plagued non-Christian (and many Christian) philosophers who wrestle with all the traditional questions of metaphysics (the study of what exists, how, and in what relationships).
Inevitably, one of two or three things happens at this point. Either man as a creature is elevated above the biblical perspective, so that he somehow has the ability in and of himself to find out, know, and experience the transcendent, infinite God; or, more commonly, God is reduced to a quasi-supreme Being who is essentially limited in some way or other (less than sovereign, less than timeless, less than omniscient, etc.), with the proposed justification that there could be no real relationship between human beings and the “unchanging, Platonic god” of classical theism. The latter option is nothing less than the academic breaking of the Second Commandment.
Or, in a third category, many Reformed theologians (!) who affirm a confessional perspective on the necessity of God condescending to establish a relationship with man, fail to apply this theology consistently as they interpret Scripture and attempt to derive a clear doctrine of God. Commendably zealous to preserve the integrity of God’s essential attributes (eternity, immutability, simplicity, sovereignty, etc.), writers in the Reformed tradition sometimes speak of certain aspects of God’s relating to His people, as recorded in Scripture, in such a way as to diminish the reality of that dynamic covenant relationship.
For example, when God “changes His mind” or “relents” in response to Moses’ intercessory prayer in Exodus 32 after the golden calf incident (32:14), some open theist and liberal theologians interpret it as God actually changing His eternal plan, while (many) Calvinists overreact by saying that no real change occurred in God’s mind at all. Some Calvinists appeal here to the notion of “anthropomorphism” (Scripture speaking of God and His actions as if He were a finite man, for the sake of our understanding). This is almost correct…
But you see, this actually touches on the heart of the Christian faith, to which we have not yet come in the Creed: namely, that God the Son, at the climax of redemptive history, in fulfillment of all of God’s covenant promises, and in complete continuity with God’s previous covenant dealings with His people, took upon Himself a finite, creaturely human nature, without ceasing to be God or shedding any of His essential divine attributes, and then He went to the cross for us.
In a sense, God the Son became a walking “anthropomorphism” for us and for our salvation. But neither His human nature/life nor His death on Calvary was any more literal than was God’s responsive change of mind in Exodus 32. This is true even though the incarnate Son remained divine, and Yahweh on the mountain in Exodus 32 continued to bring all things to pass according to His own eternal decrees! I am indebted to K. Scott Oliphint for the formulation of these concepts.
For the sake of 1) faithful Christian philosophy in accordance with all of Scripture; 2) a proper conception of creation as inherently finite and subject to the sovereign Lord of the universe; and most importantly 3) for the glory of the eternal, infinite God; we must preserve in our theology the unbridgeable gap of being that exists between God our Creator, and ourselves as creatures.
And yet we must also remember that God has successfully bridged that unbridgeable gap us-ward (not the other way around), ultimately through Christ, to create and redeem a people, and to unite all things in Him (Eph. 1:10).
God exists. God created. God and creation remain infinitely different in their respective essences. And yet God intruded into His own creation, all the while remaining God above, even back when a relationship was established with the First Adam. Thus far our confession of the apostolic faith.