It is evident enough that there is a principle by which the universe was created and is ordered. This is a point on which little substantial disagreement is possible; one hardly deniable by even the staunchest atheist, whether or not he calls it God. But it is so because it has very little content; hardly more than “the universe exists”. The existence of God the Father, in Trinitarian categories, is uncontroversial, whatever it should be called. The controversy is in the existence of the Word of God; the inbreaking of creator into creation, whereby God uses language to communicate directly to his creation.
Language is an inextricable part of what it means to be human, distinguishing us as much from what is above as from what is below. It is difficult to conceive that the same God who orders the universe would speak to us using our own language: not that he would be unable, but that that mode of interaction with its creation – especially such an infinitesimal part of it – does not necessarily follow from his mere existence. Authors do not typically write themselves into their stories. Were God no more than creator, it would make no difference whether or not anyone believed, for what would belief be but a pattern of atoms in the brain? As creation, we are by nature closer to dust than to God.
“Any relationship that one might have with this God would have to be something other than a natural relationship.”1 The Word of God therefore, not God himself, is the principal disagreement between the Christian and the atheist. To speak of the consciousness of God, his will, his emotions, is admittedly to speak by way of analogy. But it is of no use to say the same of language. Where God is spoken of as angry or pleased, this is obviously enough a translation from higher to lower, not capturing the essence but something like it. But where God is recorded to have spoken to men, it was actual language, not something merely like language. Regardless of how God may be said to naturally communicate, he has revealed himself specifically using the extant languages of particular people groups.
If the universe is not an act of God but a display of his glory – or the outworking of the principle, if you like – the implausibility of the Word of God come to the earth is in the fact that in the vastness of the universe, earth seems to be an impossibly small part in which to focus that Word. Is not God glorified in the rest of the universe by the simple outworking of his providence? Is human consciousness really so special as to warrant an entirely different mode of interaction between creator and creation?
It is for this reason that theology must be cross-centric – not as a starting point, but as an end. However much God is glorified in the mere creation, redemption is its crown jewel. Why should a sovereign God require sacrifice for sin, or even ordain that sin exist? It is because creation exists for redemption; not the other way around. To conceive of the atonement as a reaction to the fall either binds God by rules greater than himself, or makes atonement arbitrary. Both of these options, for the sake of personalizing the sovereign God, exalt humans on a cosmically absurd pedestal.
To complain therefore of the inhumanity of creation for such a purpose is as futile as to complain of the inhumanity of gravity, or of Planck’s Law. One is decreed no more or less personally than the other. It is to conflate the ordinance of God with the Word of God, the latter of which only can coherently be called just or unjust. It is to attack a fundamentally implausible strawman by smuggling in a false premise.
More on justice soon…
- Horton, Michael. Introducing Covenant Theology (2006), p. 29.