John Calvin opens the Institutes of the Christian Religion with an excellent discussion on whether the knowledge of God is prior to knowledge of self or vice versa. At the risk of vastly oversimplifying and perhaps even missing Calvin’s point, I will say at the outset of this essay that recognition of God as our Creator and ourselves as His creatures is the fundamental starting point for a right understanding of God, ourselves, and the world that
we study. The Scriptures themselves speak of a General Revelation which points even unregenerate men and women to this truth. “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech. And night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the end of the world.” (Ps. 19:1-4) “Because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 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.” (Rom. 1:19,20)
However, sinful humans suppress this truth deny God and worship idols. “They did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations…Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures…For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” (Rom. 1:21-25) Thus, the knowledge of God as Creator comes to us by God’s special grace whereby he convinces us that what the Scriptures teach is true.
Belief that the world was created by God is a faith confession. “It is by faith that we know that the universe was created by the Word of God, so that what can be seen was made out of what cannot be seen.” (Heb. 11:3) See also Gen.1:1; Neh.9:6; Job 9:7-10; Ps.33:6-9; 148:3-6; Is.40:26; 45:12,18,19; Jn.1:3; Col.1:15-17. We confess this doctrine in our creeds and confessions: “I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” See also Belgic Confession, Article XII, Heidelberg Catechism, Question 26, and Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter IV.
A primary meaning of Creator is Originator. All that we see around us has been called into being by His Word and is structured by His Word. All things are “created by the Word of the Lord” (Heb. 11:3). “And God said, let there be…” (Gen. 1). “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made” (Ps.33:6). “For he commanded and they were created” (Ps. 148:5). “He (Christ) is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). The scriptures sometimes speak of God as calling things into existence together with the rules or laws by which they operate: ordinance; dominion (Job 38:33; Jer. 33:35), fixed order (Jer. 31), command (Job 37:15; Ps. 148:5; Ps. 147:15), decree (Job 28:26), mete, measure (Job 28:25), set bounds (Ps. 104:9; Ps. 148:6), appointment (Ps. 119:91).
In its origination, creation is ultimately ex nihilo (Heb. 11:3). That is to say, before God’s original act of creation there was nothing. However, an ex nihilo creation does not rule out the notion of God’s creating some things using pre-existing material (e.g. Gen. 1:11,12,24).
An implication of the Creator/creature distinction is that Creation cannot be exhaustively fathomed by us who are part of that creation. Arie Leegwater in an unpublished outline entitled “Christian Perspectives in Physics and Chemistry” writes: “For the Christian scientist no creaturely event or thing can be reduced to its scientific explanation. No scientific account can grasp or encompass the radical character of the creature’s dependence on the Creator. There is always a sense in which the very structures themselves defy analysis and explanation. Their individuality and uniqueness harbor the mystery of creation: the divine origin and continued sustenance of all things.”
The Creator/creature distinction also points us to the human dimension of the scientific enterprise. Even the best of our theories are tentative; new data or new insights into old data may upset the most established of the scientific status quo. We would be naive historically to think that our theories and models are the last word. It might be helpful to think of the Creator/creature distinction in terms of law. From God’s perspective His law is prescriptive; from our perspective scientific laws are descriptive. It may be the case that our descriptions begin to approximate the divine prescription in the course of the history of science, but due to the incomprehensibility of the Creator, His Creation also bears that same ultimate mystery. This is the message of Job 38 and 39.
It is the doctrine of Creation that is most abused by unbelieving science. Philosophical Materialism, Evolutionary Naturalism, and Pantheism, as worldviews, deny the existence of a transcendent Creator God. There is nothing beyond the universe and its inherent properties. Such perspectives are exactly what Paul spoke of in Romans 1:25. “For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”