2. God's Story: The Missio Dei (cont.)
Movement 1. Creation and Covenant: the Mission of the Father (through the Son by the Spirit)
“God created.” All else flows from this. God’s act of creation is the opening act of the biblical narrative and it shapes the entire story. However, the biblical story, although it is primarily God’s story -– it is shaped by God, and focuses on God -– does not tell us about what God did (or was) prior to creation. Genesis 1/2 is the beginning of the story of God’s relationship with creation but not the beginning of the story of God per se. We are plunged blindly into the “middle” of the story of God. Indeed, we later discover that God has created prior to the beginning of “the heavens and the earth” but we are only provided mere hints of that story. One could then argue that the original creation is already a “new” creation. Therefore, although the bible relates a story that is first and foremost about God, Genesis 1/2 is the beginning of a story about God and creation, or, stated more compellingly, it is a story about God with us –- God with his creatures, God with his cosmos. The fact that God is first of all known as “Creator” means that God is connected to creation. Already we begin to glimpse the biases of the biblical record of history and we begin to realize why the motif of covenant is so intimately connected to that of creation. Thus, we begin to glimpse how the entire biblical story, beginning with the movement of creation, is a story about the missio Dei. It is God’s story, but it is a story about God’s intentions for, and what God does with and amongst, creation.
Of course, the presence of biases, polemics, and inserted connections and meanings is why the biblical record reads like a story and not like an encyclopedia. Therefore, when reading the creation account, one would expect to find the same subjectivity. The author(s) and redactor(s) of Genesis 1/2 are not simply providing a creation account because it was an historical occurrence that should be recorded for posterity’s sake. God is not simply called “Creator” because creation had to come from somewhere. The act of creation and the fact that God is named Creator are recorded in order to tell the reader very specific things about God and the cosmos.
The first major emphasis found in the biblical account of God as Creator is that of monotheism. Creation is the act of one God, not many gods. Polytheism is denied. Furthermore, creation is created by God, and so it is not divine itself. Pantheism is also denied. The one true God is the Creator, and creation belongs within the missional intentions of the one true God, it does not arise out of a conflict between the gods, nor is it preexistent. Indeed, as Gordon Wenham systematically demonstrates, the account recorded in Gen 1/2 is written in such as way as to function as a polemic repudiation and demythologization of other ancient creation narratives. Furthermore, this creational polemic against all other gods is also a polemic against all the empires, rules, and powers that serve these other gods. As Walter Brueggemann suggests, the liturgical polemics of Genesis 1/2, by dismissing the claims of false gods, allow an alternative world to be crafted in opposition to the world as it is imagined by the powers. As we shall see, this creational assertion leads inevitably to the claim that the mission of the Father, as Creator, is fundamentally a mission that stands in opposition to the mission and intentions of all the powers that arise after the exile of creation occurs.
However, it must be clearly stated that monotheism, in the creation account and the rest of the First Testament, is not so concerned with a metaphysical analysis of the inner being of the one God. Instead it is an assertion that the God of this Testament is the one true God over against all others who attempt to claim this title and authority. This is why the First Testament, despite it’s radical assertions of monotheism can posit a divine Wisdom, a divine Shekinah, a divine Word, a divine Torah, and a divine Spirit. Even the most radical assertion of monotheism in the First Testament, the Shema, is not a metaphysical proposition; it is, as Tom Wright says, “a battle-cry of the nation that believed it’s god to be the only god.” This is why the First Testament account of creation can also be restated from a trinitarian perspective: Creation is the work of the Father done through the Son by the Spirit. Such an assertion actually fits quite comfortably within the First Testament’s understanding of the being of the one God.
Therefore, by laying claim to the title of Creator, the God of the bible intends to be known as the one and only God. It is not just any God that made the world, it is this God, known, after Jesus, as Father, who did so. The world is not shaped by the mission of just any divine Creator-Being, the world is shaped by the mission of this Father-God. Knowing the Creator as Father strengthens the suggestion that the creation story leads us to read the story of God as a story of God with us. Already, in the very beginning, God, the Father and Creator, can be tentatively named Immanuel -– God-With-Us.
This notion is further strengthened when the kenotic elements of creation are highlighted. By choosing to become the Creator of the world, by choosing to create an extra Deum, God chooses to impose limitations upon himself. As Jurgen Moltmann argues: “In order to create a world ‘outside’ himself, the infinite God must have made room beforehand for finitude in himself.” Therefore, drawing from the kabalistic notion of zimsum, Moltmann, in his notion of a Christian panentheism, argues that creation results when God withdraws into himself in order to create space outside of himself within himself. John Goldingay pushes this thought one step further when he addresses First Testament references to creation as being birthed by God. Birthing moves us from the language of voluntary humiliation, it also incorporates the notion of suffering into this humiliation. Therefore, one wonders if suffering is a part of God’s mission – even before the exile of creation occurs!
These three things –- the polemical claim of creational monotheism against other gods and other powers, the claim that the Creator is also Father, and the claim that creation is a kenotic movement – help us to realize why the notion of covenant is so intimately linked to that of creation. Indeed, a large part of the Father’s missional intention in the act of creation was that of creating a people who would participate within, and fulfill, his mission in the cosmos. This is why the faith of Israel is most simply described as a creational and covenantal monotheism; in the First Testament, the act of election cannot be separate from the movement of creation. Of course, it is humanity that is created as the covenant partner that shares in God’s mission. God’s first, and most foundational covenant is the covenant with Adam and Eve and all other covenantal developments must be understood in light of this. Adam and Eve are created in the image of God and, therefore, function as God’s vice-regents of creation. Indeed, because Adam and Eve are the representatives of the human race, it is humanity as a whole that is the imago Dei, and God’s vice-regents. Thus, it could be said that the one God chooses one representative in creation, the Father-God, claims humanity has his Son, and the humble God embraces vulnerability by laying creation in the (hopefully responsible) hands of his vice-regents.
However, to suggest that the missio Dei of the Father, as the one Creator God, is to create a people who will be a part in his mission is a woefully inadequate answer if left by itself. What is the mission within which humanity is created to participate? When one looks to the creation account for the answer to this question, one quickly realizes that one is imposing a question upon the text that the text is not seeking to answer. Genesis 1/2 does not want to tell the reader why God created the world; Genesis 1/2 wants to tell the reader that God created the world. Indeed, the entire biblical narrative seems to be hesitant to speak of why God chose to become involved with creation, or about why God chose to become Creator, at all. However, a few suggestions can be offered as to what the missio Dei entails at this point. First of all, the mission of the Father is to reign over creation. If humanity is created to be God’s vice-regents, the proper conclusion to be drawn from this is that God is the one true sovereign over all things. Secondly, the mission of the Father is to give life. In creation the Father gives birth to an astounding variety of life forms, from plant, to animal, to human. Thirdly, the mission of the Father is to affirm goodness. The resounding refrain of the creation narrative is the divine affirmation of the goodness of what is made. However, it is interesting to note that, prior to the creation of the heavens and the earth, life and goodness both already existed. Thus, it can also be stated that the mission of the Father is to create new life and to affirm new forms of goodness, because to do so is better and/or more pleasurable than leaving things as they are. In this regard, the comments Moltmann makes about the missio Dei are quite intriguing. Moltmann argues that creation is “the fruit of God’s longing for ‘his Other’” and he goes on to say that “[f]rom eternity God has desired not only himself but the world too.” God creates the world, not because he has need of the world, but because he desires it. God has no need of another lover, but because God’s love is moving ever outwards, God creates the world. Therefore, working this notion into trinitarian terms, Moltmann concludes: “The Father creates the world out of his eternal love through the Son, for the purpose of finding a response to his love in time, in the power of the Holy Spirit.” In light of these things, we can say is that, fourthly, the missio Dei is to love and to be loved. It is the Father’s mission to delight in and with creation. Finally, we can also say that it is the mission of the Father to rest in and with creation. The Sabbath, here understood as God’s day of rest, comes as the climatic and ultimate event of creation, and of all the times mentioned in creation it is the only time that is explicitly and emphatically blessed by God.
Walter Brueggemann, Old Testament Theology: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy.
Stephen Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible.
John Goldingay, Theology of the Old Testament: Israel's Gospel.
Jurgen Moltmann, God in Creation, and The Trinity and the Kingdom.
Gord Wenham, Genesis 1-11..
Tom Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, and What Saint Paul Really Said.