Christian doctrines are rarely straightforward. Creation is a case in point. It seems all too easily summed up in the statement ‘God made the world’. However, at almost every level this is misleading and hardly represents classical, orthodox Chistianty. Christians don’t want to imply, for example, that creation was a one-off event in the past as a builder constructs a house then leaves it to the occupants. It’s an on-going process, as embodied in the rather more nuanced phrase “maker of heaven and earth” contained within the creed.
Also God doesn’t create in the way we do, by bringing ideas to fruition, drawing up plans or employing builders. In Genesis God speaks and it is done. What God thinks comes to pass. Christians also want to insist that all this comes about from nothing. There is no pre-existing material out of which God creates the world. Without the ever-sustaining presence of God even the very stuff of creation collapses. The words making and creating hardly do justice to this extraordinary process of things coming into existence.
Orthodox Christian teaching also states that God is not part of creation and quite different from anything in creation. God is not another being but beingness itself, not a real thing but reality itself. God is not alive but life itself.
All this takes us away from the question of how the world came to be and that’s what it’s meant to do. It doesn’t send us off to weigh up the evidence. We are not asked to examine the intricate patterns and structures of life and wonder at the enormous scale and energies of the universe or look to love, mutual understanding, acts of courage and self-sacrifice for proof that the world was purposefully made. Nor are we asked to set this against natural disasters, warmongering and a whole gamut of human behaviours that act as a potent and toxic counterbalance, suggesting a purposeless, uncreated world. All this can be explained from simple first principles without a need for God, we are told, even the love and the courage come from a built-in need to protect ourselves.
As God is life itself, we are being called to explore and accept life in all its rich variety and forms. This is the first challenge of Christian spirituality. To say yes to God is to say yes to life. This is far from easy. How can we, in the words of the communion service, give thanks at all times and in all places? To say yes to life is neither to treat all life in the same way, nor to accept life with a shrug and a “That’s life!”. To love life is to find the appropriate way to touch and embrace it in its many forms and revere both its beauties and its perils.