Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Tag: creation

September 12, 2022 – On the Incarnation of the Word

Athanasius of Alexandria is an early Church Father, considered one of the great “Doctors of the Church.” He is the first person to identify the 27 books we now consider the New Testament. He contributed to the theological integrity of the church by struggling against Arians, who maintained that Jesus of Nazareth was of a “distinct substance” to the father (which would violate the doctrine of the Trinity), as well several Emperors. This penchant for conflict for the truth earned him the title Athanasius Contra Mundum (or Athanasius Against the World). This week, we are going to pray through one of his works, On the Incarnation of the Word (or De Incarnatione Verbi Dei). The text itself is a companion to another one of his works, Against the Heathen (or Contra Gentes). In his first work, he is offering written arguments against pagan beliefs and practices. But in the work we’ll focus on this week, On the Incarnation, Athanasius beautifully writes of the basis of Christian faith and salvation: the incarnation of Jesus. I will offer an excerpt of the text (you can find the whole thing here), and try to bring to our immediate relevance to us today.

Today’s Bible reading

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.—Genesis 1:1

All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.—John 1:3

By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.—Hebrews 11:3

More thoughts for meditation

Athanasius begins his treatise on the incarnation by focusing on creation, first by refuting three competing viewpoints of creation, and then by retelling the biblical narrative of Creation (using Genesis, but also passages in the New Testament in order to incorporate Jesus into the narrative).

He argues against the Epicureans that because they believed “everything has had its beginning… independent of purpose” all of creation would be alike and not distinct. And that isn’t adequate to explain the diverse universe as he experiences it.

To the Platonists, he argues that their belief that “God has made the world out of matter previously existing and without beginning” makes God weak because God does not precede the material here, God simply organizes it. “He works at existing material, but is not Himself the cause of the material.”

Finally, to the Gnostics, he argues that their belief that the creator, the “artificer,” is distinct from the Father of Christ is manifestly disproven in the Bible (Matthew 16:4, John 1:3). After he deconstructs these arguments he moves toward his telling of the creation account.

The true doctrine. Creation out of nothing, of God’s lavish bounty of being. Humans created above the rest, but incapable of independent perseverance. Hence the exceptional and supra-natural gift of being in God’s Image, with the promise of bliss conditionally upon his perseverance in grace.”

Athanasius retells the biblical creation narrative, naming God as the source of goodness, and crediting Jesus Christ as the creator (using John 1:3 and Hebrews 11:3). He writes that God has taken a “special pity” on the human race, one that he did not “barely create” us, but in a special way, in God’s image and “of the power of His own Word.” He says we now reflect the Word of God. But it wasn’t enough that God created us, God secured us by grace through the law, and gave them a place in paradise, in God’s own garden. If they kept the grace, the law, they stayed in paradise without “sorrow or pain or care.”

Suggestions for action

Looking back at Athanasius’ arguments against the contemporary theories of creation is interesting. Many of those philosophies are long-gone at this point, and some of his critiques don’t stand the test of time as they were corrected later on when we learned more about our physical environment. But what strikes me is that his retelling of the biblical narrative does remain sound. Though we know that eventually humans corrupt the creation by their own sin, there is a deep comfort to be found in being especially created by God, with attention, in God’s image, with the power of Christ. We know that Jesus fulfills the very law given to us by grace, and so now we can live in the paradise that begins now without “sorrow or pain or care” (but also with those things, in this strange in-between time that we live).

What stands between you and believing that God takes a “special pity” on you? Pray for the courage to believe that God did not merely create you, but made you with a unique care and gaze that names you as the beloved.

March 23 — Rocks Cry Out

Today’s Bible reading:

When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:37-40)

More thoughts for meditation:

God will be praised, and creation is an expression of that praise. Creation reflects and points to the beauty and power and redeeming love of the Creator, Jesus. Did you ever look up into the night sky when you were far from city lights and catch your breath at the myriad of stars? Did you ever get to sit on the edge of the Grand Canyon and get lost in the glory of it’s expanse? It is truly mind-blowing to consider the growing vastness of the universe just in reflection to the “little” parts we can see. The rocks are literally crying out already with their vibrations, all throughout the expanding universe.  And the universe is expanding at a rate that makes it impossible to conceptualize and study, though many scientists picture it shaped like a trumpet below. Creation is crying out that Jesus is truly wonderful. We cannot even wrap our minds around God’s glory. 

Suggestions for action:

Take a few minutes right now to join the rocks in worship with the song So Will I. You’ll be affirming Jesus’ Lordship in the earth. Part of how God is making things right in the earth is by giving us a glimpse of his glory and a chance to respond personally and corporately. A chance to experience our connection to the Creator and his love.  It is love that elicits us to love. And we’re able to be even more expressive and demonstrative than the rocks! John’s prophecy reveals that every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea will someday be crying out “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Rev 5:13) As you listen now let’s pray, Come Lord Jesus. Based on your beauty in the heavens and on earth, come to us now in all that we face. Show us your creative and restoring love in our lives right now. We are your creation.