The First Article of the Apostles’ Creed: Creation
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
What does this mean?
I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife [spouse] and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and dailyprovides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true. [Martin Luther’s Small Catechism http://lcms.org/bookofconcord/smallcatechism.asp]
The biblical God is not a once-upon-a-time Creator who set everything in motion and went on vacation. The biblical God actively creates out of the primeval chaos and actively sustains His good creation. His Son Jesus tells His disciples that the Father knows what all His creatures need before (or whether) they ask (Matthew 6). He gives us all that we have and are. Notice all the action verbs in Luther’s explanation to the first article: gives, provides, defends, protects, does…. Because this God is so active in His creation, many Christians have spoken of Him as Providence, the One who provides.
In order to understand Luther the biblical theologian, the reader must always look closely at his work. His emphases vary based upon whom his conversations partners happen to be. In the case of the Small Catechism, Luther is writing for parents, so that they can better teach the basics of the Christian faith to their families. Luther emphasizes in article one of the Apostles’ Creed God’s fatherly work. He makes clear that God’s work doesn’t happen in a vacuum nor do we live in one. Evil is always the counterforce seeking to undo the Father’s good and gracious will.
For Luther, evil is not simply the necessary yang to the biblical God’s yin. Evil is the spirit of rebellion that first responded to God’s Wholly Otherness with the proverbial 1960s chant: “Hell, no, we won’t go.” Evil is the false claim to ownership and authority that belongs to God alone. Evil is known by his deeds – the attempt to undo creation by rebelling against God’s good and gracious will that sustains creation. If the biblical God knows everyone’s needs and provides for them, then evil seeks to subvert that plan by inviting as many as he is able to convince to deny and destroy God’s good creative work.
Evil is self-absorbed. Evil is narcissistic. We can trace the origin of sin to evil, because sin rebels against its Creator responding to His Goodness with self-absorption and narcissism. Instead of responding to our Creator with thanks, praise, service, and obedience (demonstrating that we are really hearing God by doing what God wants), we humans join evil’s rebellion against God. As I have often said, one does not even need to open the Bible to Genesis 3 to see how God’s creatures have rebelled and continue to rebel against the One whom Harry Wendt, author of the Crossways Bible Study, calls: “Our Maker and Owner!” Human history is the story of our rebellion against our Creator.
Evil is, as C.S. Lewis once wrote, “God’s ape,” the one who mimics his Creator by creating counterfeit stuff. Think of how Hannah Arendt labeled as “the banality of evil” brilliant Nazi doctors making a science of destroying their neighbors – Jews, Gypsies, the disabled, homosexuals, and, yes, pastors who called their work sin and evil. Think of the abortion lobby as a whole, and not just its worst perpetrator in Pennsylvania, who plan the destruction of God’s unborn creatures while euphemistically calling their work “women’s health” and “women’s rights.” Think of those who, like Nazis, first label the unborn as “unpersons” and then use the cells they have stolen from their original design to live as persons outside their mother’s wombs in order to accomplish all kinds of “interesting” experiments for the benefit of those who claim to be more valuable. Evil is self-absorbed, narcissistic, and utterly rebellious against God!
Evil subverts the orderliness of God’s good creation. How he does so is dastardly complex. And, yes, I’m being deliberately personal in the naming of evil and not in the poetic or metaphoric sense. As Scott Peck noted in “The People of the Lie,” evil is a personal, malevolent force that seeks to seduce other creatures to do his will. Jesus says the thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10). Evil’s prints are all over the public health disasters that come from those who want nothing to stand in their way of acquiring shamelessly and without any regard for the consequences of their choices. How many carcinogens have destroyed lives, families, and communities because evil kept insisting that people could hide their mistakes and failures? How many marriages were destroyed because a narcissist decided it would be fun to take what she or he wanted without regard for who might be hurt? How many crimes began with no thought of anyone but ME?
Now, notice again how Luther emphasizes the proper distinction between Creator and creature. God does all His creative work out of fatherly, divine, goodness and mercy – not because there is some intrinsic merit or worthiness in His creatures that obligates God to reward us. Indeed God’s original assessment of His creation as “very good” was the original Artist admiring His work and not some self-made adorability that we brought to the picnic. When we join in evil’s rebellion against our Creator, sinful humanity destroys the Creator’s very good work like a couple of bratty kids on the beach wrecking in a matter of seconds the sand castle that has been lovingly, carefully crafted.
The first article of the Apostles’ Creed covers what many call “natural law.” It covers everything from the basics of the birds and the bees to the raw materials and building blocks of creation and even to seasons and tides and weather patterns [and yes, evil can and does subvert any and all of these]. We are here by God’s design and not by random selection. There is an orderliness to creation that is intricately marvelous. As the psalmist put it, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139). We humans have been made “little lower than the angels” and have the capacity for co-creation (Psalm 8). We are stewards and caretakers of all that God has made including that Leviathan which God made for the sport of it (Psalm 145). To work with God for His good and gracious will is responsible living. To take what we want without thought of anyone living or yet to come is not.
There is a common sensibility about the care of God’s creation that can be grasped by those who don’t yet “thank, praise, serve, and obey” God. Yes, sometimes, those who assess their place in the order of things from a rational perspective have a better grasp on how to care for God’s creation and their neighbor that eludes those of little and childish faith. The agnostic or so-called atheist who feeds the hungry and cleans up after a disaster is closer to the will of God than the childish Christian who prays before deliberately cheating the neighbor. Exceptions to the rule do not disprove the rule nor are they an argument against faith or piety.
The proper distinction between Creator and creature is kept when we respond with thanks, praise, service, and obedience to the God who creates out of fatherly, divine, goodness and mercy…which we never deserve. As Luther says, “this is most certainly true!”