Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Why Did God Create the World?

My reading this week is focused on the question of God's purpose in creating. For the first time I have begun to see the importance of this question. Let me first lay out some basic alternative answers to this question, then indicate why I think this question is important.

So, here's some alternative answers to the question: Why did God create the world?

(1) It is an unanswerable speculative question and therefore shouldn't be answered. We only know of the world as created and governed by God, so to ask of why God created the world is to step outside of our created status and inquiry into the unknown depths of eternity. I am sympathetic to this non-response out of respect for God's mystery. However, as we shall see, there is a lot at stake in this question for one's understanding of God. So I am not sure avoiding the question is the best option.

(2) God did not have a purpose in creating; rather, creation is the overflow of God's goodness. Another option is to reject the premise of the question, asserting that God's act of creating is not purposive. One reason to make such a claim is that if God has a purpose, then God is being moved by the purpose, which would undermine God's self-sufficient, omnipotent, immutability. God is not moved by anything else. Yet God creates simply as an outpouring of his being. God is so great that his greatest expands to includes a created world. The advantage of this view is that creation partakes naturally in God's goodness. The problem with this view is that history is pointless. Also, it seems difficult to see how God and the world are really qualitatively distinct.

(3) God did have a purpose in creating. The last option is that God does have a specific purpose in creating the world. With an end in view, God created the circumstances under which this end would occur. Of course, if we are going to say God did have a purpose, we probably should inquire into what this purpose may be. Two possibilities quickly emerge:

(a) God's purpose in creating was to glorify himself. The first possibility is that God created the world so that his own glory would be extended through his intercourse with something other than himself. In other words, God is so great that he thought it worthwhile to replay this greatest in the history of his dealings with creation. The advantage here is that the problems with purposiveness in creation are overcome, as God is not moved by something other than himself, but is rather self-moved out of regard for himself. The disadvantage here is that God seems to be using creatures (some of whom are persons) as means.

(b) God's purpose in creating was for the benefit of creatures. Another possibility is that God created the world for the benefit of creation itself. Out of regard for otherness, God creates something other than himself so that it may know, love and enjoy him. In other words, God creates the world in order to save it. The advantage here is that God's concern for creatures is in the foreground. The problem is that it is hard to imagine God being positively disposed toward creatures before creating them as a reason for creating them.

Of course, it is possible to say both (a) and (b), because God's desire to glorify himself can be executed in such a way that benefits us, as is certainly the case in the covenant of grace. How to think through the unity of these two as God's purpose for creation is an interesting subject to be left for another day (or the comments board).

The interesting thing to point out is that one's answer to the question why did God create the world tells a lot about one's understanding of God's relation to the world. The first answer puts the relation between God and the world in a cloud of mystery. The second answer puts creation in a continuous connection with God as the highest being. The third answers understands history as the working out of God's purpose in creation. However you slice it, there is a lot at stake in this question.

Any thoughts?
Why did God create the world? What do you think?
Have I fairly represented the options? What further advantages and disadvantages of each can be identified?
What other options have I neglected?
Towards which option are you inclined?


WTM said...

#1 is fine as far as human potential for knowledge is concerned. But, if we believe in the incarnation, we can (I hope!) get beyond this.

#2 has another problem other than the one you mentioned, namely, one has to be especially careful not to set this up in a neo-platonic way, i.e. necessary emanation. We get something like this in Zwingli, I think.

On #3 I would tend to agree with your both / and approach, but I don’t think that the two options you lay out necessarily get at the whole question. If we are going to say that God had a purpose, we have to ask what that purpose was and how it relates to Christ. The Reformed addressed this question in the 17th century with some vigor.

David Drury said...

If I only had the gospels in my hands I would say #3 B.

Of course John 17 and the "let's glorify each other" conversation between the Father and the Son would be tricky for me.

Good questions here, JOhn.

JohnLDrury said...

wtm - thanks for pointing out another problem with #2. God may be inclined to create out, but necessary creation is a bad idea (I think). As for the 17th century reformed scholastics, they are on to something; although I am enjoying it much more in the hands of Jonathan Edwards, who makes it all sound much more beautiful. His Concerning the End for which God Created the World is the reading that inspired this week's post.

ded - thanks for pointing out John 17. Not only is that my single favorite chapter of scripture, but it is also helpful for combining God's self-glorification and the glorification of his creatures (which are combined definitively in Jesus Christ as the God-man). Also, check out John 12, which is important for Edwards' account of combinig 3a and 3b.


Keith Drury said...

I'm a 3b'er until otherwise convinced... love-based creation?

Jon Dodrill said...

I think God re-created Himself because it was His divine disposition ad-extra, not ad-intra because that'd be a heresy right?

big leaguer said...

Someone says it is for God's glory or joy of God, and so on. I've tried to believe it without questioning but I can't stop asking next question. Why does God create the world for glory of God or joy of God? People may response that it's God's mind. It's maybe true. People can not figure out God's intention. How can I be sure about existence of God without questioning his intention?

Let us say God create something. but its result not always in a good way. Sometimes God's creatures destroy God's creatures. but all these happenings are better than nothing. God create the world because it is better than nothing.

Andrew said...

None of the above options factor in God's supposed omniscience and all-loving nature. Is it loving to create a population with the knowledge that the majority will need to be punished?

ghana said...

My name is Samuel Sasu. We christians believe that God created human beings so that we can worship him. And the bible also says that God said if humanbeings don't worship he would raise stones from the ground to worship him and it also says that we are filty rags before his presence