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.
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?