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Christian Metaphysics and the Creator-Creature Distinction: Part I

By Anthony Rogers
October 01, 2004

God is the basis for all that exists, all that we are, and all that we know — according to Christian metaphysics. The word metaphysics comes from two Greek words which mean “above nature” (meta = above, physis = nature). As a branch of philosophy, metaphysics is the study of the ultimate nature, structure, constitution, and origin of reality. As the study of the ultimate nature of reality, “It is broader in its scope than science...” which studies some delineated aspect of reality,1 and “...is also more fundamental, since it investigates questions science does not address but the answers to which it presupposes.”2, 3

There is a profound reason why the very first verse of the Bible is: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The most basic or ultimate reality, from the perspective of Biblical Christianity, is the existence of the Triune God — He was “in the beginning.”

At the same time, Biblical Christianity affirms the existence and reality of “the heavens and the earth.” These two affirmations, that of the reality of the eternal triune God (who exists independently of all things) and the reality of the temporal world which He created (which is completely dependent upon God), are fundamental to the Christian view of reality as well as to the Christian view of knowledge and ethics.

The Creator
God is ultimate or absolute. This means, “God is in no sense correlative to or dependent upon anything outside His own being... He is sufficient unto Himself.”4 He owes His existence to no one, and He needs nothing from anyone or anything (whether sustenance, counsel, or help). We cannot “prove the existence of God” by appealing to some higher standard, because there is no higher standard.

There are no laws, standards, or anything else above, alongside, or outside of God, according to which He acts or in terms of which He is explained. He acts in accordance with and is defined by His own nature. His being (or nature) is absolute, and, therefore, it is the true source of all standards and explanation. As John Frame explains, “His power and wisdom are beyond any possibility of successful challenge.”5 James Tyne describes this reality:

There is nothing co-eternal with God or bigger than God; there are no overarching realities, such as creaturely concepts of time, space, existence, logic or possibility, alongside or supporting God or against which He could be measured. He transcends everything other than Himself.6

Saying that God is absolute does not mean that He is an abstract principle or something less than personal. He is the Triune (or tri-personal) God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — and not some other. The terms tri-personal and triune mean that God is threepersons and that these three persons are one in essence or being. Van Til explains:

We hold that God exists as a tri-personality. “The Trinity is the heart of Christianity.” The three persons of the Trinity are co-substantial; not one is derived in his substance from either or both of the others. Yet there are three distinct persons in this unity; the diversity and the identity are equally underived.7

The Christian God is both eternally One and eternally Many. His oneness is, by virtue of being His oneness, ultimate. His many-ness is, by virtue of being His many-ness, ultimate. Unity and diversity in God, or plurality within unity in God, are equally ultimate. Ralph Smith notes:

In the Father, Son, and Spirit, Christians worship three equally ultimate Persons who are united in one Being. Since neither God’s Oneness nor His Threeness is prior to the other, both His unity and His personal diversity are ultimate.…Indeed, the whole creation can only be understood rightly in terms of the Tripersonal God who created all things to reveal His glory. Ultimate explanation is not to be found in principles, nor in ideas, nor in a final theory, but in the Father, Son, and Spirit — the Personal God.8

The way of speaking of God as He is in Himself is sometimes referred to as the ontological Trinity. This God, the Triune God — the eternal One and the eternal Three — is totally independent of all things. He is the absolute personal God from whom, through whom, and to whom are all things.

The Creation
All things are “from,” all things are “through,” and all things are “to” God. This sums up, to a great degree, the Christian philosophy of “the heavens and the earth,” the cosmos.

In saying that all things are from God, we understand that the universe was brought into being out of nothing (ex nihilo) — rather than out of God (ex Deo) or out of pre-existing matter (ex materia) — by a direct fiat of God. This means that the world is neither eternal nor does it exist by itself or on its own. The world is completely dependent upon God for its origin.

In saying that all things are through God, we understand that the world is dependent upon God for its continued existence. God continues to sustain and govern the world according to His decree and by His providence. He upholds all things by the word of His power and in Him all things consist. In (or through) Him all things live and move and have their being.

Last, in saying that all things are to God, we understand that the purpose of God’s creative act and continuing providence, the telos or end to which all of history is directed, is the glory of God. All things were created “by” God, all things consist “in” God, and all things exist “for” God.

The high point of God’s creative, providential, and teleological acts is man. Man, as part of the created, temporal reality, owes his existence to and is dependent upon God. He was made by God in His image. He depends upon God for his meaning, his origin, for who and what he is, and for what his task and purpose is in the world.

This world — the temporal, finite, and derivative reality — consists of a multitude of different, concrete, particular things. Notes Thomas A. Thomas:

There are snowflakes falling to the ground in the frozen north, and there are strange fish swimming in the rivers of the tropical Amazon jungle. There are grains of sand on the Sahara Desert and atoms of the elements that compose the stars. There are events of history, such as Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo and Washington crossing the Delaware. There are bees, birds, butterflies, rocks, mountains, lakes, rivers, and a seemingly infinite multiplicity of other things.9

To a Christian, all of these many things do not simply exist as isolated particulars with no underlying unity or tie between them. Christians make a distinction between considerations of God as He is in Himself, from all eternity, and God as He is involved in and with the world in the works of creation, providence, and redemption.

Christians often speak of God’s existence in terms of an ontological Trinity, and His acts in terms of an economic Trinity. God, the eternal Triune God who is active in the origin and course of the temporal world, by His creation and control of whatsoever comes to pass (in accordance with His comprehensive plan), is the One who ties together the Many of created reality. God imposes unity upon and guarantees order in the created universe.

Because the temporal unity and the temporal diversity in the world are equally derivative, and therefore equally dependent upon the Triune God, neither the unity nor the diversity of created reality is more basic than the other. Again, Van Til notes:

[T]he various aspects of created reality must sustain such relations to one another as have been ordained between them by the Creator, as superiors, inferiors or equals. All aspects being equally created, no one aspect of reality may be regarded as more ultimate than another. Thus the created one and many may in this respect be said to be equal to one another; they are equally derived and equally dependent upon God who sustains them both. The particulars or facts of the universe do and must act in accord with universals or laws. Thus there is order in the created universe. On the other hand, the laws may not and can never reduce the particulars to abstract particulars or reduce their individuality in any manner. The laws are but generalizations of God’s method of working with the particulars.10

Nothing exists in heaven, on earth, or under the earth that God has not created, does not now uphold, and does not continually control in accordance with His infinitely wise and holy counsel. Because of this, there are no autonomous atoms, maverick molecules, or anything else subject to chance. There are no such things as brute facts, or uninterpreted raw data. All things are what they are, and mean what they mean, by virtue of the eternal decree, the creative act, and the continuing providence of God. All things were created by God, are related to God, and derive their meaning from God.

Notes

1. E.g., physics, which studies nature; biology, which studies living things; astronomy, which studies the solar system, etc.

2. E.g., the relationship of facts to laws; the uniformity of nature; identity through change, etc.

3. Punayot Butchvarov, “Metaphysics,” in The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 1995), ed. by Robert Audi.

4. Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 3rd ed. (Philipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1967), 9.

5. John Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Philipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1987), 17.

6. James J. Tyne, “Putting Contexts in Their Place: God’s Transcendence in Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book One,” in The Standard Bearer: A Festschrift for Greg L. Bahnsen (Nagadoches, Texas: Covenant Media Press, 2002), 371.

7. Van Til, ibid., 12.

8. Rev. Ralph A. Smith, “The Trinity and Covenant: The Christian Worldview,” http://www.berith.org/essays/tcv/

9. Thomas A. Thomas , A Reason for the Hope: Be Ready Always to Give an Answer ( Rochester, NY: Backus Books, n.d.) , 60.

10. Van Til, ibid., 27.

 


Topics: Philosophy, Theology

Anthony Rogers

Anthony Rogers attended Christ College in Lynchburg, Virginia, and is an elder at Christ Covenant Church in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is married and has three children.

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