Originally published in Creation 3, no 3 (August 1980): 36-45.
Condensed from a taped lecture by Ivan Bowden Dean of Queensland Bible Institute, given at the Summer Institute of Creation Science 1979/80.
Such a title for a short article reads rather like an order to read the Encyclopedia Britannica while waiting for a bus, as the subject is such an inexhaustible one. Therefore we will not attempt to concentrate here on more than a few of the attributes of the God of Creation.
The Bible opens with the words “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), and it closes with “I saw a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1). The new heaven and the new earth are referred to in 2 Peter 3:13 also, “Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.”
Many people wrongly place the creation of the world into the category of a “Once upon a time” narrative, or even a fable, without stating a valid reason for this assumption.
Many people wrongly place the creation of the world into the category of a “Once upon a time” narrative, or even a fable, without stating a valid reason for this assumption. They are wrong, but the sad fact is that unlike the good characters in a fable, they shall not “live happily ever after!” The Bible never designates Genesis as being a fable, or even as being symbolic. Christ Himself referred to it as though He accepted it literally and we will also adopt this view.
Referring again to the promises in 2 Peter 3 and Revelation 21, why is there a need for new heavens and a new earth? Sadly, the answer comes, “Because something went terribly wrong with the first ones.” However, hope buoys our spirits up when we consider that the splendid thing about the new heavens and the new earth is that in them will dwell only righteousness. The one thing that is wrong with this world is its terrible state of unrighteousness. While God is Himself righteous, and concerned about righteousness, mankind has been almost totally unconcerned about it.
When God made the first world, He was not providing simply a nice place for man to live in. He was saying something to man.
To begin with, consider the message which God proclaimed when He made this world. To help in doing this, consider Psalm 95:1–2:
O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.
and here is the reason:
For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is his also. The sea is his, and he made it: and his hands formed the dry land. O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker. (Psalm 95:3–6)
Psalm 104:1–24 says:
Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, thou art very great! Thou art clothed with honour and majesty. . . . Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: He maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind. . . . Thou best set a bound that they may not pass over; that they turn not again to cover the earth.
V. 10. He sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills. . . .
V. 13–14. He watereth the hills from his chambers:
The earth is satisfied with fruit of thy works. He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; . . .
V. 19–20. He appointed the moon for seasons: The sun knoweth his going down. Thou makest darkness, and it is night; . . .
V. 24. O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom host thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.
This is a wonderful Psalm about God’s works and it begins by saying: “O Lord, thou art very great!” Creation declares God’s greatness.
The first response which man should make to God’s greatness is the worship of his whole being,
O come, let us sing unto the Lord: Let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation . . . . O come, let us worship and bow down: Let us kneel before the Lord our maker.
The second response is that of fear. This message is contained in Psalm 33:6–8:
By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth. He gathereth the waters of the sea together as an heap: he layeth up the depth in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord . . . .
Here a consideration of the concept “worship” could be helpful. To illustrate: the Sunday morning church service is called a “worship” service, but often an analysis of the Order of Service reveals that much time is spent in “getting” whereas true worship means “giving” to God. In contrast, how delightful it is to share with God’s people in a time of spontaneous adoration and thanksgiving to Him. The Psalmist says: “He is great, and greatly to be praised.” Have Christians robbed God to a serious extent of what is His due in true worship from His people? Even in his times alone with God, too often the Christian too quickly says, “Lord, bless . . . so and so. Lord, please give me . . . such and such. Lord, keep me, protect me . . . and bless the missionaries.” We should ask ourselves how much of our personal devotional lives is actually spent in giving the Lord the glory due to His holy Name.
Think also of the word “fear.” A useful exercise could be to take a Bible Concordance and search the word “fear”—it is quite a popular word in the scriptures. “Fear the Lord, ye his saints,” Psalm 34:9; “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” Proverbs 9:10, etc. I “fear” that we of the 20th Century have lost out in the area of spiritual understanding through a lack of awesome respect for, and fear of, the Lord. There is a familiarity towards God today which regards Him as something of a “buddy” on the same level as ourselves. He is sometimes addressed so casually that one would think He was no more important than the man next door. This is not an argument for or against the use of “Thee” and “Thou” in print, but it is a strong contention for reverence and respect for One Who is infinitely above us. The Epistle to the Hebrews says: “Our God is a consuming fire,” and when Isaiah was in the presence of God, he heard the words, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts” which brought such a deep recognition of his own uncleanness that he cried out, “Woe is me.”
Revelation records that when John, the aged apostle of love, saw the vision of the Christ on Patmos, he fell prostrate at His feet as one dead. When Peter met the Lord on the beach following the miraculously successful fishing trip after a night of hopeless failure, he cried, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man.” It is not abject fear however, that is commanded, because God is our loving heavenly Father, but godly awe, respect and reverence which are His due.
Historically, man has not responded by worshipping his Creator as he ought to have done! Paul in Romans 1:25 graphically described man’s reaction to God’s greatness: “who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever.” Everybody today still worships something, most putting anything other than God in His rightful place, and that is “to worship the creature rather than the Creator.” People have neither worshipped nor feared. Romans 3:18 says, “There is no fear of God before their eyes” and Romans 1:32 says, to underline this lack of fear, “Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.” What a fitting description of the average man of the 20th Century. He willfully breaks the Ten Commandments, licks his lips, and commits those sins again, whilst encouraging the other person to do the same.
Television’s influence can be regarded as partly to blame for the flippant attitude towards moral values today. Grossly immoral standards are portrayed as if they are the norm and will bring utmost satisfaction and pleasure. Unfortunately, the viewer usually forgets that the people seen on the screen are but actors performing a play, and rarely are the consequences of sinful deeds revealed as part of the story. Especially is this true where adultery is committed. It is made to appear glamorous and enjoyable, and young people are being brainwashed into accepting this sinful lifestyle as the way to happiness and satisfaction. God’s standards laid down for man’s well-being are disregarded and forgotten as irrelevant, to the extent that people scoff at God and His Word, and certainly do not learn to fear Him.
Another message to man through Creation is stated in Romans 1:20, “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even by his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.”
Isaiah 45:18—“For thus saith the Lord that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the Lord; and there is none else.” And in verse 21b, “There is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour.” The difference between the one true God and the gods of wood and stone many worship is that our God made the heavens and the earth. He is God, and the heavens and the earth prove His Godhead.
What then should be man’s reaction to the fact that God is God? Verse 22 of this chapter in Isaiah states it unequivocally, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.” God is God, and our response should be to bow the knee to Him in total submission.
A Christian worker who witnessed to a friend on a golf course, pointed out the need for him to surrender to Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, and amazingly the friend responded, “I don’t see any need in my life for Jesus Christ,” to which the Christian friend replied, “It is not a question of whether you have a need of Him. He is Lord, and you owe it to Him to bow to Him.”
The affluent 20th Century man very often feels self-sufficient, but still God says, “I am God, and every knee shall bow to me.” An earthly king, (Henry VII for instance) would not have appreciated one of his subjects saying, “I don’t think I need you.” To which Henry would probably have said, “And I don’t think I need you . . . Off with this man’s head!”
For man there are no options—God is God. In Romans 1:28a Paul best described man’s reaction to God’s message—“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, . . .” A sneaking suspicion suggests itself here that one of the major reasons for the insistence upon the theory of evolution is the fact that the alternative is God, and if there is a God, then He is Lord and we cannot do what we like. We must bow the knee to Him and do what He says. So this theory is written into the textbooks as if it were fact, and gives an excuse not to introduce God and not to “bow the knee to Him.”
Thirdly, the creation of the world says something else about God. Previously, it was noted regarding Psalm 104 that again and again there are references to God’s works. After cataloging all the wonderful things God had done, the writer says in verse 31, “The glory of the Lord shall endure for ever.” The writer of Psalm 19 exclaims, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” And in Psalm 97:6, “The heavens declare his righteousness, and all the people see his glory.” When we stand on a dark and starry night and look up into the heavens, we are able to say, “How glorious is God—how splendid He is—how magnificent!”
Our response to this will be that of Psalm 96:3–6,
Declare his glory among the heathen, His wonders among all people. For the Lord is great, and greatly to be praised: he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols: but the Lord made the heavens. Honour and majesty are before him: strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
Verse 7 commands, “Give unto the Lord, O ye kindreds of the people, give unto the Lord glory and strength.” To glorify and extol God who is a God of glory should be the response of man. It is good to sing the words of Revelation 4:11, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory . . . (the reason being) for thou best created all things. . . . ”
Man ought to be glorifying his Maker, but the tragedy is that this is not man’s response to God’s splendour. Romans 1 again tells what man’s reaction to God’s message has been—“And changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four footed beasts, and creeping things. . . .because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God.” What a deplorable picture for God to look down upon!
God has every right to expect that in response to His message which He has given through Creation (His greatness, His Godhead, His glory), man would worship, fear and glorify Him in glad submission. However, we have seen particularly from Romans 1 that the very opposite has been the case, and stated simply, that is what is wrong with our world.
It is because of sin that our own nation has such terrible problems.
It is because of sin that the Kampuchean nation is how it is today. It is because of sin that our own nation has such terrible problems. I would be laughed out of Parliament if I were to go there and say that—yet it is the truth. There would be no inflation if there were no sin. We would have so much money we would not know what to do with it. Millions of dollars are spent annually just repairing the damage done by vandals. Railway carriages slashed and telephone directories and booths vandalized, cost large sums every year. A good assignment for a Christian economist would be to write a book about the wastage in our country due to man’s sin. Because man has not responded to God in the way He deserves the world is in its desperate condition today.
God’s reaction against man’s reaction to His message in creation is recorded in Romans 1. In verse 18 Paul writes, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” God’s reaction against man’s rebellion is summed up in one word—“wrath.”
At the beginning of this article, reference was made to the new heavens and the new earth wherein righteousness will dwell. God’s greatness and glory are revealed in His creation, but knowledge regarding His righteousness is not imparted through gazing at the stars. Marvelous as it is, the message of creation is limited, therefore man needs the message of revelation—the Word of God. The Bible clearly states that God is a God of righteousness, and the way in which righteousness responds to unrighteousness is described in the one word “wrath.” Many regard as distasteful the attitude of wrath being applied to God because they consider Him to be a “composed gentleman” about whom the word “wrath’ is dreadfully inapplicable, whereas in fact the Bible on many occasions uses this word in regard to God. The Psalmist said, “God is angry with the wicked every day”—Psalm 7:11b, and in Ephesians 2:3 we read that all of us are “by nature the children of wrath.” What does it mean that God reacts in wrath against man’s sin? One of the Creeds states that “God is without passions.” The wrath of God is not a fit of temper, nor a sudden outburst of anger as is common among ourselves, but the settled reaction of His righteousness against man’s unrighteousness, of His holiness towards man’s sin.
Glimpses of this reaction can be seen and felt in the human experience. To amplify illustrations of A.H. Strong: imagine a law court situation with God in the seat of judgment and before Him a murderer against whom there is incontrovertible evidence. From the sidelines there comes a greasy looking fellow who taps the judge on the shoulder and says, “Judge, I’ll give you ten grand if you’ll let my buddy off.” What is a just judge to do? Would he say if he is a righteous judge, “See you at morning tea!”? No, he would say “Officer! Arrest this man and take him from this courtroom!” Or, supposing that abhorrent suggestions by some fiend of a fellow are made about a dear sister a pure and lovely girl: a man of principle and uprightness reacts with great indignation thus reflecting his love for his sister. And God, since He is a God of righteousness, must react against unrighteousness. In the Bible that reaction is called “wrath.”
Man’s response to God presents a miserable picture indeed. Romans 3 quotes from the Old Testament to show that every one of us has done what Romans 1 says. We have not worshipped God. We have not feared Him. We have not submitted to Him, and God’s reaction to all of this is His wrath.
However, against this gloomy picture of man’s reaction of rebellion against God’s message in creation, and God’s reaction to man in His wrath, is delightful and exciting news. Since God is a righteous God, mankind must expect two things: (a) that God will punish sin, and (b) that He will demand righteousness: both reasonable expectations. Romans 3:25 indicates how this is resolved: “Whom (i.e. Jesus Christ) God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God” (the sins that are past being the sins of the Old Testament believers). Was God really righteous to let David off with adultery and murder when according to the Law he should have been stoned? It does seem that God was not being righteous in His dealing with David.
However, God’s answer to this is found in the fact that “Jesus Christ has been set forth (and those words may include the idea of “in a public way,” which was what happened at Calvary) to be a propitiation through faith in His blood.” He was crucified not only for our sins, but also to tell us something about God—that whilst He appeared to be unrighteous in passing over the sins of those Old Testament people, in fact all their sins are accounted for in the death of Jesus Christ. God could pass over their sins in anticipation of what His Son would one day do on Calvary—that there He would bear the penalty and provide God with a just basis for doing what He did.
Man’s problem is obvious. If a righteous God must punish sin, and since “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”—Romans 3:23, what hope is there than any of the human race will escape the eternal wrath of God? Theologians who dislike the concept of God’s wrath, because in their opinion God is only a God of love, should note that the word “propitiation” (in contrast to “expiation” as some translations have it) is consistent with the teaching of the rest of the Bible. The death of Christ propitiates God, and the word “propitiation” contains the thought of averting the wrath of God. Leon Morris in his book The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross points out that this is not a process of celestial bribery whereby a chicken is killed to try to appease the gods. Jesus Christ in suffering the penalty for the sins of men, made it possible for God to change His treatment of man. Instead of having to react in terms of wrath, He can now react in terms of mercy because His wrath, His law and His justice, have been satisfied. So the wonderful news is that if we have faith in the blood of Jesus Christ which alone propitiates God, we shall receive the mercy of God instead of His punishment.
Nevertheless, a righteous God demands righteousness. He is indeed a God of love, (the Modernists are right though they only look at one side of the coin),—God loves us so tenderly as to desire to have us in heaven with Him forever, and “is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” However, His righteousness must demand righteousness, and who can attain to the perfect standard God sets? The question stabs at us again; “What hope is there?” On the one hand God desires to extend His arms of love to embrace all and take us to be with Him forever, but on the other hand He can do no other than keep us at arms length because His righteousness demands perfect purity. Again in this tension, within this ambivalence in Himself, it is God who provides the solution, through the death of Jesus Christ. Romans 3:26 states that the cross of Christ not only provides our forgiveness but “declares . . . at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” Justification is not a work done in man (as the Roman Catholic doctrine would teach)—it is a declaration made concerning man, something said about him. The Pidgin New Testament translates the thought of justification in the words, “God say him all right”—very close to the mark indeed!
Dr. Chas. Rolls, former Principal of Croydon Bible College, once gave an enlightening illustration of justification. On the occasion in the Garden of Gethsemane (the night of Jesus” betrayal), brave Peter whipped out his sword and sliced off the ear of a man called Malchus, servant of none other than the High Priest. Jesus lovingly put forth His hand and placed the ear right back where it belonged. It is highly probable though that Malchus still would not appreciate what Jesus had done, and his report to his master could be imagined to have sounded something like this: “Sir, I have a complaint to make against one of the followers of Jesus Christ”. “Oh”, says the High Priest, “and what did he do?” “He cut my ear off!” The High Priest looks first at one side of his head and then at the other, and perhaps wondered if he had had some mysterious third ear since those two appeared perfectly normal! Now, was Peter to be held guilty? Yes, he certainly was. However, there was no evidence that could be brought against him, so he was justified because of what Jesus had done in restoring the ear, and the law could not come down upon him to condemn him.
The problem is man’s. If God, a God of righteousness, demands righteousness as a condition of entry to heaven, how would we achieve this goal, because there is not one of us who has met God’s standards of righteousness.
God’s righteousness has two meanings. One “righteousness” is seen in Romans 3:25-26—His attribute, a righteousness intrinsic to Him. The other righteousness (verse 22) is a “by faith” righteousness . . . called “the gift of righteousness,” (Rom. 5:17), a righteousness which can be put to man’s account (4:3). That is God’s wonderful answer to man’s insuperable problem. We may obtain entrance into heaven through a righteousness not our own but credited to us because of what Christ has done on Calvary.
In a crude mathematical way it can be said that our initial position before God, apart from Jesus Christ, was negative infinity . . . we were afar off. The death of Christ is a death for sin, and when by faith I repent of my sins and receive Christ as my Lord and Saviour, God writes the benefits of that death to my account, so that my sins can be justly forgiven by God. Now that brings me, as it were, to zero. The wonderful thing is that justification includes a positive element—not only is the death of Christ placed to my account so that my sins can be forgiven, but the righteousness of Jesus Christ is put to my account and I am accepted in the Beloved. Justification does not make me a better man, but it declares that in the eyes of a holy God everything has been done so that He can remain just and justify me. God does not therefore receive anyone into heaven on an unjust basis.
The criminal serves out his time for absconding with half a million dollars, but when he comes out of jail the blot is still there and he is not accepted back at the bank. However, our record is totally blotted out and we are accepted fully in the Beloved, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Amy Carmichael’s biography contains the famous lines:
Upon a life I did not live
Upon a death I did not die—
Another’s life, Another’s death
I stake my whole eternity.
Where will your eternity be spent? Will it be spent in the new heaven and the new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness? I trust every reader of this article will be there “living happily ever after!”