God’s Goodness: Human Origins and Creation

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god’s goodness: human origins and creation

Messages and Essays on God’s Goodness: Human Origins and Creation

The Creation Account in Genesis and Tolkien's Silmarillion Tolkien's poetic vision of creation as a song is brilliant and helpful for us to understand how God can create other beings with wills of their own; I point out the limitation I see, but have deep appreciation for him.

Human Dignity: Does Every Individual Matter? Science, philosophy, existentialism, other religions, and double-predestination based theologies mean that some human beings do not matter. Only a fully Trinitarian theology with a medical substitutionary atonement can provide an adequate foundation.

Why Human Free Will is Essential to Being in the Image of the Triune God God is an infinitely good being whose love determines His nature, and vice versa. So He had to make us originally good, with the invitation to love to determine our nature. This is why our choices shape our nature and desires. This is a letter to a friend, concerning his exegetical paper.

How Our Choices Shape Our Desires: Humanity Experiencing the Triune God This is a message based on the framework described above. God is an infinitely good being whose love determines His nature, and vice versa. So He had to make us originally good, with the invitation to love to determine our nature. This is why our choices shape our nature and desires.

The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil: What Was It, Really?  Was Evil Necessary? This is a small group leader discussion guide to Genesis 2:8 - 17 and the nature of the Two Trees in the original Garden of Eden. They are not arbitrary, but were, in fact, necessary.

The Theme of the Heart, Human Being, and Human Becoming in the Book of Proverbs These notes explore how the Proverbs see our own human hearts as tablets on which God calls us to write His wise teachings

Irenaeus, Theodicy, and the Problem of Evil: His Lost Work "That God is Not the Author of Evil" and Evangelism Today  A paper submitted to the Pappas Patristics Institute in March 2019.

Early Christian Reflections on Creation, Human Being, and Human Becoming

Protestants do not give sufficient attention to human nature.  This mistake leads to tendencies: We view ourselves as human doings more often than human beings. We view the garden as an arbitrary form of ‘probation’ externally and legally imposed on us, rather than a context of ordered beauty necessary for our internal and intrinsic development. We see God as waiting for us to fail, and pounce. We interpret the consequences of the fall in terms external to us (hardship, exile as punishment) rather than internal to us (alienation from God as life-giver, but prevented from immortalizing sin in ourselves). 

We wrongly associate ‘good works’ with something extrinsic to us (like a score sheet in God's mind) rather than intrinsic to us (like the neurological development of our brain, and the formation of our human nature as a whole). We see the significance of Jesus' death in terms external to him rather than internal to him.  That is, we think Jesus absorbed divine punishment and deflected it from us, whereas he shared in the corruption of our human nature, and healed it as one of us, to share his new humanity with us. And we connect our joy in heaven or sorrow in hell to factors external rather than internal to us, namely that we have been adjusted so we can participate in God's love. 

The following are examples of Christian theologians or literature from the early church describing human beings as human becomings, and human nature as a work in progress, involving our choices to love.

Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Magnesians, chapter 5 describes us by using an analogy of the coin becoming stamped and minted; the longer version reads, ‘Seeing, then, all things have an end, and there is set before us life upon our observance [of God's precepts], but death as the result of disobedience, and every one, according to the choice he makes, shall go to his own place, let us flee from death, and make choice of life. For I remark, that two different characters are found among men--the one true coin, the other spurious. The truly devout man is the right kind of coin, stamped by God Himself. The ungodly man, again, is false coin, unlawful, spurious, counterfeit, wrought not by God, but by the devil. I do not mean to say that there are two different human natures, but that there is one humanity, sometimes belonging to God, and sometimes to the devil. If any one is truly religious, he is a man of God; but if he is irreligious, he is a man of the devil, made such, not by nature, but by his own choice. The unbelieving bear the image of the prince of wickedness. The believing possess the image of their Prince, God the Father, and Jesus Christ, through whom, if we are not in readiness to die for the truth into His passion, His life is not in us.’

Epistle to Diognetus, chapters 11 - 12 describes the positive side of spiritual growth: the human being increases in virtue, with God

Epistle of Barnabas, chapters 4 and 20 describes the impact of sin on human nature as self-harm

Athenagoras of Athens, The Resurrection of the Dead chapters 14 - 15 argues that resurrection is God's will for human beings according to our nature, not simply for judgment revealing good or evil choices, because young children who have not done either will be raised; yet we are meant to have virtue and nobility in ourselves

Theophilus of Antioch, To Autolycus book 1, chapter 2 says, "regarding the eyes of the soul and the ears of the heart, that it is by them we are able to behold God. For God is seen by those who are enabled to see Him when they have the eyes of their soul opened: for all have eyes; but in some they are overspread, and do not see the light of the sun. Yet it does not follow, because the blind do not see, that the light of the sun does not shine; but let the blind blame themselves and their own eyes. So also you, O man, have the eyes of your soul overspread by your sins and evil deeds. As a burnished mirror, so ought man to have his soul pure. When there is rust on the mirror, it is not possible that a man's face be seen in the mirror; so also when there is sin in a man, such a man cannot behold God."

Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies book 4, chapter 29, paragraph 1 uses the image of the sun for God, where human free will determines how we experience the sun

Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies book 4, chapter 29, paragraphs 1 - 4 again explains God as light, and free will as determining the state of our eyes, thus hell is self-blinding

Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, book 4, chapter 38 refers to God’s intent for humanity in creation as growth and ascent towards the perfect, that is, Himself

Origen of Alexandria, On First Principles book 3, paragraph 11 says that God is the sun, and we become either like softened wax or hardened clay by our choices

Aphrahat of Syria, Demonstration 17, paragraph 7 says that God created us with moral discernment, and also that God wanted us to welcome Him in our thoughts, as He first conceived us in His thoughts:  "And after that God brought forth Adam from within His thought, He fashioned him, and breathed into him of His Spirit, and gave him the knowledge of discernment, that he might discern good from evil, and might know that God made him. And inasmuch as man knew his Maker, God was formed and conceived within his thought, and he became a temple for God his Maker, as it is written, You are the temple of God. And (so) He Himself said:— I will dwell in them and walk in them. But as for the sons of Adam, who do not recognise their Maker, He is not formed within them, and does not dwell in them, and is not conceived in their thought; but they are accounted before Him as the beasts, and as the rest of the creatures."

Athanasius of Alexandria, Life of Antony This is the paradigm-setting book that influenced many Christian leaders afterwards.  Athanasius pays attention to how Antony cultivated ‘virtue’ - the life of Christ - within himself.

Ambrose of Milan, On the Christian Faith, book 3, chapter 20 writes of angels, ‘Even in their nature there is a capacity of sin, though not one of improvement by discipline’ as with us, ‘for every reasonable creature is exposed to influences from without itself, and liable to judgment. It is on the influences which work upon us that the award of judgment, and corruption, or advance to perfection’

Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 2, paragraph 1 describes sin as self-harm, but in this life not incurable

Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 6, paragraph 29 refers to God being like a sun, whose nature is not to blind, but a person's eyes can be diseased and hurt, and thus blinded

Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 18, paragraphs 19 - 20 describes sin as producing scarring that needs healing and cleansing

Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses This is a classic of spiritual formation.  Gregory uses the story of Moses ascending Mount Sinai as a motif for the Christian infinitely ascending in experience of God.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Demonstrations by Syllogism, Proof that the Divinity is Impassible, paragraph 15 Says that we imprint our sins on our own bodies, commenting on Colossians 2:14.  'If our Lord and Saviour nailed the handwriting to the cross, as says the divine Apostle, He then nailed the body, for on his body every man like letters marks the prints of his sins, wherefore on behalf of sinners He gave up the body that was free from all sin.'

John of Damascus, Exposition of the Christian Faith, book 2, chapter 12 says that we are made in the image of God (human being) and are meant to grow in the likeness of God (human becoming); the acquisition of virtue in us, by us, in partnership with God, is human becoming; see also book 3, chapter 14

Anthony Hughes, Ancestral Versus Original Sin: An Overview with Implications for Psychotherapy (St. Mary Orthodox Church) presents a helpful explanation between the Eastern "corrupted nature" view of the fall, against the Augustinian-Western "inherited guilt" view, and spells out some practical implications for counseling and therapy

Books and Articles on God’s Goodness: Human Origins and Creation

C.S. Lewis, Perelandra (Amazon book, 1944) a science fiction parable that imagines how a planet without a fall would look like

David Bentley Hart, Nihilism and Freedom  (lecture; date unknown)Hart gives a historical overview of how Christian views of "God's sovereignty" and "human freedom" changed over time

John Polkinghorne interview (note 8:57min mark about quantum mechanics, determinacy, human free will, and openness)

James Olthius, Be(com)ing: Humankind as Gift and Call (Philosophia Reformata, 1993)

Colin Gunton, The Doctrine of Creation (pdf book, 1997)

Colin Gunton, The Triune Creator: A Historical and Systematic Study (pdf book, 1998)

Andy Crouch, Are We Created? (video)

Derrick, David Bentley Hart on Impassibility as Joyful, Transcendent Love (A Greater Courage blog, Apr 12, 2012)

Alexis Torrance, The Concept of the Person in Orthodoxy (Pravoslavie, Mar 14, 2013)

Matthew A. Moser, On the Challenges of Dante #1: Taking Goodness Seriously (blog, Feb 2014)

N.T. Wright, The Song of Worship (youtube video, Mar 17, 2014)

Greg Boyd, Process Theology and Open Theism: What's the Difference? (Mar 24, 2014)

Ryan Reeves, The Silmarillion (youtube video lecture, Sep 14, 2014)

Father Aidan Kimel, Christos Yannaras: The Fall of Humanity into the Desperate Passion for Survival (Eclectic Orthodoxy blog, Jan 11, 2015)

Thomas Belt, At Liberty to Become Free (Eclectic Orthodoxy blog, Aug 21, 2015)

Thomas Jay Oord, The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence (Amazon book, Dec 6, 2015)

Thomas Jay Oord, How is Divine Providence Possible, if the Future is Unknown to God? (youtube video, Dec 10, 2015)

Ronald Osborn, The Scandalous Origins of Human Rights (Veritas Forum, Jan 15, 2016)

Tom Belt, God Wills Our Improvisation (An Open Orthodoxy blog, Apr 6, 2016)

Frank Wilczek, Why Is the World So Beautiful? (On Being, Apr 28, 2016)

John Milbank, The Analogy of Being (University of Nottingham, Jun 16, 2016)

Christopher Fisher, God is Not All-Powerful, and the Bible Tells Us So (Uncontrolling Love, Aug 25, 2016)

Bobby Grow, The Covenant of Works, the Covenant of Grace: What Are They? The Evangelical Calvinists Respond (Evangelical Calvinist, Sep 19, 2016) 

Jason Micheli, If There’s a Reason for Everything, There’s No Reason to Worship (Tamed Cynic blog, May 17, 2017)

god’s goodness: the trinity