December 05, 2006

Christ the Creator

One of the central affirmations about Jesus in the NT is that he is one and the same with God the creator, and in fact all things were created through him. And I’ve always seen this as being part of a clear affirmation of Jesus as God—being on par with saying something like “Jesus is so completely God that he is the creator God.” It also serves as an affirmation of the fact that Jesus isn’t a created being, a creature like us, only of a higher sort (a point that had to be reaffirmed a few hundred years later against Arius). But in doing some reading on atonement, I’ve come to appreciate another deep meaning in the simple statement that God created the world through Jesus. Athanasius, one of the theological giants of the first four centuries and a participant in the council of Nicaea, wrote that it is proper for us to think of God redeeming this world that he has made. He argues that while it wouldn’t have shown weakness for God not to have created, once God had created, it was fitting and proper for God to redeem the world, and in fact not redeeming it was out of the question. He goes on to make the point that it is also fitting that this work of redemption would be done by the same Word through whom the world was created. He writes, “For it will appear not inconsonant for the Father to have wrought its salvation in him by whose means he made it” (from “On the Incarnation of the Word,” Christology of the Later Fathers, 56). It may seem a simple insight, but for me, it turns the logic of thinking of Christ as creator on its head. I had always though of it as an affirmation of the deity of Christ, an affirmation of who he is, but Athanasius helps us to see that more than that, thinking of Christ as creator is fitting, because how else would God re-create the world that he had made except in the same way that it had been created in the first place. This simple insight helps to recontextualize our thinking about what atonement means. More than thinking of it just as forgiveness or freedom, we appreciate that in Christ, God was displaying his purposes for creation. In learning about Jesus, and appreciating his action as the action of the very Creator of our world, we come to know all the more intimately about who we are as God’s creation and what we were created for.

Athanasius certainly wasn’t the first Christian thinker to put these pieces together. There is ample evidence that his pattern of thought was clearly present already in the NT. Paul makes these same connections for us in Colossians 1 and helps us begin to appreciate their significance. In Col 1:15, he beings by asserting that Christ is the “image of the invisible God,” and moreover that “by him all things were created.” So we start with a clear affirmation of Christ’s divinity, and see him as Creator, with authority over all things. But Paul then goes on to connect this image of Christ as creator with his work of holding all things together. That speaks both of his work of creation and his work of redemption. Jesus was God reconciling all things to himself because Jesus is God in whom all things hold together, and it is fitting that the work of atonement and reconciliation would be done by him. What an amazing thought.

(Colin Gunton writes quite a lot about the theme of Christ as Creator in The Triune Creator, and I am sure he has these insights well in view. Being in Peru and thousands of miles from the great majority of my library means I can’t consult it to read further at this point.)

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