Several years ago I purchased 5.5 acres of land in a rural area north of my home in Knoxville, Tennessee. My original intent was to build a house on it, and I may still someday, but really I just wanted some land. At the time someone told me, “That’s a wise investment, because they ain’t making more land.” I would have to agree, on both points. Yes, the area is growing and it very well may increase in value. But the “making more land” point is an insightful one. From what I can tell, there are no subdivisions of “new land” that have popped up recently. I’m not sure Zillow can even scan for that. The earth isn’t expanding to create more room for growth. From all accounts my 5.5 acres has been the same 5.5 acres from the beginning (with some cosmetic changes I’m sure) and will be until the end.
That made me wonder, when did creation stop? If you’re a believer (and if not I welcome you all the same), you would quickly open your Bible to the front for the creation narrative, in particular the beginning of chapter 2 which reads this way: “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” (Genesis 2.2-3) A few verses earlier we read this: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1.31) Given some key words like “all”, “rested”, and “good”, we may conclude that God created everything he wanted to create and was completely satisfied with it. God wrapped up the entirety of his creative work on that seventh day. Or, to put it in the negative, he created no more after the seventh day. That’s what makes my 5.5 acres of dirt valuable.
But this isn’t about investment strategies. There are some deeper implications at play here. If this is true, it means that God hasn’t created since day six. Not just dirt, but water, air, sugar maples, rabbits, helium, nothing. Not even people.
This is where the struggle should kick in. How can we say that nothing else has been created? Do we not see new things all the time? New animals, new plants, and especially new humans, all of which define the operation of the physical world as we know it. There’s a constant rhythm of renewal in the cosmos, surely an imprint of God’s creativity.
If you dig a little deeper you’ll discover the spiritual implications to be more unsettling. If God has finished his creation, then what does that make me? Am I nothing more than the sum of my genetic code? This would call into question our long-held ideal that we are made in God’s image.
Indeed, the Bible has much to say about our created-ness. Here are just a few samples:
“Is not he your father, who created you, who made you and established you?” (Deuteronomy 32.6)
“Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord.” (Psalm 102.18)
“everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” (Isaiah 43.7)
“Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us?” (Malachi 2.10)
So here we come to an impasse. While some parts of scripture state that God finished all of his creation after day six, other parts clearly describe a “continuing” creation, at least in the form of people. These are examples that many would use to highlight supposed contradictions in the Bible. But no biblical idea can be boiled down to a simple boxing match between conflicting verses. If it truly is God’s word then it will be more complex than that – he is God after all. Understanding him deserves a greater effort on our part.
If we further study the creation account, what stands out to me (and maybe you caught it too) is the difference between how the original creation and “continuing” creation were each accomplished. The original creation came, literally, from nothing. Even the raw materials God himself had to create. The world was void, formless, and dark, and into this absence the creator stepped. Yet he didn’t just make individual “things” (plants, animals, etc.) to be admired, like a craftsman displaying his newest works. God’s design was for a system, grand in scope and complex in function, by which the individual things were sustained and to which the individual things would contribute. Science would call it the “ecosystem”. Scripture would call it “creation”. God called it “very good”.
Though mankind was the pinnacle of creation, the only “thing” to reflect the creator’s image, he was no less a part of the system. After shaping man and woman in his own image, God gave them this command: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1.28) Built within them was the ability to “multiply”, no doubt to spread the image and authority of God throughout the earth. But we find that ability to be a system unto itself, one that continued the creative process beyond day six. We call it “procreation”, or perhaps another way to say it, “creation forward”. Physically speaking this wasn’t limited to mankind, but animals too had the ability. In fact most of creation was given some system of renewal, whether the seed of a plant, the cycle of water, or the change of seasons. God designed the system, his creation, to renew and replenish itself after his initial intervention, and that I would argue is even more ingenious and miraculous. God endowed his creation with the same creative power and authority that he wielded, but by means of procreation.
Whether you study the Bible or not, we are all well aware that this “very good” creation is no longer so. Sin sabotaged the system long ago, and God’s image in mankind has been significantly distorted. Still, procreation and renewal maintain the system like a machine, a divinely designed machine of which we are all a product. None of us were formed from nothing, nor from dirt as Adam was. All of us were born into this world, not through creation, but procreation.
Though the Bible does describe us as “created”, it just as quickly recognizes our “birth”. But in doing so we find a curious deviation from the original design: “When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image.” (Genesis 5.3) Did you notice the subtle contrast? Adam was created after God’s image, but Adam’s son was born in his image. Unlike creation, procreation depends on what came before and takes on that image.
That’s why you may look like one of your parents. That’s also why we sin like Adam. Romans 5.12 reads this way: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” We not only take on the physical traits, but the spiritual ones as well. God designed procreation to pass on his perfect image through his perfect creation Adam. But since Adam’s actions distorted that image, and the system, now procreation is stuck in a cycle of sin. We get a glimpse of that when Paul says, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” (Romans 8.22) David recognized it on a personal level: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51.5) Procreation still creates, but now only copies of the distorted original.
This helps to address another mindset that is prevalent in our culture. In days past we would we be quick to hide our personal sin. Now we not only acknowledge it, we celebrate it, but without calling it “sin”. One way we justify this is by proclaiming that “God made me this way”, the implication being that yes, I am flawed, but if God created me then he must have wanted me flawed. This would suggest that God is, at best, complicit in propagating sin, or worse, is comfortable with using sin as raw material. If we hold to the notion of “individual creation” and that we are each created from scratch in his image, then the worst conclusion would be that God himself is sinful, since we are a direct image of our creator.
Procreation relieves us from that burden. We are neither a direct creation nor a direct reflection of our creator. We are a distorted reflection born through a broken system into a fallen world. God takes no delight in that. That was not his intention for us. Indeed his intention for us was to be his direct reflection, bearing his image into every corner of his fresh new globe. But it didn’t work out that way. So if you need a scapegoat for your distorted reflection, feel free to take it all the way back to Adam, but only that far. God had an infinitely better plan for us. And he still does.
At this point it may seem like that plan has been thwarted, but God is by no means deterred. Just as Adam and Eve were tasked with filling the earth with offspring, so too is our task as procreators. In essence, our role is to continue the creative process. But before you spend much time thinking too highly of your role, remember your place in the system. Our relatively recent technological evolution tends to inflate the human ego, creating a false sense of power over that which we call life. Truly science is a marvel, and many benefits have arisen with the development of genetic research. We can control the physical body in many ways, some for good, some for ill. Ultimately, however, life itself, that indescribable essence that escapes even the highest philosophers, cannot be grasped by human instruments. We are not above the process, but are subject to it. Life may come through us, but it is not by us. We can choose whether or not to birth a baby, but only the creator can choose to grant life to that baby, just as he granted it to each of us, and to those who will come after us. We are each a product of and a contributor to the system.
What should we conclude from all of this? Are we created or born? Yes. Procreation itself was designed by God as a system to continue his creative work. You could say that God rested on the seventh day because he didn’t have to continue. His system was performing as designed. In essence, procreation is creation, but through the medium of birth. In creation, the raw material was hand-built out of the void. In procreation, the raw material has been passed down for ages, combining and recombining to produce the vast variety all around us. Though sin has taken it’s toll, the fact that the process still works is a miracle in itself. But as the procreators we can take no credit, for we too depend on the process. At best we can take credit for genetic manipulation, but life itself is God’s handiwork alone, whether formed in the void or formed in the womb. God may have rested from his creation, but his creation hasn’t rested.
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