4 Nov

In Him we have our being

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 11/04/15

E. L. Mascall on the meaning of creation

E. L. Mascall (1905-1993)

“[F]or Christian thought, the idea of creation is not primarily concerned with the coming of the world into being at some moment in the past, but with a never-ceasing act by which God preserves the world in existence so long as he wills that it shall exist. It is true that the great majority of Christians have interpreted the opening chapters of the Bible as describing, either literally or in a pictorial and metaphorical way, the first beginning of the finite universe, whether or not they have adopted Archbishop Ussher’s dating of the event as 4004 B.C. It is also true that scholars commonly use the term ‘creation-narratives’ to denote the passages in question, and they go on to point out how in the Bible the world is represented as coming into existence through the almighty command of the one supreme and unique Lord, and not, as in most other religions, as a result of the loves and hates of a whole set of miscellaneous deities. Christian theology, however, was not slow to understand that, in whatever manner the stories in Genesis are to be interpreted, the relation between God and the world, to which the term ‘creation’ properly applies, is not to be thought of as an act in the past by which the universe originated, but as an incessant activity by which it is conserved in existence. . . .

“Even when we describe creation as a continuous act of God, this does not mean that God is himself in time exercising a continuous activity. Time, as we have seen, is the condition of existence of creatures, not of God. God himself is ‘above’ or ‘outside’ time. The act by which God creates the universe does not occur in time, for time itself is an attribute of that which is created. The difference between the creation of a world which had a beginning and the creation of a world which has always existed is not the difference between an act which began at a certain moment and an act which has always been going on. It is the difference between two acts both of which are timeless: the act of creating a world whose time-measure has a lower boundary and the act of creating a world whose time-measure has no lower boundary. Creation is not a ‘process’; it is the timeless act of God on which all processes depend. 

“There are thus two fundamental notions in the Christian doctrine of creation. First, that creation is an act of God which operates upon a creature not only at the moment when it comes into being (if indeed there is such a moment) but at every moment of its existence. Secondly, that the act of creation does not itself take place in time, since time is an attribute of the creature and comes into existence with it.”

—from E. L. Mascall, What do we Mean by the Creation of the World? (The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1960)