Visible Things: Their Origin, Nature, and Purpose
The Bible invites us to see God’s hand in the visible world, in its creation, in its nature, and in its intent.
This essay surveys the basic truths about creation that are taught in the Bible, explains God’s purposes in the visible creation, discusses the function of mankind within that creation, and addresses the realities of the curse and renewal of that creation.
According to Colossians 1:16, “by him [the beloved Son] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities.” Among all the things that God created, let us focus particularly on visible things.
Focus on the Visible
Genesis 1 focuses on visible things. “God created the heavens and the earth” (1:1). God created light (1:3). God made the expanse (“Heaven,” vv. 7-8). He made the sea and the dry land (the third day). He made vegetation (the third day). He made the heavenly lights (the fourth day). He made the sea creatures and the birds (the fifth day). He made land animals and mankind (the sixth day).
The Bible indicates that God created invisible things as well–angelic beings (Col 1:16). He created everything. He rules over everything (Psa 103:19). But at an early point, in Gen 1, the Bible focuses on the visible things, which are most accessible to us as human beings, and which vividly illustrate God’s wisdom, power, and goodness (Rev 4:11; 5:13). For these he is worthy of praise.
Fundamental Truths about Creation
The scope of the account in Genesis 1 underlines several things about the created world.
- God made everything.
- God is one God, in contrast to the polytheistic views of many ancient peoples around Israel.
- The things that God made offer him no resistance, no competition, because all things are completely in accord with his specifications. He completely controls and masters them.
- God evaluates his own handiwork as good. It is good in matching his specifications. The Lord rejoices in his works (Psa 104:31).
- Evil is a later intrusion into an originally good creation. Good and evil are not equally ultimate.
- God created by speaking, such as by saying, “Let there be light” (verse 3). His speech specifies the things he created, and at the same time his speech has divine power to bring about the creation of what he specifies (Psa 33:6; 2Cor 4:6).
Consequently, the whole world and everything in it is a product of God’s mind, of his purposes, and of his word.
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
and by the breath of his mouth all their host (Psa 33:6).
But the world is not identical with God’s mind. Rather, the world is through and through creaturely, distinct from the Creator.
The things in the world are not only distinct from God, but also distinct from one another. The light is distinct from the darkness (Gen 1:4). The waters above the expanse are distinct from the waters under the expanse (v. 7). The dry land is distinct from the seas (vv. 9-10). The different kinds of plants are distinct from each other. Each plant reproduces “each according to its kind” (v. 11). This distinction of things is something to be celebrated. God made particular things, and particular kinds of things. Look at the ants crawling on the sidewalk.
God and His Purposes
Genesis 1 is in some respects simple. It describes ordinary things that people can observe. But it is religiously profound, because it shows how everything relates to God who made it.
Each created thing displays the care and wisdom of God, because he has thought through its specifications.
Each created thing fits into a larger world, created according to God’s comprehensive plan. We can see aspects of this plan in the organization of the six distinct days and their creative acts. In the first three days God creates major regions of the world – the “regions” of light and darkness on the first day, and then the spatial regions of heaven and earth, sea and dry land on the second and third days. On days four to six he creates specific creatures who belong with these regions. The fourth day has heavenly lights, which are to be associated both with the spatial region of heaven and with the temporal succession of light and darkness. The fifth day provides inhabitants for the sea and the heaven. The sixth day provides inhabitants for the dry land. The plants created on the third day serve as food for the animals and for mankind (v. 30).
The result is that we can see that God knows what he is doing. It fits together. The world presents us with a harmonious whole, because God is first of all in harmony with himself. We should admire the wisdom of God manifested in each particular kind of creature, whether it be a tulip or a worm. We should also admire the wisdom of God in making a world where each creature fits harmoniously into a larger world, and thereby also fits into a larger plan of God.
The world is not only a harmonious whole but has a purpose and a destiny in harmony with its beginning. God has designed that human beings should “[b]e fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion …” (v. 28). Human beings have a purpose to achieve. As God rested on the seventh day (Gen 2:2-3), so at the proper time human beings, having completed God’s purpose for their labor, will enter into God’s rest (Heb 4:10).
The world also has a purpose. It is a dynamic whole. The plants and animals reproduce according to their kind. The world as a whole is destined to be “filled with the glory of the Lord” (Num 14:21; cf. Hab 2:14). The endpoint of God’s purposes is depicted in Rev 21:1-22:5, and God has already crafted the world from the beginning with that endpoint in view.
The Uniqueness of Mankind
We should also take into account the uniqueness of human beings, in comparison with every other creature mentioned in Gen 1. The final and climactic act of creation is the creation of man “in the image of God” (vv. 26-27). Man is a creature alongside the animals, but he is also distinct from the animals, in that he alone is described as made in the image of God, and he is called to exercise dominion over the whole of the lower world, including all the animals (verse 28).
Genesis 2 further underlines the uniqueness of mankind by showing in greater detail that God was intimately involved in creating the first man, Adam (v. 7), and the first woman, Eve. Eve is miraculously fashioned from Adam’s rib (vv. 21-23), indicating her unique status. And God’s unique purpose is evident, in the fact that Eve and not any animal is “a helper fit for him” (v. 18; cf. vv. 23-24).
The Display of God’s Goodness and Magnificence
God glorifies himself by displaying his wisdom and power in the things that he has made (Rom 1:18-23). He also shows his goodness by providing mankind with a suitable environment with many delights. The trees in the garden of Eden are “pleasant to the sight and good for food” (v. 9).
Later passages in the Bible reflect with praise and gratitude on the goodness of God displayed in the created order.
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork (Psa 19:1).
God gives benefits to animals and especially to mankind:
You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills;
they give drink to every beast of the field;
the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell;
they sing among the branches.
From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart (Psa 104:10-15).
May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works,
who looks on the earth and it trembles,
who touches the mountains and they smoke!
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord (Psa 104:31-34).
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (Matt 6:26-30)
Appreciation, Failure, and Renewal
We need to see that, in the design of God, the world has many dimensions. We can explore God’s design for physical causation, as we study physics; his design for living things and their reproduction, as we study biology; his design for the starry multitude, as we study astronomy. In all these ways and many others we are exploring not merely dead facts, but the multifaceted wisdom of God. The world is not only regular; it is useful to us – a blessing to us. It is not only a blessing, but it presents us with things of awesome beauty. All of it should stimulate our praise (Psa 148).
This display of God’s goodness is there for all to see. Yet ever since the fall of Adam, people have suppressed the truth. They refuse to see:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Rom 1:18-20)
The fall of Adam also resulted in disruption of the originally good creation, a disruption extending beyond mankind to include a curse on the ground (Gen 3:17). The world continues to display God’s goodness; but it also displays his displeasure, because of sin.
The Bible invites us once again to see God’s hand in the world. God sent Christ to redeem us from our darkness, our sin, and our lack of excuse. Through the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, he teaches us to praise him. “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Rev 5:13).
- Bavinck, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics: Volume 2: God and Creation. Ed. John Bolt. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004. Chapter 10, 473-507.
- Frame, John. Nature’s Case for God: A Brief Biblical Argument. Bellingham, WA: Lexham, 2018.
- Gonzalez, Guillermo, and Jay W. Richards. The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery. Washington, DC: Regnery, 2004.
- “The Goodness of Creation,” Tabletalk Magazine, Ligonier Ministries.
- Hibbs, Pierce T. “Finding God in the Ordinary.”
- Hibbs, Pierce T. Finding God in the Ordinary. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2018.
- Piper, John. “The Pleasure of God in His Creation.”
- Poythress, Vern S. Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006. Especially chapters 1, 4, 11, 18, 20-23. Available in PDF here.
- Poythress, Vern S. “Science as Allegory,” Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 35/2 (1983): 65-71.
- Whelchel, Hugh. “Why Does It Matter That God Called Creation ‘Very Good’?”
- Wilson, Ralph F. “1. Psalms: Marveling at God’s Majesty in Creation (Psalms 8, 19, 139).”
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