Is God distinct from creation?

Luke Wayne
3/8/17

God is distinct from His creation. God is above and beyond all the finite things He has made, and while God may choose to interact with and even fellowship with His creation, the things God brought into existence do not share in His divine essence or Being.

In most forms of Hinduism, the universe is considered to be a manifestation of the divine essence and thus to, in one sense or another, be a part of or an expression of "God." Similar ideas have become increasingly popular in the west in the last few centuries, such as pantheism (the belief that "God" and the material universe are synonymous) and panentheism (the belief that, while God transcends creation, the created universe exists in God and is a part of God's being). In each of these ideas, the distinction between God and creation is blurred or outright denied. At best, the "God" of these systems is distinct from the world the way that I am distinct from my own lungs or heart. My heart may not exhaust all that I am, but it shares in my existence and is an essential part of my very being.

The God of the Bible, however, is not like this at all. God exists wholly apart from His creation. He does not need the universe, and the universe is not part of His being or nature. God created all things outside Himself rather than merely emanating them out from His own essence. God is not the universe, and the universe is not part of God.

From Beginning to End

The creation account in Genesis 1:1-2:24 is clearly a description of God creating, forming, and fashioning a universe entirely distinct from Himself. God does not "become," "emanate," or otherwise extend His own being into any of the things formed. God creates. He commands, and things come into being. He makes man in His image, but not after His kind or out of His substance. He forms man from the dirt and brings him to life as a separate and distinct living thing. From the opening words of the Bible, we are immediately confronted with the fact that God is separate from and superior to the things He has made. Indeed, our worship of God is rooted, in part, in the fact that He is our distinct creator and sustainer. He is a God utterly outside ourselves to whom we owe our finite existence.

"Let them praise the name of the Lord, For He commanded and they were created. He has also established them forever and ever; He has made a decree which will not pass away," (Psalm 148:5-6).

"For the Lord is a great God And a great King above all gods, In whose hand are the depths of the earth, The peaks of the mountains are His also. The sea is His, for it was He who made it, And His hands formed the dry land. Come, let us worship and bow down, Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand," (Psalm 95:3-7).

The grandeur of God is magnified in the very fact that He cannot be identified with any other existing thing:

"'To whom then will you liken Me That I would be his equal?' says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high And see who has created these stars, The One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, Not one of them is missing," (Isaiah 40:25-26).

The last book of the Bible, like the first, confronts us with the fact that God is not His creation, and His creation owes Him worship and sole allegiance:

"And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, 'To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever,'” (Revelation 5:13).

From beginning to end, the Bible presents us with a God who is distinct from creation and makes that central to our relationship to Him. This is not a tertiary fact, but rather a foundational biblical truth.

Jehovah Among the Gods

That God is entirely distinct from His creation and utterly unlike anything He has made is perhaps the central reason why images of God are forbidden throughout Scripture and why idolatry is such a grave sin. For example, when the apostle Paul traveled to Athens, "his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols," (Acts 17:16). He confronted the pagan worshipers, proclaiming to them:

"The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things," (Acts 17:24-25).

Temples do not share in God's essence, and He does not dwell in them. God is not His creation, His existence does not depend on His creation, and He is far above and beyond the things He has made. This is what made idolatry so foolish. Now, some will point out that Paul goes on to quote Epimenides, saying "in Him we live and move and exist," (Acts 17:28) and will claim that this points to a shared existence or essence between God and men. That is not Paul's point at all, however. Not only has Paul just affirmed, as we have seen, that God is a distinct creator that does not depend on or dwell within creation, but when we look at the context, Paul's argument from the pagan poets is nothing remotely pantheistic:

"For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent," (Acts 17:28-30).

Paul's point is that even pagan writers acknowledge that God formed us, so why should we think that God could be like something we ourselves can form? These statements, in fact, outright deny that God shares in the essence of material things like gold or stone, and thus point to the distinction between God and creation rather than any unity between the two. The very thing that the Greeks were being called to repent of was worshipping created things as if they were God when they are not.

"For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen," (Romans 1:25).

The earliest Christian writers argued in this same vein, pointing out the foolishness of thinking that any or all created things could be God and emphasizing the necessary distinction. For example, one of the earliest works of Christian apologetics says to the Greek pagan reader:

"Do you accept of the vain and silly doctrines of those who are deemed trustworthy philosophers? Of whom some said that fire was God, calling that God to which they themselves were by and by to come; and some water; and others some other of the elements formed by God. But if any one of these theories be worthy of approbation, every one of the rest of created things might also be declared to be God. But such declarations are simply the startling and erroneous utterances of deceivers," (Epistle to Diognetus, Chapter 8).

There is no room in Christian thought for a divine universe or a God who shares His own existence or essence with creation.

Omnipresence Isn't Pantheism

It is also common to see people argue that passages which claim that God is present everywhere at once or that He isn't bound by time, space, or location somehow prove God's oneness with the created universe. Since He is everywhere, it is presumed He must also be everything. This doesn't logically follow at all. Just because I am present at my house doesn't mean that I am my house. Just because I am in my office doesn't mean that I am my office. To be at, with, in, or among something is not the same is to be that thing. Further, these verses actually assume God's distinction from creation. For example:

"Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, 'Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, And the light around me will be night,' Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You," (Psalm 139:7-12).

This passage certainly claims that the vast presence of God is not bound by location and that one cannot escape His presence. The Psalmist goes on in the very next lines, however, to clearly describe himself as a creation distinct from God:

"For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them," (Psalm 139:13-16).

Likewise with other Omnipresence passages. Jeremiah wrote:

"'Can a man hide himself in hiding places So I do not see him?' declares the Lord. 'Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?' declares the Lord," (Jeremiah 23:24).

This passage, again, shows that man cannot hide from God. It does not, however, say that a man cannot escape God because that man actually is God or is a part of God. Indeed, the assumption of a man trying to hide from God is that God is a separate thing from which the man seeks to hide, and the passage does not contend with that assumption at all. Instead, the passage simply says that God is so vast that there is nowhere man can go to escape Him. Similarly, we see passages related to the temple:

"Thus says the Lord, 'Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest?'" (Isaiah 66:1).

"But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built!" (1 Kings 8:27).

These passages speak of God's immense grandeur, but they are not the kind of thing someone would write who believed that the Temple was just as much a part of God as anything else. Heaven is God's throne; it is not God Himself. The earth is God's footstool, not part of His body. The Temple's smallness is compared to God's vastness, but no unity between the two in essence or being are implied. God is magnified above creation here, not merged with it.

Conclusion

The Bible everywhere distinguishes God from His creation and nowhere implies any union or blurring of the two. The view that God and the universe are in any sense the same being is an idolatry from which God calls men to repent. This is not a small difference between Christianity and Hinduism or other pantheistic faiths. It is an absolutely foundational matter. It is a Gospel issue.