One of the most basic impulses of the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment west has been to get rid of God. The Enlightenment brought a revolution. In Christian antiquity, God was and we were becoming. In Modernity (and late modernity) we are and God is becoming. The God of Scripture, however, just is. Genesis begins with God without explanation: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The Word knows nothing about a world without God but it does know of an existence in which there is God and nothing else. In other words, according to Scripture, God is and we might or might not be. We exist solely at the good pleasure and decree of God Almighty. According to Modernity, however, God is the result of our consciousness or a projection of our imagination or longings. In contrast, according to Scripture, we are the consequence of God’s will and Word. These two conceptions are irreconcilable. The prevailing Modern conception of God (and man) is essentially pagan. In this respect we have much in common with Moses and the original setting of Genesis, which was given to God’s people, who were surrounded by pagans. The Christian account of the world puts us profoundly and fundamentally at odds with modernity.
In that light the language of Heidelberg Catechism Q. 26 is bracing.
26. What do you believe when you say: “I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth”?
That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who of nothing made heaven and earth with all that in them is, who likewise upholds and governs the same by His eternal counsel and providence, is for the sake of Christ, His Son, my God and my Father, in whom I so trust, as to have no doubt that He will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul; and further, that whatever evil He sends upon me in this vale of tears, He will turn to my good; for He is able to do it, being almighty God, and willing also, being a faithful Father.
Remember, the second part of the catechism is an account of the faith structured by the Apostles’ Creed, whence the language of the question is derived. This is the ancient Christian assertion: God is almighty. Any God that is not almighty, is not God.
When we think of God the Father, we must think of him first as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is our Father by virtue of creation but we are thinking of him, in this instance, as our Father in grace and salvation. In that case he is our Father by adoption. Not that we adopted him, far from it! No, in Christ, he adopted us.
The God whose children we are is the God who spoke creation into being from nothing (ex nihilo). One of the great struggles faced by the early church was pagan notion that something else is co-eternal with God. The Biblical and Christian conviction is that God is the Creator of all that is. As we confront modernity in its various forms we would do well to draw the lines of combat well. We may be personally convinced that we know when God created the world (i.e., the age of the earth) or how long all or some of the creation days were but, in our contest with modernity, the issue is less about time and much more about nature. There is abundant evidence in the lives of congregations that it is quite possible to hold the most traditional views of the age of the earth and the length of the creation days and yet to live as if there were no such thing as a Creator, nature, and divinely established patterns for creation and creatures.
The tendency of modernity has been to identify God with creation (pantheism, process theology, open theism etc) or to banish him to the attic, were it possible. Again, the Christian doctrine of God confesses the antithesis. The God who made all that is, sustains all that is. He is not absent nor is he utterly identified with his creation. No, he upholds that which he made. He is intimately involved with his creation. His continual and sustaining care for his creation is such that, should he withdraw from the world, it would cease to be. To any reasonable person (i.e., a person in their right mind who is not in denial of universal sense experience) there is order in creation. That order is evidence of God’s detailed and wonderful care for his creation.
The sustaining wisdom that God exercises in his world is eternal. The world is not a machine and God is not surprised by the choices made by his creatures. Yes, we do make uncoerced choices but God has known those choices as eternally and instantly present. Contrary to those forms of paganism that say that it is our free choices that give meaning to an otherwise meaningless universe, Christians should understand that the free choices we make are comprehended in his decree and it is his good and wise decree that gives our choices meaning—because he chooses to execute his will through our choices.
Modernity has sought to be rid of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ but Christian theism still haunts the neo-pagan west. Even the most irreligious of our late modern age lapse into the language of faith and hope for the future. Few are willing to settle for the bleakness of an utterly chaotic and meaningless existence. We should give thanks that there is no need to trade in the Christian doctrine of the active, sovereign providence of God for the mess of modern stew.