Towards a theology integrating creation, providence and redemption in our daily work, rest and family – A/Prof Alan Gijsbers

Integrating a creation theology with our redemption theology

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from Luke’s Journal 2021 | Fire in the Belly 2021 | Vol.26 No.1

“[God’s] creation is not an end, but a beginning – complete in itself as such, but still a beginning. It is not, therefore, an end in itself. Nor is it simply conditioned by what might happen further between God and man on quite different presuppositions…the creation of God took place for the sake of the covenant and that itself it was the beginning of the covenant…”
(K Barth, Church Dogmatics part IV the doctrine of reconciliation, p 131, Continuum edition 2004).

Integration

This paper seeks to move us as Christians to integrate a creation theology with our redemption theology. Where they are separated, we tend to separate our Sundays from our Mondays, our walk with God from our daily tasks. But our salvation impacts the whole of our life. We cannot separate our salvation from what we do every day. As Barth indicates above, creation is the stage on which God continues to express His covenant of love to His people. As well as integrating our theologies, this paper seeks to integrate our understanding of work (both paid and unpaid work) with leisure, to integrate work life with home life, and to integrate work with worship. Further, it seeks to integrate being and doing, and to integrate mission and evangelism. It seeks to integrate what we do in church with what we do in our secular pluralist society. My overall aim is to integrate faith and practice so that there is a broad two-way street of ideas and actions between the world we live in, and the Word of God we live out of. 

Creation and Redemption

Fundamentally, creation is the theatre in which God interacts with God’s people. While in some ways God’s creating work was completed on the sixth day, and God rested the seventh, in another way God continues to work (John 5:17). God’s act of creating is the start of God’s providence over the whole created order. This providence, expressed in God’s covenant of love towards creation, continues over the just and the unjust equally, even to today. Humans disobeyed God in creation. Human sin occurs within creation. Further, in spite of human sin, God still cares for and provides for His creation. Even further, God calls a people to Himself within creation, and those people express His rule over the created earth. That is how God’s covenant develops. It came through the call of Abram, through the patriarchs to Moses and to the children of Israel. Israel was called to be a holy people, expressing God’s righteous rule in the world. Israel was called to be a light to the nations, so that all the families of the earth would be blessed. This covenant was renewed in Christ through whom God has called a new people, the church, to express God’s rule in creation. Evidence of renewal can be seen in the way that the body expresses Kingdom values by the way it lives and loves. 

“We cannot separate our salvation from what we do every day.”

This promise of the rule and reign of God, as expressed in the theology of the Kingdom of God has been fulfilled and renewed in Christ who is also the promise of a further salvation for the whole created order. Christ came and lived in this world showing God’s love for the world by word and deed towards all, including the poor, the marginalised and the oppressed. Christ lived as the obedient suffering servant who by His life demonstrated His worthiness of being the true man and true son. By His life He demonstrated practically how God seeks out, loves and transforms the marginalised. He suffered His obedient death in the flesh and rose in a new and glorious body. Further, He formed His body, the church, on earth. He made a covenant with His church that she might be a holy people living for God and spreading God’s blessing throughout the world. The church is called to proclaim a Kingdom in which all will become one under the headship of Christ. This promise will one day be fulfilled when Christ comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead. He will then judge our deeds, done in our bodies, and bring us to glory. That glory will be that the New Jerusalem will come down from heaven to create a new heaven and a new earth in which God will dwell with His people and so redeem the whole of creation.

God invites humankind to search out the hidden wisdom of God in creation and to wonder in awe at its power and beauty. God invites us to enjoy its goodness, to be awestruck by its mystery and to be challenged to enter more fully into the wisdom which created it all. We only perceive this wisdom dimly; there is so much in creation we still cannot fathom, in spite of all we know. Further, God has given humankind the responsibility to govern creation as stewards of creation, and as such the more we know about creation, the better we can fulfil our mandate to govern it well. Theology is about encountering God and God’s Word. This we do when we look into the book of nature, and discern God’s hand in history, as well as reading the other book, the book of Scripture. 

Why do we work?

To be fruitful, to multiply, to fill the earth, to subdue it and to have dominion over it. 

Do we always work? 

No, God has ordained that we should rest on the Sabbath. 

With these two simple statements, not only do we develop a theology of work but also a theology of family (raising a family IS work – and pleasure) and a theology of rest and leisure. (And lurking behind all this is a theology of pleasure, but that is for another paper!) Nor is that all, but it is also a theology of mission and a theology of blessing the world! 

How can we bring creation, providence, redemption and mission more closely together? We integrate them first through the concept of holiness and righteousness, and secondly by considering the nature of the Gospel. 

Righteousness and holiness

Righteousness is not just an imputed or an imparted quality (or more correctly, a forensic status conferred on God’s people by the atoning death of Jesus Christ) – although it is gloriously that, and I bless God that I can stand with my fellow believers in that righteousness. However, more fundamentally, righteousness expresses an understanding that there are right ways of living and acting. Righteousness is more than a forensic quality; it is fundamental to a right way of being and doing things. Thus, a screwdriver is used righteously when it is used to drive in screws and a hammer is used unrighteously when it is used to hammer in a screw. Secondarily, righteousness has developed a forensic quality in that legislation has come in defining what constitutes righteousness and unrighteousness within society. Thus the concepts of righteousness and justice became intertwined. 

God called Israel to be God’s holy people, who would live his way in the world, thus showing the world the ways of God. God calls his people to live righteously. The Torah contains within it what right living would be in an agrarian society living to the glory of God. 

“God … is worshipped in our work, in our leisure, and in our relations.”

The word holy means ‘set apart’ and God’s people are set apart to live an alternative righteous lifestyle under the command and covenant of God. Leviticus 19 shows how wide-ranging and practical such holy living might be. It involved caring for the poor by the way the people harvested the crops, it involved respecting elders and welcoming strangers and aliens. It involved respecting one’s neighbour, indeed to love one’s neighbour as oneself. It also included some curious rubrics like not boiling a kid in its mother’s milk, and not cutting the fringes of a man’s hair. This is not the only description of ethical living in the first Testament but it is a provocative and comprehensive list directed towards honouring God in every aspect of life. However, it is more than ethical living because it is living in response to the goodness and providence of God, who is worshipped in our work, in our leisure, and in our relations. 

One of the mistakes the Pharisees made reading the first Testament was to think that a meticulous keeping of the minutiae of God’s laws exhausted what the Lord required from the people. The tithing of mint, dill, and cumin became more important than justice and mercy. By contrast, Christ called on a deeper and richer righteousness and spelt that out in His teaching about the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice, mercy, and humility. Here humankind, even God’s people, and especially those who tried to be righteous by following the minutiae of God’s law, stands condemned because they did not acknowledge that their lives and their work was unrighteous and that they needed divine mercy. 

But those who bowed themselves before the Father and who confessed their sin, found forgiveness and cleansing. They also found a new power through the Holy Spirit to live righteously, mercifully and with faith expressing God’s love in restored relationships. These restored relationships were expressed in their families, in their church, in their workplace, in society, and in the world. 

Gospel and Kingdom

When considering the nature of the Gospel, the Kingdom of God is a key theme. Accepting the Gospel is not only to accept Christ’s alien righteousness as one’s own, it is also to submit oneself to the Lordship of Christ and to become part of the Kingdom of God. The New Testament clearly describes a strong relationship between the Kingdom of God and the righteousness of God, because the Kingdom is a righteous kingdom. It also strongly implies that such righteous living is like a city on a hill, a light out from under a bushel. Such righteous living would be costly and those who live like this face persecution. 

God’s Kingdom is a kingdom of love, of a derivative love expressed in response to the love of God. By its very essence the Kingdom is relational. We are called to love God, love ourselves, love our neighbour, love the world, and love creation. Hence very deeply there is a relational dimension to all we do, in our work, in our leisure and in our rest. 

Our prayer ‘Your kingdom come” is a very comprehensive prayer. It asks for God’s Kingdom to come by supplying our daily bread, by seeking to be forgiven and to forgive, and by asking God to save us from temptation and to deliver us from evil. 

This Kingdom is embodied in the Church of Christ, for here we gather as God’s people, hear the word of God and seek to apply that word in our lives in the community. Further, the church exists for the twin purposes of glorifying God and serving the world, loving it as Christ loved it. 

We live in the in-between-time where the Kingdom has come in Christ but it has yet to come with Christ’s coming again. When it comes, Christ will judge all that humankind (including ourselves) has done. 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 gives us the clearest picture of the testing at the end time of what we have done. That which is consistent with the Kingdom will last – the gold, silver and precious stones – and that which is incompatible with the Kingdom – the wood, the hay, and the stubble – will not survive. All we do, and especially the religious things we do, will come under the judgment of Christ. Hence what we do now – everything we do now – is provisional awaiting the verdict of the King. 

“We are called to righteous living and that righteous living is a witness to the Kingdom of God in the world.”

So, we are called to righteous living and that righteous living is a witness to the Kingdom of God in the world. As we act and speak, we present the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in our daily work and in all our relationships. As we live and explain this, we integrate our worship, our work, our home life, and our public life, all done to be a blessing to the world in need of the Gospel. This is the theological environment in which we work. 

Implications 

Work to honour God 

The Christian lives in the light of the freedom of God’s forgiveness and grace. We do not need to work to prove anything about ourselves. We are not workaholics using work for self-actualisation or self-expression, or to avoid the insecurities of not doing anything. Our security comes from God and we do not need to prove anything to anyone. God has accepted us, and loves us. Consequently, we work for God in gratitude for His love and care over us. Work then, is an expression of our love for God. It is also a commitment to service, for that is how the Master worked. Our goals and ambitions then come under the lordship of Christ and are directed by Kingdom values and Kingdom aims. 

Work to be a blessing 

God’s covenant to Abraham was that through him all the families of the earth would be blessed. All God’s work of grace towards humankind was directed to this end of blessing, – to the honour of His name. With the coming of the Kingdom of God, God’s blessing would be poured out on humankind, on the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are meek, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, those who are merciful, those who are peacemakers, those who are pure in heart and those who stand for righteousness (Matthew 5:1-16). These blessed people will be a blessing to others. We express God’s blessing in the way we work and in the work we do. 

Work as a proclamation of the Gospel 

The Gospel is expressed in many and varied ways. It is a proclamation of the Kingdom of God, it is the confrontation with evil, it is the story of Jesus Christ who came from God and who lived, died, and rose again to secure salvation for all creation. It is the story of divine love in the face of human indifference. It is the story of the indwelling power of Christ as the hope of glory. Christians live out and tell these stories in their daily work and in their relationships with their colleagues. There is no Sunday-Monday disconnection, there is no redemption theology separate from a creation theology. We as Christians live as one. As we live righteously, we set standards that will be a witness and a rebuke to others. When we fail, we personally witness the grace and forgiveness inherent in the Gospel. In all we do, we witness to the righteousness of God, and to God’s mercy. 

Work as seeking after God’s wisdom 

God invites us to enjoy His creation. As we grapple with it, we seek to come to grips with the order and chaos that is inherent in creation and we see more deeply the divine design and divine mystery in creation. This is the basis of the scientific enterprise, which is but one of a number of ways of reflecting on the mystery of personal people like ourselves encountering the impersonal vastness of the order and disorder of the world in which we live. And as we discover the wisdom of creation we then understand and live less fearfully in the world God has made. 

Work in with God’s community

If divine love is the basis of all there is – love that was there from the beginning in the Trinity, a love that spilled over into the created order, and a love that expressed itself even more fully when that creation rebelled against its creator, and that was still more loved by being redeemed – then the redeemed express that love in their work, paid and unpaid. Invariably that is a relational thing – we cannot just love God without loving God’s people, and without loving our neighbour, or our enemy. This love then will be expressed in the church, the body of Christ to which we belong whether we like it or not. There is no room for isolated Christians, we express our faith and love communally. 

“We in our workplace need that same imaginative flexibility, and tell the story of Christ by telling His stories.”

Not just what you do but how you do it 

If our witness is in the world, it expresses itself not just in what we do, but how we do it. There is a loving humanity about mature Christian expression, a human connectedness that is often missing from impersonal transactions. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying observed that sometimes hospital chaplains would not engage with the humanity of the dying patient. High Church chaplains would hide behind the sacraments, Low Church chaplains would hide behind the Scriptures. In neither case would there be a true human engagement. It can happen in medical care – I have seen it happen in psychiatry; it can happen in education; it can happen, in fact, in any occupation, even in theology. How refreshing when your humanity is acknowledged in the transactions you encounter. 

And how do you explain the Gospel? 

We need to be prepared to explain our good works so that the glory for them goes to the Father, and not to us. When Paul gives potted summaries of the Gospel, they vary greatly from an explanation of the righteousness of God, to an explanation of who Jesus is, to a comment like, “Christ in you the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). When Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell the Gospel, they tell stories of who Jesus is by what He did and what He taught. Jesus Himself proclaims the Kingdom of God and describes the nature of that Kingdom in many and varied ways that stimulate the imagination. We in our workplace need that same imaginative flexibility, and tell the story of Christ by telling His stories, like the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the Woman at the Well, and the story of Him Washing his Disciples’ feet. One of my favourite phrases (which resonates with my patients with addiction) is the statement, “There is no fear in love for perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). There is a winsomeness about those words. 

Conclusion

Work-life balance is not simply about juggling different priorities but about integrating all we do in gratitude and to the glory of God. It is not something separate from our redemption but something that integrates our work with our salvation. We seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness at home, at work in the church and at leisure, and we will do that till He comes.


A/Prof Alan Gijsbers     
A/Prof Alan Gijsbers (MBBS FRACP FAChAM DTM&H PGDipEpi.) is a Specialist Physician in Addiction Medicine, Melbourne, and President of Christians in Science and Technology (ISCAST). He has a particular interest in a studying neuroscience and theology, the philosophy of the self, and spirituality, topics which underpin his approach to addiction care. 

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