It is evident enough that there is a principle by which the universe was created and is ordered. This is a point on which little substantial disagreement is possible; one hardly deniable by even the staunchest atheist, whether or not he calls it God. But this is so because the claim has little propositional content; hardly more than “the universe is intelligible“. The existence of God the Father, in Trinitarian categories, is uncontroversial, whatever it should be called. The controversy is in the existence of the Word of God; the inbreaking of creator into creation, whereby God uses language to communicate directly to his creation.
Language is an inextricable part of what it means to be human, distinguishing us as much from what is above as from what is below. It is difficult to imagine that the same God who orders the universe would speak to us using our own language: not that he would be unable, but that that mode of interaction with its creation – especially such an infinitesimal part of it – does not follow from his mere existence. Authors do not typically write themselves into their stories. Were God no more than creator, it would make no difference whether or not anyone believed, for what would belief be but a pattern of atoms in the brain? As creation, we are by nature closer to dust than to God.
For this reason, “any relationship that one might have with this God would have to be something other than a natural relationship” (Horton 2006, p. 29). As Martin Luther put it,
God in his own nature and majesty is to be left alone; in this regard, we have nothing to do with him, nor does he wish us to deal with him. We have to deal with him as clothed and displayed in his word, by which he presents himself to us.
It is in this sense that mankind is said to need a mediator to God. However significant mankind’s moral alienation, its natural alienation is the more improbable hurdle to overcome. Indeed, the former has no meaning unless the latter is already mediated.
It is also in this sense that Paul emphasizes that we now have one mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5). Where we find our natural alienation mediated, we call that mediator the Word. Our moral alienation, then, was mediated by a priest, until such time as “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14) and assumed that role to itself. Therefore we now have one mediator in both offices.
The Word of God therefore – and not God himself – is the principal disagreement between the Christian and the atheist. To speak of the consciousness of God, his will, his emotions, is admittedly to speak by way of analogy. Where God is spoken of as angry or pleased, this must be understood as a translation from higher to lower, not capturing the essence but something like it. But the same cannot be said of language. Where God is recorded to have spoken to men, it was actual language, not something merely like language. Regardless of how God may be imagined to naturally communicate, religion depends on his self-revelation in history using the extant languages of particular people groups.
If the universe is not an act of God but a display of his glory – or the outworking of the principle, if you like – the vastness of the universe suggests the implausibility of the Word of God come to earth, a vanishingly small section in which to focus that Word. Is not God glorified in the rest of the universe by the simple outworking of his providence? Is human consciousness really so special as to warrant an entirely different mode of interaction between creator and creation?
If there is to be theology, then, it must be cross-centric – not as a starting point, but as an end. In other words, it must be supralapsarian. Why should a sovereign God require sacrifice for sin, or even ordain that sin exist? However so much we anthropomorphize him, if God’s feelings toward mankind are to be anything other than utter indifference, mankind must serve his preexistent purposes; we cannot have him serving ours. And if we take the Word at face value, redemption is that purpose. We must therefore suppose that creation exists for redemption; not the other way around. To conceive of redemption as a reaction to the fall either binds God by rules greater than himself, or makes its necessity a matter of arbitrary interference. Both of these options, for the sake of personalizing the sovereign God, exalt humans on a cosmically absurd pedestal.
The usual complaint against this notion, that creation with such a purpose is inhumane, is a category error. To complain of the “problem” of evil is just as illegitimately anthropomorphic as to complain of the inhumanity of gravity, or of Planck’s Law. One is decreed no more or less personally than the other. It is to conflate the ordinance of God with the Word of God, the latter of which only can coherently be called just or unjust. The believer in the Word of God is well-advised to heed Luther’s warning: God in his own nature is utterly alien to us. To speak of a creator does not, in the end, make it any more sensical to pass ethical judgment on the course of history.