The Work of God
I was reading John 5:17 the other day and the words of Jesus struck me. I have read them before, but given all the studying that I am doing, I hadn't thought about them in the same way I am now. In the passage Jesus says, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” There is a sense in which Jesus is saying that God has always been at work. At face value this seems odd considering that creation is not eternal and I when I think of God's work that's usually the first place I look.
However, we know that Jesus is speaking truth. The truth that he speaking here is that God has been at work even before creation. You see, before creation the Father, Son, and Spirit existed in perfect unity and in a relationship with one another. Herman Bavinck describes the work of God before creation this way:
The Father eternally gives to the Son, and with him the Spirit, to have life in himself (John 5:26). And the community of being that exists among the three persons is a life of absolute activity. The Father knows and loves the Son eternally—from before the foundation of the world (Matt 11:27; John 17:24)—and the Spirit searches the deep things of God (1 Cor 2:10).
What Bavinck is getting at is that all these works are inherent in God. They do not exist contingent on the world existing. They occur within the being of God and don't have a relation to anything that exists outside of God. This work is about the relationship among the three persons of the Trinity.
So, the question comes, "If none of this has any relation to that which exists outside of God, why does it matter?" Well, it matters because the perpetual problem in everyone's life is that we believe we should work as if we give something to God that he needs. However, when we explore the inner workings of the Trinity what we find is that inside of himself he is all-sufficient. There is nothing lacking in God or in the relations of the three persons that requires us or anything else in creation. God, inside of himself, is "absolute activity." He does not create because he needs a job or because he is bored. Creation adds nothing to God.
If God did not need anything, why did he create? The Westminster Confession of Faith in chapter 4 is helpful here:
It pleased God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create...
The Confession is helping us to see that creation was for God's sake. Creation existed because God was pleased to manifest his glory. The ultimate end of creation is not to fulfill something that was lacking in God as if he was lonely and needed us. Creation exists because in it God glorifies himself. Once again Bavinck is helpful here:
God never seeks out a creature as if that creature were able to give him something he lacks or could take from him something he (the creature) possesses. He does not seek the creature [as an end in itself], but through the creature he seeks himself. He is and always remains his own end. His striving is always—also in and through his creatures—total self-enjoyment, perfect bliss.
There is a beauty in this truth. The truth that God's creation is not because he needs something. If creation existed because it added something to God, our work would be back breaking. We would never know when we have done enough. When have we given our fair share to God? We would be constantly laboring and it would be a miserable.
However, when we realize that creation is solely for God's good pleasure (creation does not exist because God lacked anything, but solely for God to manifest his glory), this frees us in our work. We still labor, but we do it for a different end. We do it for the same end as God. We do it because we want to glorify him. We want to do what he created us to do, glorify him. However, not just that, we always get to strive in this work the same way he does. God strives for total self-enjoyment. We too strive for enjoyment, but our enjoyment is not in ourselves but in God. Our labor is enjoyable.
If we miss this fact, the truth of the immanent work of the Trinity, we will end up with unbiblical beliefs about ourselves and our God. Those beliefs will cause us to live in a way that will make life a burden. The truth of God's inner life frees us. The truth of God's inner life gives us freedom to work knowing:
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. - Acts 17:24-25
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