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Each week people in the pew hear portions of a story that focuses on God’s work of rescuing His creation — beginning with His human creatures. That story focuses on how God carries out His work through the promise given to Abraham, entrusted to Israel and brought to fruition with Jesus. But that story itself of God’s promise of salvation does not exhaust God’s activity or work within the world.

Instead, the story of God’s promised redemption takes place within a larger context of God’s entire creation. Put another way, redemption is part and parcel of God’s creative work. That larger realm of creation includes both Christians and non-Christians along with the places where they interact with one another. Just as Christians give witness to God’s work as Redeemer, so the wider world gives witness to God’s work as Creator to which His work of redemption belongs and completes.

THE GOODNESS OF BEING A CREATURE

Martin Luther explains the First Article of the Apostles Creed in a way that might not seem obvious at first glance. He opens by asking, “What does it mean to believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth”? He then answers that question not by describing or cataloging and classifying all of God’s works in the entire universe that includes everything from atoms to galaxies. Instead, he answers the question of what it means to confess God is the Creator in a more personal and relational way. Namely, it means that “I am God’s creature”!

What does it mean to be God’s creature? After all, we don’t use that language very much within our culture today and when we do, it is often used with reference to nonhuman beings. But Luther uses it because it is a theological term and it implies a creator. To say that we are creatures means that someone made us. In this case, we are God’s creatures. We receive life from God and all that sustains our life in this world from God. Thus as creatures, we are by definition contingent and dependent. To borrow from Paul, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7 ESV). As individuals who do not have life of ourselves, who are not self-sustaining or autonomous, we have to look somewhere for the support and sustenance of our lives. And where we look identifies our god.

The truth is that no one can live without faith! Everyone has to put his or her faith and hope in something or someone. And so the issue of the First Commandment becomes one of true faith versus false faith. And what determines whether faith is true or false is whether the object of faith is the true God or not.

DIRECTIONS FOR MUTUAL WITNESS

Let us consider how Luther’s treatment of the First Commandment and its anthropological assumption might offer guidance for Christian interaction with our non-Christian neighbors.

First, as Lutherans, we are accustomed to speaking about the anthropology of Christians before God (coram deo) in terms of being simultaneously sinners and saints (simul justus et peccator). In the eyes of the Law, we are sinners; in the eyes of the Gospel, we are justified before God. But what about all humans including those who do not confess Jesus as Lord?

Do we see them only in terms of us and them? Or do we see them in terms of outsiders or insiders? Or perhaps we see them through lenses of being saved or lost? Now the latter is true and quite biblical (e.g., lost sheep) when viewed solely in terms of salvation. That is to say, there are those who believe in Jesus and are saved and there are those who do not believe in Jesus and therefore are lost to God. But the greater story offers a wide-angle field of vision and highlights another underlying reality and context in which God is active for the sake of His entire creation.

“We all share a common creatureliness for we are all creatures of God.”

Given the story of creation and re-creation, perhaps we should think of all people as simultaneously creatures and fallen creatures (simul creatus et peccator). This distinction reminds us that in dealing with other people, we are dealing with fellow creatures of God who are fellow human creatures having been made in the image of God. As fellow human creatures of God, we share common places within creation where together we experience God’s lavish creaturely gifts. And we share common human experiences as we live out our lives in those places. These include the entire movement of our lives from birth to death, the experiences of physical hunger, emotional grief and joy, the need for human contact and healthy relationships.

Second, the recognition that we share a common creatureliness (whether fallen or redeemed) opens the possibility of reciprocity — a mutual witness in which the lives of both Christians and non-Christians can bear witness to the different aspects of God’s story. That is to say, as we go into a world that God Himself has created, we are giving witness to the story of which non-Christians are already a part — even though they are unaware of that story. This means we go out into a world in which we receive not only God’s saving work but also His creating work. In that regard, we stand alongside everyone else as fellow creatures of God!

Christian witness entails listening. Listening certainly means being attentive to that which is missing in the lives of people who do not yet know Christ. To be sure, it means being wary of that which threatens and undermines the Gospel — those things in human experience that can so easily become a false religion. In this kind of listening, we are relatively well-versed. We know well the negative effects of the culture upon Christian witness. We are familiar with the things that erode our moral life, that erode the presuppositions of our faith. But what about listening for that which is consonant with the faith — those things that contribute to joy, hope and love? Can we be witnessed to? Can non-Christians enrich our own understanding of what God is doing in this world?

We also suggest that we listen not only because it is a strategically good idea to have a little give-and-take when we talk to non-Christians. But we listen because it is a necessary consequence of confessing the fuller biblical story that is grounded in God’s creation and is about God’s creation. Part of confessing that story is to confess that it is far bigger than any of us can grasp. It is cosmic in scope; the goal of salvation history is that God would be all in all. We listen because God is working through His human creatures. We listen because they may unveil and thus help us see aspects of creation and human life that we had not seen before — whether that be listening to a biologist uncover the remarkable world of the ant, a BBC special on the wonders of our Blue Planet or an astrophysicist who gives us a glimpse into the wonders of the cosmos. In other words, all of the intricate details of what God has created and is still creating and redeeming are still unfolding. We ourselves are still growing into Christ, and being conformed to His image — and the whole world waits with eager anticipation for the full redemption of God’s children.

FAITHFUL WITNESS

Our Christian witness in the 21st century takes place in a culture that knows less and less of the Christian story. And what fragments people do know probably make little sense since they do not know how they fit within the larger story. So it becomes imperative that we relearn how to tell the story, the full story that stretches from creation to the new creation.

But as we tell that story, we will discover new opportunities for witness. This includes not only the way in which we diagnose the brokenness of this world and human lives, but also the way in which we live out the underlying truth that this world remains God’s world. In it He is present and active so that, as we live alongside our fellow human creatures, we are “richly and daily supplied” with a profusion of possibility for faithful witness to God’s goodness and grace.

This article is adapted from an address at Concordia Seminary’s Theological Symposium held in September 2013 and was printed in the Spring 2015 Concordia Journal.

Dr. Charles Arand is the Eugene E. and Nell S. Fincke Graduate Professor of Theology and director of the Center for the Care of Creation at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.

Dr. Erik Herrmann is professor of Historical Theology, dean of Theological Research and Publication, and director of the Center for Reformation Research at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.