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The Good and Perfect Father

A Theology of Divine Generosity

ABSTRACT: The generosity of God that we experience in creation and redemption flows from a fountain that reaches back into eternity. Completely and gloriously perfect in his own eternal aliveness as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God’s generosity is that majestic fullness of life in its turning toward creatures as the source of every good gift they receive. And the streams of this fountain stretch on to eternity future, when, by the unfathomable generosity of the triune God, his people live before his face as righteous, faithful, deathless, and joyous.

Kristin fell asleep in the woman’s lap and dreamed:

She was stepping over the threshold into the old hearth room back home. She was young and unmarried. . . . She was with Erlend. . . .

Near the hearth sat her father, whittling arrows; his lap was covered with bundles of sinews, and on the bench on either side of him lay heaps of arrowpoints and pointed shafts. At the very moment they stepped inside, he was bending forward over the embers, about to pick up the little three-legged metal cup in which he always used to melt resin. Suddenly he pulled his hand back, shook it in the air, and then stuck his burned fingertips in his mouth, sucking on them as he turned his head toward her and Erlend and looked at them with a furrowed brow and a smile on his lips.1

In Sigrid Undset’s great novel Kristin Lavransdatter, Kristin’s father, Lavrans Bjorgulfssøn, had a reputation as an incredibly generous man to all who lived in or traveled through his region of Norway, but to no one was he more giving than to his children. This brief scene in an aged Kristin’s dream is a poignant picture of that fatherly generosity, the proverbial arrows in the hand of this warrior bringing pain in the process of their crafting. Lavrans’s generosity as a father was material, emotional, and relational, graciously giving to his beloved daughter even when she reciprocated only with sorrow.

Readers of Kristin Lavransdatter who are Christian might have questions arise: Is God our Father the same sort of generous giver? Is there a limit to God’s ability or willingness to give good gifts to his children? What is a fitting way of living in response to such generosity? Questions like this are excellent occasions for thinking through a doctrinal issue, so this essay will address the doctrine of God’s own generosity. Completely and gloriously perfect in his own eternal aliveness as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God’s generosity is that majestic fullness of life in its turning toward creatures as the source of every good gift they receive. What follows is an all too brief attempt at a dogmatic account of that divine generosity, beginning in its eternal depths and proceeding to the eternal consummated fellowship between God and his creatures.2

The Perfect Trinitarian Goodness of God

“God is.”3 With this most declarative of sentences, Karl Barth began his account of the doctrine of God, echoing God’s own self-naming to Moses (Exodus 3:14–15), setting off on the same path of praise as so many Christian theologians have in the past. Similarly, John Piper has interpreted that biblical text thus: “God gave himself a name . . . that presses us, when we hear it, to think, he is. He absolutely is.”4 While they come to rather different conclusions about the being of God, notice that neither Piper nor Barth begins anywhere other than with the confession of God’s prevenient reality.

We do the same. Scripture is full of different ways in which God gives us names by which we can know and praise him in his being who he is: He is “One” (Deuteronomy 6:5), the “eternal God” (Deuteronomy 33:27), “the King of the ages, immortal, invisible” (1 Timothy 1:17), “the fountain of life” (Psalm 36:9), “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), “the first and the last, and the living one” (Revelation 1:17–18). God our heavenly Father is “perfect” (Matthew 5:48), and there is about him a “fullness” since he “fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:23). Our God is “the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 40:28) who as such cannot be “compared” to or said to be “like” any other (Isaiah 40:25), who is everywhere, even in “heaven” and “in Sheol” (Psalm 139:8). He is “the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 41:14). As the apostle Paul teaches in Acts 17, “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.”

In light of these names, we can take the hint of the inspired text of Genesis 1:1, as well as God’s reply to Job and his friends in Job 38–41, and conclude that God is without beginning, without cause, without lack.

Reading through all those biblical declarations together ought not only to make our hearts sing, but make our heads spin as well. It’s natural to ask, How can God be all these things? How can something never change? How can God be near to me while being everywhere at once? What can it mean that something doesn’t have a beginning or cause?

The role of theology at just this point is to condense these biblical realities into concepts that help us “bless” and “consider” the Lord (Psalm 103:1; Hebrews 3:1), as well as more accurately navigate the Bible’s story when we return to it. Two concepts that have been developed in light of Scripture, which can aid us here in our account of divine generosity, are divine aseity and divine perfection.

Divine Aseity

The strange term aseity indicates “from himself” and has been used by the Christian tradition to summarize the Bible’s teaching that God lives from himself and in himself.5 God is now, has always been, and will always be the Living One, fullness of life and love in himself, this majestic abundance flowing from nowhere else other than from his own glorious aliveness. Aseity means that God is self-sufficient, needing only himself to be the one he is. Aseity is the word we use to speak of God’s life from the perspective of cause, dependence, or source. The notion here is to be conceived as non-comparative, something that God is in himself and in no way dependent upon creation for such aseity. Aseity is how one might, as a young Christian parent, answer a child’s question, “Who made God?” The perhaps more fitting response of “No one, dear!” implies the words of Piper and Barth: “God is!”

Divine Perfection

The second and intimately related concept is perfection. Divine perfection is theology’s way of saying that God, in his self-sufficient being, is fully realized and without deficiency. This is a word we use to describe God’s life from the perspective of its fullness, repleteness, and realization. “God is love” John tells us (1 John 4:8, 16) but we must be helped by the attribute of divine perfection to remember that this means that God in himself is the fullness — the incomprehensibly perfect plenitude — of love, without lack or need or beginning or end. “God is good” the psalmist says (Psalm 118:29), but God is good in a way that is without measure, unimaginably beyond the way in which snow is good or my wife is good. Who and what God is is not even able to be compared to creaturely being (Jeremiah 10:1–16; Psalm 40:5; Isaiah 46:5; 1 Samuel 15:29; Hosea 11:9; Acts 14:15). This is so because, in an oddly but fittingly tautological statement, God is God, himself as the perfection of his living being.6 Whatever God is, he is in a way that we cannot say “like this thing but to the nth degree.” Even the idea of infinity is not applicable to God if by that term we mean the neat little ∞ symbol we were taught to write on the ends of the x- and y-axis when graphing equations.

To make this truly Christian doctrine, however, our account of God’s life as from and in himself and as perfect must be Trinitarian. This is so because when the Bible declares that God is one and there are no others beside him (Deuteronomy 4:35, 39; 5:7; 1 Kings 8:60; Isaiah 44–46; Mark 12:29–34; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 4:4–6), the one who he is is named with the singular divine name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). God’s aseity is a triune aseity, his threeness of person being as basic as his oneness of essence. There is simply no such thing as God who is only one or only three such that we can move from one to the other by some sort of cause or motion. God’s perfection is a triune perfection, his majestic fullness of love, joy, bliss, peace that he simply is is his being the Father who eternally begets the Son, and who with the Son eternally breathes the Spirit. The triune persons are neither prior to nor subsequent to the utter plenitude of the singular divine essence which is love, joy, peace, and blessedness in itself.

Divine Goodness as Source

The ramifications of such a picture of God’s perfect life, the life that he lives in and of and from himself, are extensive and are indispensable for a properly biblical account of any work of God toward us creatures.

The divine generosity refers to God’s being God to creatures in such a way that he gives them good, wise, kind gifts. This is clearly an economic description.7 In order to say this, however, we first have to say something about God’s immanent life — namely, that “God is, in himself and from himself, the fullness of goodness.”8 God is good as Father, Son, Holy Spirit even if we never existed, even if we were not around to be objects who need his good gifts. God is essentially good, Goodness itself, not like us in our accidental goodness. God needs no recipients of his good generosity in order for him to be infinite and perfect goodness (to be himself) — yet we still have received from him, grace upon grace. How can this be?

Any economic action of God toward us has its deep ground in the perfection of God’s own being itself.9 Why is God generous, the Giver of good, wise, kind gifts? Because God has decreed it: he has freely chosen so to do, out of and in accord with (not against!) the nature of his being.10 To say that God is free is like saying God is perfect or a se or good, to say that God is — utterly — himself. The free acts that God willingly chooses to perform toward his creatures all flow from the infinite, eternal depth of God’s perfect life in and of himself. It is not out of lack that God creates or redeems or gives, but out of the majestic abundance and fullness of his glorious aliveness as Father, Son, and Spirit (John 1:14–18). Theology has often glossed these acts of God as three large moments: those of creation, redemption, and perfection. To these we now turn.

God for Us

God is generous to us in his acts of creation, redemption, and perfection. In these moments, he gives us what we need, always gifts that are good, wise, and kind. The preceding (admittedly tiny) effort to give an account of God’s perfection is not mere academic jargon; it is one way of speaking God’s holy name back to him in wondrous gratitude and joy because it shows the sheer gratuity of God’s good gifts to us. We can most fully appreciate his giving if we most fully appreciate that God needs nothing and owes us nothing. Behind the mighty acts of God is the perfectly loving will of the omniscient God, and behind the will of God to be generous to us we cannot go. To the question, “Why does he set his love upon us?” we can only answer Because he loves us (Deuteronomy 7:7–8).11

The Generosity of Being

How does divine generosity come to us? First, before considering the form of generosity we call grace in the gospel of Jesus, we must see that God is generous in granting the gift of being. That we exist at all is cause for gratitude, for joyous exultation, and for the joyous exaltation of the One who, since he has life in himself, has given life to his creatures who once were not.12 Before the doctrine of creation is for saying something about the age of the earth, it is for the praise of God the Creator because it makes crystal clear that our existence — what we are and that we are — is pure gift. It is, as Aquinas has put it, “the introduction of being entirely,”13 without which we would not exist even to glorify God. God in his kindness bestows life to creatures, making them each according to their kinds, not identical to himself but nevertheless like him — alive, each creature being what God has intended it or she or he to be, nothing else (cf. Genesis 1:2–2:2; Psalm 104). We are to declare “GLORY be to God for dappled things”.14 God delights to be our Maker.15 As Aslan says to his creatures in The Magician’s Nephew, “I give you yourselves.”

Importantly, it is the doctrine of divine perfection and freedom — the fact that God does not need us and yet he still chooses to give us life — that grounds creaturely dignity. All things — you, your parents, your unbelieving neighbors, black pine trees, the fungi and insects that live upon those trees — have worth because they are created (Genesis 1:31; 1 Timothy 4:4). As the late John Webster wrote,

In willing to create, God wills the realisation of life which is not his own: ‘Love is also a lover of life.’ Only God can do this; only God can bring about a life which is derived yet possessed of intrinsic substance and worth. Because God is not one being and agent alongside others, and because he is in himself entirely realised and possesses perfect bliss, he has nothing to gain from creating. Precisely in the absence of divine self-interest, the creature gains everything; because of (not in spite of) the non-reciprocal character of the relation of creator and creature, the creature has integrity.16

The divine generosity, therefore, is the source of creaturely life and worth.

The generosity of the Trinity does not end with existence per se, or even (nowadays, controversially) the gift of a human “nature,” but also a set of relations. “Life,” insofar as human beings are alive, is inescapably lived in relation to God and to other creatures. First, each and every human person is set in relation to God, seen in the portrayal of Adam and Eve in upright, loving covenant fellowship with God before the fall. God is with them; he is their God and they are his people not because they have previously earned this, not because God is beholden to some outside force or rule that dictates to him, but only because God set his love upon them. That generous gift of relation to God includes both goods and obligations, goods which include love, joy, peace, the whole of the created order, and above all those God himself. The obligations that accompany this relation are the human vocation (often called “law” and intended to be a delight) and include hearing and believing the Lord, trusting him, worshiping him.

Second, by God’s generous gift, each and every human person is set in relation to other creatures: man to woman, parent to child, neighbor to neighbor, human being to the natural order, even person to self. These relations — and the creatures themselves — are gifts from the Lord to be received and enacted with gratitude and in imitation of the God who in his generosity placed us there as “the image of God” (Genesis 1:26–27; 9:6; James 3:9). We are called by God’s generosity to be fruitful and multiply, to love our neighbor as ourselves, to steward the other creatures in loving rule of them. Whether the creature in view is an infant child in the womb17 or a honey bee18 or a lodgepole pine tree,19 we are to consider that creature as a gift of God’s perfect goodness to us and then act to love it in fitting ways.20 “Fitting” here must mean that one is constrained in one’s actions toward that gift not exclusively, or even primarily, by one’s own desires, but by the nature of the gift and the nature of the Giver.

The Generosity of the Gospel

God is also and similarly generous to his people in the great work of redemption. That term, redemption, only tells part of this story, however; perhaps a more comprehensive description of this work is that God reestablishes the life he gave originally to his creatures. The gospel can be explicated as that action by which God’s people are created anew, are given new life, by the work of God the Son and of God the Holy Spirit according to the generosity of the will of God the Father. We will briefly unpack the three elements of this conception: first, the sending of the Son and Spirit; next, the giving of new life; last, the eternal ground of this gospel generosity.

God is the Gospel

Sin brings separation from God the Creator Lord. Having been sent away from the garden, Adam and Eve were sent away from the fellowship with God they formerly enjoyed in their upright state (Genesis 2–3; 1 Corinthians 15:20–28; Romans 5). Human beings no longer dwelled in nearness to their highest good, which is God himself, but instead wandered and struggled by the sweat of their brow to eat of the fruit of the ground. Into this desolate far country into which we were cast comes God himself.

God the Son enters into our lowly condition — not counting equality with God a thing to be grasped, but empties himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:6–7) — and reestablishes life and fellowship with God as human. Jesus Christ is himself the gift of God to us, not our wages, sent into our world to be our righteous covenant mediator who reconciles us and secures eternal life with God on our behalf.21 The Son is given by the Father because God loves his creation and will save it from oblivion. This giving of God’s own self results in the accomplishment of human salvation.

God the Holy Spirit is the gift by which human creatures are individually and corporately perfected. This traditional term does not mean “make immediately sinless” but rather carries the meaning of “bring a thing to its appointed end or goal.” The Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son in order to apply the benefits of the Son’s accomplished salvation to each of the elect of God, lovingly working in the creature the creation of a new heart, enabling the truly free act of faith in Jesus Christ, and sanctifying and preserving the elect to the end of their days in salvation (which makes sense since he is called the “Spirit of Christ” [Romans 8:9; 1 Peter 1:11]).22 Or, to state it from another angle, God the Holy Spirit consummates the eternal counsel of redemption that was lovingly willed by God (appropriated to God the Father) and accomplished in space and time by God (appropriated to God the Son). Indeed, the Spirit is the gift of the love of God to his people, poured out into human hearts for their comfort (John 14:16; 15:26; 16:7; Romans 5:5). The sheer, uncaused generosity of God results in his people, wholly and individually, being made themselves into the very dwelling place of God because God gives himself in the Holy Spirit.23

Life in Place of Death

Sin brings death as its wages. Death is the ending of the creaturely life that was so generously granted by God in the beginning, and death brings in its wake fear and slavery (Hebrews 2:14). God has mercy on our miserable condition and, in the sending of the Son and the Holy Spirit, brings life back to his beloved creatures. In Jesus Christ, the life of the human creature is lived perfectly and sinlessly, life as Adam was originally called to live in God’s presence: faithful, obedient, righteous, loving. By this substitutionary work of Jesus, culminating in his resurrection from the dead, human life is set free from its decay and bondage to sin and death and is made new. He did not doubt that God is the “fountain of life,” entrusting himself to the One who judges justly, and thus would not abandon his soul to Sheol (Matthew 20:17–19; Luke 9:21–24; John 2:18–22; Acts 2:22–26); therefore life is the victor over death. Anyone who believes in this Son “does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24).

God the Holy Spirit then applies this accomplished reestablishment of life to every one of God’s people, regenerating or recreating them in the miracle of the new birth such that everyone who is in Christ is “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Indeed, the Spirit “is life” if Christ, the one “who gives life” (John 6:63), is in a person (Romans 8:10). Jesus the Son is he who gives the Spirit generously since he has the “Spirit without measure” (John 3:34); he sends the Spirit to his disciples (John 15:26), and he has been granted by the Father “to have life in himself” likewise (John 5:26). Being thus made alive, God’s people no longer are afraid of death and the finitude of their earthly lifespans but are free to live and love and risk and generously give, knowing that the One who generously gave them new life is an infinitely deep, perfectly full well of goodness himself. The greed and miserliness that characterized their old life “of” the world is set aside by the boundless generosity of the triune God’s actions toward them, all grounded upon God’s own eternal majestic goodness in himself.

In so bringing God’s people to new life, putting flesh on dry bones and breath into lungs, the Holy Spirit dwells in them and is thereby a “down payment” or “guarantee” of their full future inheritance (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:4). The generosity of this divine gift has an intensely eschatological flavor, being the promised gift of the Father poured out at Pentecost in fulfillment of the prophet Joel’s words (Acts 2:14–39; Joel 2:28–32). This means that we can have assurance of new life already given to us and hope, motivation, good cheer to enact that new life today since our full future life is already secured in heaven. Our life is “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3) so God’s people ought to strive to “become what they are,” knowing that God by the Spirit is bringing their nature, their lives, to their foreordained end: they are being “perfected.”

It will be on that final day that human life is truly lived in its proper mode — righteous, faithful, deathless, joyous, before the face of God who will be in our midst as the great Fountain of Life from whose throne flows the everlasting river of the water of life (Revelation 22:1, 17; 21:6). Life without tears in the city in which there is no more crying nor mourning nor pain anymore is possible only on account of the unfathomable generosity of the triune God.

Generous Giver from Eternity

Why is this new life and fellowship with God given to rebellious sinners? On what ground does this generosity rest? We have hinted at the answer already: in God’s eternally gracious, loving choice to save his creatures. The doctrine of election is theology’s way of describing the divine generosity when in eternity past it is oriented toward sinners who are saved from sin, death, and the devil by God’s redemptive acts in the Son and Spirit. In Pauline terms, God’s people are “chosen in him before the foundation of the world” and “in love . . . predestined . . . for adoption to himself” which includes their holiness, redemption, forgiveness of sins, all of which Paul says are part of “the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us,” “every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies,” and their “inheritance” (Ephesians 1:3–10). This complex of economic divine salvific acts is absolutely inextricable from the sending of the Son in Jesus Christ — as Paul’s repeated use of the phrases “in Christ” and “in whom/him” (amongst others) indicates — and is accomplished as part of the perfect will or purpose or counsel of God. The logic is this: Jesus’s redemptive work saves us from sin and death, and that work is both God’s eternal gracious choice and God’s lavish generosity toward us sinners.

For Us, and for Himself

These salvific acts of God are clearly the generosity of God that benefits helpless sinners without which they are lost. The gospel is “for us and for our salvation,” the generosity of God to us miserable sinners in our wretched state. However, Scripture is clear that this mighty act of God is also accomplished for God himself.

When Israel was in exile, the Lord promised through the prophet Ezekiel that he would restore Israel to their land and cleanse them from their sin, even giving them new hearts of flesh and putting his very Spirit within them (Ezekiel 36:24–30). The generosity of God that had given them the Promised Land would be renewed, granting abundance and redemption. God’s motive in this passage might sound surprising: “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name” (Ezekiel 36:22–23).

Since God is the generous giver of life in creation, his name is at stake when that life is corrupted by sin and death at the fall, and therefore God’s own holy name — his wisdom, goodness, love, generosity — is in question in the matter of salvation.24 God acts to save in electing, redeeming, and regenerating his people and thus reaffirms his own glory to the world. In Pauline terms, Christ was put forward as a propitiation for our sins both on our behalf and for himself: “to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:25–26). The generosity of the Lord God by which we gain everything is grounded in the sheer unfathomable goodness of God by which God is himself and therefore treasures himself above all things (righteously).25

Imitators of God

Returning to Undset’s great story, Kristin truly begins to live out the selflessness and generosity that so many mothers exhibit only once she begins to understand her father Lavrans’s sacrificial actions and heart toward others, especially his daughter. Likewise, this sort of portrayal of the infinite depths of our heavenly Father’s abundant generosity to us should enable a more faithful and more energized corresponding action from us. The radical — cheerful, ongoing, near bottomless — generosity to which Christians are called in the home, the church, and the world is possible only if the God who has thus called them is also the God who can first give to Christians life and breath and everything. One part of theology’s vocation is to so describe to God’s children the immeasurable divine Goodness so that they rejoice in their Father and pass on to their neighbors what they have received.

  1. Sigrid Undset, Kristin Lavransdatter, trans. Tiina Nunnally (New York: Penguin Books, 2005), 1082. See further Carrie Frederick Frost, “Under Her Heart: Motherhood in Kristin Lavransdatter”, First Things, January 21, 2011, https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2011/01/under-her-heart; Frost, “‘I must watch over you’: The virtue of familial responsibility,” The Clarion Review, December 29, 2012, http://www.clarionreview.org/2012/12/i-must-watch-over-you-the-virtue-of-familial-responsibility/. 

  2. Any doctrine is a way Christians have sought to understand, describe, and praise God in his being and works, here with respect to his giving. Theology is, as the late John Webster said, “a joyful and reverent science,” and its calling is “the praise of God by crafting concepts to turn the mind to the divine splendour.” Put differently, the task of theology is a (quite slow and often difficult) work of sanctified reason and imagination in which we attempt, in the words of Baptist theologian Steven Holmes, “to imagine what must be the case for everything in the Bible to be true.” So, the task before us is not only to state things that are true about God and our relation to him, but also to see their true nature as gift, gifts that flow to us not by our merit but only through the sheer majestic gratuity of our triune God. Doctrines are then the occasion for praise. For us, this means that to speak well of God’s generosity to us — the goodness of God in being our heavenly Father who gives us good gifts — and to speak in a way that evokes gratitude and worship, it is most fitting that we speak first of God’s goodness without us. Only thereafter will we describe the shape of God’s actions towards us needful creatures and our own actions toward God and one another in response. See John Webster, Confessing God: Essays in Christian Dogmatics II (London: T & T Clark, 2005), 139; Webster, *God Without Measure: Working Papers in Christian Theology, vol. 1, God and the Works of God (London: T & T Clark, 2015), 27; and Steven Holmes, “The Place of Theology in Exegesis,” Shored Fragments, March 6, 2012, http://steverholmes.org.uk/blog/?p=989. 

  3. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/1 (London: T&T Clark, 2004), 257. 

  4. The fact that God is is called by Piper the first foundational reality of Bethlehem Baptist Church. “I Am Who I Am,” sermon, Bethlehem Baptist Church, September 8, 2012, Minneapolis, MN, https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/i-am-who-i-am--2. 

  5. Much of what follows in this section is indebted to the work of John Webster, primarily in God Without Measure, vol. 1. 

  6. John Webster, “Perfection and Participation,” in The Analogy of Being: Invention of the Antichrist or the Wisdom of God? ed. Thomas Joseph White (Grand Rapids; Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 2011), 382. 

  7. The terms immanent and economic are used to describe God’s being and actions in relation to his creation: immanent gestures towards God’s inner life as the unique, perfect fullness in himself as Father, Son, and Spirit; economic points to God’s actions outside his own being, thus his actions toward and in his creation. 

  8. Genesis 1:1–31; Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19; 1 Timothy 4:4. 

  9. Ephesians 1:3–14. 

  10. Making clear the harmonious working of all of God’s being, not merely his will, is key at just this juncture in order to avoid the negative effects of voluntarism. For helpful historical and dogmatic points on this issue, see Steven J. Duby, “Election, Actuality and Divine Freedom: Thomas Aquinas, Bruce McCormack and Reformed Orthodoxy in Dialogue,” Modern Theology 32, no. 3 (July 2016): 325–40. 

  11. Deuteronomy 7:7–8; Romans 5:8; Ephesians 1:4–5. Cf. Augustine, On Genesis against the Manichees, I.4: “One who asks, ‘Why did God will to create heaven and earth?’ is looking for something that is greater than the will of God, but nothing greater can be found.” 

  12. The 1928 edition of the Book of Common Prayer includes in its Evening Prayers for families a thanksgiving that proclaims, “To our prayers, O Lord, we join our unfeigned thanks for all thy mercies; for our being, our reason, and all other endowments and faculties of soul and body . . .” (emphasis added). 

  13. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Ia.45.1. 

  14. Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Pied Beauty” in Hopkins: Poems (New York: Everyman’s Library, 1995), 15. 

  15. The so-called “Creator/creature” distinction, so important in Christian theology and the church’s life, has its roots in especially the Old Testament, in which God’s identity is specified in contrast to the idols of the nations by the fact that he has made all things, including the wood and metals out of which humans “make” their gods. Cf. Psalm 90:2; Romans 11:35–36; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Revelation 4:11. 

  16. “‘Love is also a lover of life’: Creatio ex nihilo and Creaturely Goodness” in God Without Measure, 1:110 (emphasis added). 

  17. Psalm 22:9–10; 71:6; 139:13. Didache 2:1–2. See also P.D. James, The Children of Men (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992). 

  18. Proverbs 6:6. See also Brooke Jarvis, “The Insect Apocalypse Is Here,” New York Times, November 27, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/27/magazine/insect-apocalypse.html. 

  19. Deuteronomy 20:19. See also W.A. Kurz, et al., “Mountain pine beetle and forest carbon feedback to climate change,” Nature 452 (April 2008): 987–90, https://doi.org/10.1038/nature06777. 

  20. Gratitude is a key human response of love to something that is a gift. 1 Timothy 6:17; Matthew 5:45; Psalm 145:9; Ecclesiastes 3:11. See also Joel Salatin, The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs: Respecting and Caring for All God’s Creation (New York: FaithWords, 2017), esp. 15–32. 

  21. John 3:16; 4:10. See especially John Piper, God Is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005). 

  22. Acts 2:38; 10:45; Romans 5:5. See also Webster, Confessing God, 128. 

  23. The keen observer will notice that these sendings of the Son and Spirit (usually called the divine missions) at the incarnation and Pentecost accomplish two inextricably linked things: First, this is the way in which God works salvation for his people. Second, the missions of the Son and Spirit into our world for salvation are simultaneously the very way that God reveals himself to us as Trinity. The divine missions follow or echo — but do not exhaust — the eternal relations of origin that simply are God’s fullness of life (the divine processions). This means that our salvation’s certainty is grounded upon the very eternal, immutable, perfect Trinitarian being of God. In the gospel, God gives himself. 

  24. Obviously, the eternal God’s name could not be less than perfectly holy and good despite appearances to creatures otherwise, any less than God might not be glorious (e.g., Isaiah 48:9–11). God is these things and will be seen as such by his creation. God does not depend on his relation to creation for his being himself, even though creatures are totally dependent upon him for theirs. The former is an insight in Jonathan Edwards’s argument in The End for which God Created the World, in John Piper, ed., God’s Passion for His Glory (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998). On the latter, see John Webster, “Non ex aequo: God’s Relation to Creatures,” ch. 8 in God and the Works of God

  25. See both Aquinas, ST Ia.5.1 resp., “The essence of goodness consists in this, that it is in some way desirable. . . . Hence it is clear that goodness and being are the same really. But goodness presents the aspect of desirableness, which being does not present”; and Jonathan Edwards, The End for which God Created the World §37, “. . . he is worthy in himself to be so, being infinitely the greatest and best of beings. All things else, with regard to worthiness, importance, and excellence, are perfectly as nothing in comparison of him. And therefore, if God has respect to things according to their nature and proportions, he must necessarily have the greatest respect to himself. It would be against the perfection of his nature, his wisdom, holiness, and perfect rectitude, whereby he is disposed to do everything that is fit to be done, to suppose otherwise,” in God’s Passion for His Glory (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998), 140.