by John M. Frame

God’s decrees foreordain, and his creative act brings into actuality, beings other than God. Creation marks the beginning, therefore, of non-divine “otherness.” Now of course otherness does exist eternally within the divine nature. But creation is the beginning of something new: a non-divine otherness, a creaturely otherness. Creatures are the work of God, fully planned by God, dependent on him, and under his control. But they are not God, not extensions of God’s nature.

Creaturely otherness is linked to a number of Christian mysteries and controversies. Consider the following:

1. Where does created otherness come from? It is not an extension of God’s nature, nor is it made of something that exists eternally alongside of God. Scripture teaches that everything except God himself is created by God himself. But those two alternatives would seem to be exhaustive. Thus the church has adopted the formula that God originally created the world out of nothing. But every philosopher knows the proposition, “from nothing, nothing comes.” Evidently God is able to overrule this philosophical principle. When there is nothing, plus the divine energy, something can come forth. What is impossible for man is possible with God. But then we can see that creation is a miracle, such a stupendous miracle as to be quite beyond our comprehension.

2. How should we understand the integrity of creaturely otherness? By “integrity,” I mean the ability of things to exist and function on their own terms, to be distinct from other objects, to play their own distinct roles in history. The integrity of creatures is not simply the integrity of God’s nature, although creatures are certainly dependent on God (“contingent”) for their existence and function. God’s own integrity certainly sustains the existence and functions of creatures. But since God has ordained creatures to be different from him, he has given them natures and functions different from his own.

When a man dies, for example, it is not because God dies. It is, rather, because that death fulfils God’s plan for that particular creature. The man dies because that is his peculiar, individual destiny, different from the fulfilment of God’s purposes as such.

Each item in creation has its own role to play in God’s wise plan. That item will remain in existence as long as it takes to fulfill that distinctive role.

Therefore, if the words “independence” and “autonomy” were not so often attached to unbiblical notions, it might be possible to use them to describe the integrity of creaturely otherness. The human life you live has its own significance, granted by God to be sure, but different from God’s own significance and in that sense “independent” of it. Of course that life is also dependent on God’s plan for history and his providential rule. Once God formulates his plan and creates the world, created individuals have stable historical roles distinct from God himself and sometimes even opposed to him. And once God grants to creatures these roles, he will not take them away, for to do so would violate his own plan.

If God has ordained that Bill will live to be 80 years old, he will not change his mind and take Bill’s life at 60. God’s plan is eternal, unchangeable. It is consistent with itself. Just as God keeps his promises, he also sees to it that his decree will be fulfilled. Like his preceptive will, his decretive will is covenantal.

The above is only the first page of a five-page article. The remainder of the article concerns the character and attributes of God. To read the remainder of the article, click here.