Creation: a doctrine of freedom and dependence

Thinking through some issues on the doctrine of creation, I've realized that I'm less comfortable with what I'll call the "traditional" view than I thought I was. Traditionally, the doctrine of creation asserts that God created the world ex nihilo (out of nothing) and that God is completely independent in God's identity from the world. As Dr. George Hunsinger (who I'm proud refer to as my professor) put it, in simple terms: if the doctrine of creation were a math equation it would go something like this,

God - Creation = God
Creation - God = 0

In other words, creation is completely dependent upon God but God is not dependent at all upon creation. Without God, creation ceases. Without creation, God is still God. But my problem is that I think we need a more robust--call it "relational"--understanding of the word 'dependant.'

Dependence is not just one thing and we can't go on talking as if it is. For example, there is a sense that I am myself without my wife. It's true, I'd be Wes even if I didn't have Amanda--even if I'd never met her. I am not dependent upon her...
But aren't I? If I had never met Amanda, sure, I'd be Wes, but what sort of Wes would I be? Certainly I'd be a different sort or version of Wes. That's because I am in koinonia (relationship of shared identity, reciprocity, love) with Amanda. I am shaped by my experience in relationship. The self I am with her is different from the self I'd be without her.

Turn this toward the doctrine of creation. I would agree with traditional theists that God is independent insofar as God is God with or without us and, not confusing God for a creature, God is free in God's own identity and agency. This freedom, call it sovereignty, is what gives God capacity for the action of grace that is the act of creation. Creation is a product of grace--in God's freedom, out of God's love, God graces the world with existence but not arbitrarily. Again and again in scripture, God is shown to be a God who enters into koinonia with God's creation. A traditional theist would not contest this assertion--indeed God's gracious turn toward creation is a crown of the doctrine of creation. However, they'd want to assert a kind of koinonia which keeps God safe from being affected by that with which God enters into relationship. But what kind of koinonia is without reciprocity, without identity sharing (if only in a sense), without interdependence? It's certainly not the reciprocity of Jesus' relationship with those he came to save.

Jesus said to his disciples, "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15). There is reciprocity in this and yet, to make such an assertion of interdependence Jesus doesn't have to give up freedom (again, call it sovereignty). Immediately following, Jesus reminds his disciples, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit..." Here there is a weaving together of grace and koinonia. Jesus reciprocates with his disciples. He calls them his friends and shares his identity with them and yet he maintains his own independence (which is a multifaceted sort of thing). 

Christ would be Christ without the poor, without "the least of these" (Matthew 25) this way he is independent. But what sort of Christ would he have been had he not shared his identity with the poor or with crucified people?! The fact is, Jesus did share his identity with "the least of these" (i.e. with creation). In this way Jesus was dependent upon people. Incarnationally, Jesus was shaped by experience--perhaps in a way that was different from any shaping we've ever known, but nevertheless, Jesus was shaped in his own identity by the very people whom he created (Col. 1:16). He shared meals with sinners, touched lepers, and fellowshiped with those on the under-side of society. Koinonia, in light of Jesus, implies a dependence like that which I have upon my wife.

Let the incarnation inform the doctrine of creation. Is not Jesus, after all, the revelation of God--the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15)?  I would argue that to take away from God's freedom, you're certainly taking away from God's grace and sovereignty (a traditionalist would agree), but to take away from God's implicit dependence, albeit a chosen dependence, is to take away from God's koinonia and indeed God's incarnation in Christ. The doctrine of creation is a doctrine of both grace and koinonia, of freedom and dependence.

Koinonia is reciprocity, even interdependence! Grace is freedom, even sovereignty! Creation is an act of grace, for the purpose of koinonia.

God is love. God would be God without creation and yet God, in God's freedom, has chosen a kind of dependence upon creation. God has chosen to be shaped by experience even as God shapes our experience. I don't believe that creation is co-eternal with God--I can affirm that creation is dependent upon God--but I do believe that God would be a different God without creation. That is the only way I can conceive of the kind of koinonia embodied by Jesus and prescribed to the church. For God so loved the world that God refused to be God without creation.