How does our view of reality as God’s creation translate into reformational philosophy? We have seen that it requires us to recognise the goodness and the richness of the world around us as well as human responsibility within creation. Philosophers like to use words in a precise way, so it would help to have a word that we can use to refer to the whole of reality that will direct our analysis according to the biblical principles outlined above. We could just use the word ‘creation’, but that already carries lots of different meaning and would not help give the direction needed. Instead, we want a word that has, or can be given, a fairly precise meaning that brings out something of philosophical significance from the belief that reality is indeed God’s creation.
A number of options can be suggested from the writing of different reformational philosophers. We shall start with Vollenhoven’s characterisation of reality as ‘subject’. He writes “That which is created is completely dependent on the Creator, that is to say, wholly subject to his sovereign law, Word revelation, and guidance”.
It is not uncommon in modern philosophy to speak of ‘subject’ or of ‘subjectivity’. Descartes, the so-called ‘father of modern thought’, sought to overcome scepticism and provide a foundation of certainty in science by starting from the thinking subject. Descartes took the Cogito (‘I think’) as the source or principle of its own activity which can master the world which it confronts as its object. This ‘turn to subjectivity’ puts freedom and rationality at the heart of our self-understanding and our view-point on the ‘external world’.
Vollenhoven’s notion is quite different. As a creature, a human being must acknowledge that she finds herself called to be responsible. There is already God’s Word that called us and the world into existence (Genesis 1), that gives us a task (Gen 1:28 & 2:15), that invites us to live under God’s blessing, represented in Genesis 2 by the tree of life, and that warns us against choosing our own path, represented by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As human beings we find that we “stand in subjection” to God’s command. God is King and we are ‘subjects’.
The term subjectivity, in Vollenhoven, refers not just to us as human beings but to the whole of creation as called forth by God’s word and as being sustained by the same word. He takes this ‘being-subject’ of the cosmos as the point of orientation for philosophy. Anthony Tol notes that "this ‘point of orientation’ characterises the being of created reality not as a theoretical-intellectual is, nor a practical-moral ought, but, in emphasising address and response, a poetical-religious can"
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
He gathers the waters of the sea into jars;
he puts the deep into storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the Lord;
let all the people of the world revere him.
For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm. (Psalm 33:6-9)