An Alternative Doctrine of Creation: God Always Creates out of Creation in Love

March 19th, 2013 / 10 Comments

In previous blog essays, I’ve offered reasons why Christians should reject the idea God creates from nothing. I’ve also hinted at an alternative doctrine of creation that embraces the positive elements of creatio ex nihilo but is not susceptible to the negative elements. It’s finally time to offer the basics of my alternative: creatio ex creation en amore (God always creates out of creation in love).

As I said in the previous blog, my alternative doctrine of creation affirms that creatures depend upon God. It affirms that as the loving giver, God provides existence to creation as its Creator. My theory also says God does not depend upon creatures for God’s own existence. Creation exists contingently, while God exists necessarily.

My alternative denies that our universe or any existing thing is co-eternal with God. It denies that God happened upon some “stuff” that pre-dates or pre-exists God. Everything that exists and has ever existed has God as its Creator. And my alternative doctrine maintains essential distinctions between the Creator and creatures.

My alternative creation doctrine, creatio ex creatione en amore, embraces all these important beliefs.

The Basic Notion

The basic idea of creatio ex creation en amore is that God has always – everlastingly – been creating out of that which God previously created. There was never a time God was not creating, and there was no first creation. Just as God has always existed and is without beginning, God has also been creating out of what God previously created, and this is without beginning.

Of course, the idea God always creates out of that which God previously created presents a mental challenge. This doctrine entails an everlasting sequence of God creating from that which God previously created. And that’s difficult to fathom!

Let me be quick to add that God creating from that which God previously created is no more difficult to fathom logically than the idea God exists everlastingly. Both involve an everlasting sequence with no beginning. We can’t get our brains around either one, because we cannot imagine what it means to exist everlastingly. But both beliefs, I argue, make better sense of the biblical witness and meet the challenges we addressed earlier.

In short, saying God has always existed and always been creating generates no logical problems. It just changes the way we think of God’s everlasting existence. In the traditional view, God hasn’t been always creating. In my alternative, God has always created out of that which God created previously. And God will continue to do so into the future.

However, the doctrine that God creates something new from something God previously created emphasizes that God acts first in each creative moment. Each moment begins with God’s creative and giving grace. Creatio ex creatione en amore merely adds that this creative process had no absolute beginning. There has been no first moment of God’s creating, because there has never been a first moment in God’s everlasting life.

Better than Creatio Ex Nihilo

The alternative creation doctrine I propose offers many advantages over creatio ex nihilo. Because of space constraints, I list a few, although I have mentioned some already. My doctrine that God always creates from what God previously created…

1. has general biblical support, because Scripture always speaks of God creating in relation to something. While the Bible does not say God has been creating everlastingly, it always speaks of God’s creating in relation to something. Creatio ex nihilo does not have biblical support, because it says God creates from nothing.

2. implies that, as Genesis says, the world is essentially good not evil. Creatio ex nihilo cannot make this claim as strongly, because the “nothing” out of which the world was allegedly made is not essentially good. It’s nothing.

3. entails that creating is essential to God’s nature. Creatio ex nihilo entails that God’s creating is wholly voluntary, and God is accidentally a creator. In the same sense that saying God has always been loving in Trinity means love is essential to God’s nature, saying God has always been creating means creating is essential to God’s nature.

4. fits the view that God never unilaterally determines (coerces), and therefore allows us to say God is not culpable for failing to prevent genuine evil. God always creates in relation to others, and God never entirely controls in the creating process. Creatio ex nihilo and the divine power it requires makes the problem of evil unsolvable.

5. entails that God essentially relates with creatures, because God has always been relating to some creaturely realm. God is essentially relational toward creatures. Creatio ex nihilo denies God essentially relates to creatures.

God Essentially Loves Creation

Perhaps the strongest advantage my alternative doctrine provides is this: creatio ex creatione en amore says God essentially loves creation. The God whose eternal nature involves lovingly creating and relating to creatures is One who loves creation essentially. We can affirm quite literally the common biblical affirmation that God’s love is “everlasting” with regard to creatures.

My alternative is better than creatio ex nihilo, in part because it provides a conceptual basis for saying “loving creatures” is part of God’s essence. A number of Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) scholars argue against creatio ex nihilo exegetically and for the notion that God lovingly creates in relation to something. Terence Fretheim, Walter Brueggemann, and J. Richard Middleton do some of the most influential and persuasive work on the notion that Scripture portrays God as creating in love.

J. Richard Middleton’s work is especially helpful. He says Genesis 1 “depicts God’s founding exercise of creative power in such a way that we might appropriately describe it as an act of love.” God creating from something rather than nothing, and in that moment and all subsequent creative moments, says Middleton, God grants “non-coercive freedom” to creation. In fact, God shares power and asks creation to participate in the creative process. Middleton concludes, “Genesis 1:1-2:3 converges on John 3:16,” because “in both creation and redemption, ‘God so loved the world that he gave…’”

To say love for creation is part of God’s eternal nature, however, means that God necessarily loves the world. This rightly implies God is not free not to love. God must love, because love is God’s nature. God is free to choose how to love, however, but not whether to love.

This limitation of God’s freedom troubles some people. They think God’s love should be free in all respects. They not only want to say God freely chooses how to love. They also want to deny love for creatures is part of God’s eternal essence. They want to say, instead, God could choose not to love creatures, if God so desired.

The problem with affirming creatio ex nihilo and denying God’s nature entails loving creation is that this provides no grounds to trust God will continually love us. If God’s nature does not include love for creation, we cannot be confident God will love creation in the future or has always loved in the past. God’s love for the world may or may not be so. It is arbitrary.

A God who may or may not love us could hate us. Absolutely nothing, not even the divine nature, prevents God from hating us and doing evil toward us. In short, the God who creates out of nothing does not essentially relate to and love the world and could voluntarily choose to hate it.

Of course, many Christians believe God will always love creatures. But those who embrace creatio ex nihilo have no good grounds for believing so. If nothing external forces God to love creation (which I affirm) and nothing internal to God makes it the case the God must love creation (which I reject), God could decide to stop loving creation. Because creatio ex nihilo implies that God’s eternal nature does not include love for creation, those who embrace that creation doctrine have no reason to assume God will keep loving creatures tomorrow.

Diagnostic Questions

In my work, The Nature of Love, I propose three diagnostic questions about God’s love. The answers given them reveal that many people are inconsistent in their view of God’s love for us.

1.    Could God stop loving us?

Most people answer this question with “yes” (although I do not). Most affirm creatio ex nihilo and think God’s love for the world is freely chosen in all respects. The God who created from nothing is not obligated to love creation, because loving creation is not a necessary aspect of God’s eternal essence. God could stop loving us, they say, if God voluntarily chose to do so.

After hearing this answer, I subsequently ask this question:

2.    Would God stop loving us?

Almost every Christian answers this question with “no” (and I agree). But the people who think God could stop loving us have no justification for thinking God would not stop loving us. Those who affirm creatio ex nihilo and think God’s love for the world is not essential to God’s nature have no grounds for believing God will continually love them. To say it another way, there is no reason to think God will continue loving us and not start hating us if God’s eternal nature does not include love for the world.  

After these two questions, I often ask a third,

3.    Why are you confident God will always love us?

Most people say something like, “I am confident God will always love me, because to stop loving me would mean God isn’t acting like God.”

This answer, in my mind, reveals that most people really do think God’s love for creation is essential to God’s nature. The phrase “God isn’t acting like God” (and its equivalents) suggests this. Most people actually do think God’s love for us is a necessary aspect of what it means to be God. And this is one more reason they should reject creatio ex nihilo and adopt my alternative creation theory instead.

Conclusion

We need an alternative to creatio ex nihilo. Ideally, it should be one that fits the biblical witness that God always creates out of something. And it should not depict God’s power in such a way as to make God culpable for failing to prevent genuine evil.

The alternative I propose – creatio ex creatione en amore – accounts for the biblical and evil issues I mention. It accounts for other factors I addressed that have led some to maintain their allegiance to creatio ex nihilo. The theory that God has always been creating out of creation in love offers a new and potentially more satisfying paradigm for affirming God as our Creator!

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Comments

Hans Deventer

Tom, thanks for explaining it one more time and I’m finally getting it, this idea of eternal creation and how that makes sense within the concept of God being eternal.

Myself, I am also inconsistent in my view of God’s love for us. Why do I trust He will keep loving us? Because of Christ. And that is really all. Een the promises in the Scriptures can work out quite differently. We all know He can and has changed His mind at times. So what basis do we have? None but the cross. So I’m not building my faith on what I beleve God cannot not do. I trust Him because of what He has done, one specific moment in time and place, preceded nor repeated by similar events.

Abraham Herschel wrote that in order for something to be true in history, it only has had to happen once, contrary to for instance scientific laws.

Well, this once in a lifetime event is the heart of my faith and trust. And frankly, I would not dare to build it on anything else.

So in answer to your questions, I’d come up with yes, no and Christ respectively. And I’ll be gratefully celebrating His everlasting love for us next week especially.

Blesings,
Hans


DinkyDauBilly

Well, Doc, this sums up very nicely what I have always more or less felt about the subject, though I have never been able to articulate it. Not like you did. Nicely swot, if I may say so.

Here’s a question, which I am sure is a bit on the simpleminded side, which explains why I don’t have an answer and why I’m asking it here: If God can’t/won’t stop loving us, why then all the Godly smiting in days of yore, such The Flood and the other various and sundry destructions, resulting in blood running in the gutters and corpses bloating in the sun? Just a form of collateral damage? A Biblical variation on “We had to destroy the town in order to save it.”? (for the youngsters among us, that’s attributed in one form or another from another ‘moment of revelation’ at Bến Tre, February, 1968.)

Or perhaps it’s all just some of those bad things happening, and many of those biblical events attributed to God are nothing more than a primitive nomadic culture trying to answer the same questions we ask, and in the process pinning the blame on what surely, if we accept it – because it’s in the Bible, you know – must be the ultimate in abusive parental figures?

If I ask that in Sunday school, I get a response like I deliberately passed gas in the middle of a communion service, and then picked my nose to boot. Too many times, I just don’t feel the love …

So I solved that. I just don’t go to Sunday school, there to have what logic I possess assaulted not only illogically, but irrationally as well. Instead, I go for a bike ride down a country road with my Accomplice in Life, beyond the reach of some shallow-thinking moron on a self-appointed mission from God, where we in awesome wonder consider all the works that God’s hands have made.


Mark W. Wilson

I’ve read your book The Nature of Love so I am familiar with your argument that God loves out of necessity because love is his essential nature. But how do we, on a pastoral level, keep this idea from making God’s love and his creative activity impersonal? Our praise of the good actions of others is often predicated upon the possibility that they could have done otherwise.  If God loves me because he can do nothing but love, and he creates because he can do nothing but create,He is being praised for that over which he has no control.

I know you say God may be deciding how to love us even if he isn’t deciding whether to love us, but I wonder if the “how” holds up under careful examination.On what basis could God decide to love us in one way over another? Wouldn’t His nature always cause him to choose the way that creates the greatest good for us? I suppose it is possible that multiple expressions of God’s love could achieve the greatest good. But this seems improbable. There may be many routes to Kansas City but it seems likely that only one is the quickest.

On a relational level it seems that much of my thanksgiving assumes God’s volition. Your emphasis on God not coercing anything and God loving from necessity seems to reduce (or expand)God to an impersonal benevolent cosmic creative force. Because I know a relational theology is central to your thinking,I find this puzzling.

Of course, this may be my own idiosyncratic response to your ideas. But if, using your interrogative approach, we ask most people why they have praised someone for their actions, I think they would say, “Because the did something good when they could have done nothing or something evil.”

I certainly agree that God can not do evil, that He is not free to hate. But could God do merely that which is just? Does our thanksgiving for God’s grace presuppose God choosing do to something beyond justice? Or should we assume that grace, like love, is not a choice for God? If grace is just an expression of God’s nature and never a choice, does it depersonalize the nature of grace?


Earl Duque

Christians believe Creatio Ex Nihilio because that us what God said…


Ben

Mark,

I too had the question about necessary love depersonalizing God’s love for us.  However, what I concluded is that His love is necessary, but how He expresses it, the form it takes, are all tailored to us individually, i.e., personally.  He can’t but love us, but the how, where, when, and to what degree, that’s totally inter-personally.  I would also add that the highest form of this personal necessary love is the Cross.  So, if I believe that God loves me and gave me a parking spot at Wal-Mart, that’s fine, but as long as I understand that that love is first and foremost defined by the cross—not by whether or not the parking spot is there the next time I go to the store.  The Cross personalizes His love and anchors it so that His latter personal expressions to us as individuals are tokens and not the substance of what it means that He loves.


Brandon

I find this alternative to creatio ex nihilo fascinating.  Can you tell me whether or not it is in accord with orthodox Catholic teaching on creation?  Namely, that the world has a beginning time and God created from nothing?  Is there anyway to make your theory compliant with Catholic theology?  Thanks so much.


John W. Dally

Dr. Oord

I am comfortable with your view of God always creating from something. It aligns with physics as in string throry and brane theory. Physcists do not limit the universe to just the universe we live in but see it as one of many universes called Multiverse.  Multiverse sees the “cosmos” as unlimited universes, like bubbles coming from a bubble pipe. In that view it is quite reasonable to accept that God always creates from something because universes are limitless and therefore creation is limitless.

I would like to make some observations from the previous postings.

I see a tendacy to see love as many see grace, a substance or a power. Love and grace are based upon an attitude. If the nature of God is love, it does not mean that God is mechanical and must love as we must breathe. The concept of God always loving and creating out of love is hard for us to conprehend because unlike God we are not by nature love. We are applying anthropromorphic characteristics to the love that defines God. We can only experience Godly love in a limited way and in limited time. If we could emagine being in that state permanently we would have a clue to what it means to say that God cannot not love.

A second observation is noted. There are many references to the Cross. In my view the cross is the defining expression of God to humanity. My theology says that once God became incarnate God will always be incarnate in Jesus Christ, such is the significance of the Cross missed my many. But what about other worlds or other universes?  I am left to say that the Cross is how God dealt with our world and our species.  That does not rule out other ways God could accomplish the same result in another world or universe for that matter. Maybe the question, “Why did God chose this way to show his love and not another” is answered by concieving that God may have chosen another way in another universe. Thoughts Dr Oord?

I am in agreement with creatio ex creatione en amore , however there is a lot of ramifications open for more discussion


Bev Mitchell

Re necessary love being somehow impersonal

God is truth, necessarily
God is Spirit, necessarily
God is good, necessarily
God is creative, necessarily

These formulations do not directly or uniquely address the personal. They can be very personal, they can also be more general. Because they come from God, they are inadequately understood by us. We do know them both personally and impersonally. Does this help?


A.C. Gleason

To Brandon,
No there is no way “current” way to reconcile this with the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church or the Eastern Orthodox Church and the teaching of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. I can provide evidence for this claim if you’d like but at the very least the condemnation of Origen’s infinite cycles of recreation makes a RC acceptance of Dr. Oord’s theology highly dubious. The structure of his thesis isn’t exactly original. There are several strands of Eastern Religion and Greek Philosophy that go along these lines. This is one of the reasons that Origenism was eventually totally condemned, because it was far too Platonist and not grounded in the teaching of the Church or the scriptures.

I have some more thoughts that I’ll share soon.


Roger A. Sawtelle

Does God need to love everyone?  Not in my opinion.  Does God love everyone?  Yes.

God Is Who God Is.  God does not have to do anything.  On the other hand God chooses to love humans.  It is God’s character to causes God to love, not God’s nature.

Did God love Hitler and Stalin?  Yes.  Did they love God?  No. 

It seems to me that there comes a time when God lets go of those who repeatly demonstrate that they want no part of God in their lives. 

Since God loves people, God respects their rejection of God’s love and allows them be without God, which is what Hell really is.
Hell also is separate from heaven to protect the righteous.

People can always change, but if they don’t God is just as well a loving.  I am glad that I am not God and do not have the responsibility to judge the hearts of humans.


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