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