Creatio ex Creatione a Natura Amoris: A new doctrine of creation
I previously identified some problems inherent in creatio ex nihilo. I believe a new doctrine of creation, God’s creating out of creation with a nature of love (creatio ex creation a natura amoris), is more adequate for Christians.
The alternative doctrine I propose says that God’s eternal nature includes love for creatures. Love for creation is God’s motive and motion when creating. And God has always been creating in love.
The revelation of God in Jesus Christ grounds the doctrine that God’s loving nature is the ground of both initial and ongoing creation. John’s gospel says of Jesus “all things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being” (1:3). The love of Jesus is the clearest lens through which we see God’s nature as creative love.
The revelation of God in Jesus Christ suggests that God’s love is noncoercive—even at the initial creation of our universe. Admittedly, if there were nothing that existed prior to God’s acting, nothing would exist for God to control totally. But part of what it means to coerce – in the metaphysical sense – is to be the sufficient cause of something else. Creatio ex nihilo suggests that God acted as a sufficient cause at the initial moment of creation. And this is coercion.
The Bible does not support the classic doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. It does not support the idea that God acted as a sufficient cause – coerced – at the beginning of our universe. But a biblically oriented doctrine of creation should deny some alternative creation theories.
A strong doctrine of creation should
- deny that an eternal dualism exists between good and evil beings or between good and evil matter.
- reject theories that imply God initially created from pre-existing materials or chaos that God did not create but “found at hand.”
- deny the pantheistic notion that God creates out of Godself.
- deny that God depends on creatures in order for God to exist, yet affirm that creation depends for its existence upon God.
The doctrine I propose – creatio ex creatione a natura amoris – avoids all of these problems. At its heart, the new creation theory says that God initially created and continually creates in love from what God previously created.
God not only acts as original Creator of our universe, but God continues creating after the initial burst that brought our universe into existence. The Psalmist speaks of God continually creating (creatio continua) when he writes, “When you send forth your spirit, they are created” (Ps. 104:30).
When the Genesis writer first mentions God’s creative activity, he describes God creating from something rather than nothing. “The Spirit hovers over the face of the deep” (Gen. 1:2). From that initial creative moment and in other creative moments described in Genesis 1, says biblical scholar, Richard Middleton, God grants “non-coercive freedom” to creation.
Biblical scholar, Terrence Fretheim, confirms Middleton’s general interpretation of Genesis. “The creation accounts demonstrate that God chooses not to act alone in bringing the creation into being,” says Fretheim. “While God is certainly the initiator and primary actor in creation, God certainly involves both the human and the nonhuman in the continuing process of creation.”
Creatio ex creatione a natura amoris affirms at least the following ideas as part of its theory of creation:
1. God’s eternal and essential nature of love motivates God’s initial and ongoing creative activity.
2. God’s creative activity in the past and present brings into being something genuinely new. God does not merely rearrange what existed previously.
3. God creates something new out of what God created previously.
4. God does not coerce when creating.
5. God has always been creating.
6. To exist, creatures depend upon God’s creative activity. But as the everlasting Creator, God exists necessarily.
7. Creatures play a role in the coming to be of all things. In love, Creator God invites contingent creatures to co-create.
I am arguing that in each moment of God’s everlasting life, God creates something new from what God created in the past. Nothing predates God. But God’s prevenient and creative activity comes before any single creature exists. God’s creating has always been occurring in the past and will always occur in the future.
The idea that God everlastingly creates may be unsettling to some readers. It is unsettling chiefly because of its unfamiliarity. Nothing about the view is logically problematic. Besides, the vast majority of Christians affirm that God exists everlastingly. To believe also that God everlastingly creates from what God had previously created breaks no rules of logic.
Our habits of mind are the major obstacle to affirming that God creates out of creation through a nature of love. Although we normally think of the creating we see every day as bringing something new from something else, we habitually think of God’s creating as bringing something new from nothing at all. The Christian tradition, not the Bible, has formed our habit of mind in this regard.
The Bible sustains the theory that God everlastingly creates out of creation through love. While biblical authors do not explicitly endorse the details or label I propose, I believe the biblical data supports my theory better than alternatives.
By combining the Genesis 1 creation narrative—in which God creates from something—with the chesed of God’s everlasting love for creation and insight of kenosis, creatio ex creatione a natura amoris enjoys solid biblical justification.
To hear that God creates out of that which God previously created may worry some who fear that this idea reduces the Creator to a creature. But his worry is unfounded. We must overcome this worry, and we can do so by noting the differences between God and creation in my theory.
- God is the only creative agent who necessarily and everlastingly exists. No single creature, species, world, or universe exists everlastingly.
- God is the only creative agent whose nature is love and therefore necessarily creates in love. The creative activity of creatures is not necessarily loving, because love is not an essential aspect of their natures.
- God exerts the most creative power on others, because God is the almighty Creator. Creatures are weaker than God is, and their creative power is limited to affecting only some others.
- God’s creative vision for creation includes all possibilities whatsoever. The creature’s localized and constrained knowledge of what it thinks possible limits the creaturely vision.
- As one creative actor, God created and continues to create the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1). No creaturely actor or the whole of existing creaturely actors have created or everlastingly create the heavens and the earth.
It’s important to acknowledge that the classic doctrine of creatio ex nihilo does not regard God’s creating as arising from God’s nature. It thinks of creaturely creating and divine creating as both arising from entirely free decisions.
Creatio ex nihilo regards divine and creaturely creating as of the same voluntary mode. Creatio ex creatione a natura amoris, however, thinks of God and creatures as different in this respect. After all, the God who everlastingly and necessarily creates is Creator in a much stronger sense, because creating is part of this God’s nature. In creatio ex creatione a natura amoris, creating in love is essential to what it means to be God. Creating is not an eternal aspect of the God who creates voluntarily from absolutely nothing.
I admit that I do not expect rapid acceptance of my theory that God creates out of creation through a nature of love. Old habits of mind die hard. Two thousand years of Christians affirming creatio ex nihilo means that change—despite good reasons—will likely be slow in coming.
But I hope my appeal to the primacy of love and its supporting ideas will begin to break ingrained habits of mind. If “all things were made” through Christ (Jn. 1:2) and Jesus’ kenosis reveals the nature of God’s self-giving love (Phil. 2:7), we rightly say God initially and continually creates through kenosis, not coercion.
In the name of love, Christians should adopt creatio ex creatione a natura amoris—or something very similar—and reject creatio ex nihilo.