Final (Unconvincing) Reasons Some Affirm Creatio Ex Nihilo
In two previous posts, I offered a total of six reasons some believers affirm the theory that God created our universe from absolutely nothing. I also said why I’m not convinced by those reasons. In this essay, I look at the final three reasons some give for why they accept creation from nothing.
If you’re curious about the two previous posts, you can access them here1 and here2. For each reason given, I acknowledge the strength of the reason and its weakness. This is part of a book I’m writing that offers a new theory of initial creation to replace creation from nothing.
Now to the final three reasons some theists accept creatio ex nihilo...
God Doesn’t Depend on Others
Some scholars believe creatio ex nihilo protects God’s essential independence from creation. The God who can bring something from nothing does not depend upon creatures. God existed alone before creating the universe, they say, so God doesn’t need anybody or anything else.
Whenever I hear this claim, I wonder, “Is depending upon others an inherently bad thing? And are independent individuals our paradigm of greatness? Besides, if we believe God loves in relation to others, why think God is essentially independent?”
Some theologians appeal to the Trinity as a way to talk about God relating before creating our universe. God relates within Godself. Most say God is dependent within Trinity but essentially independent from creatures. God always and necessarily relates in Godself, these theologians claim, but voluntarily and contingently relates to creatures.
The Trinity can help us to think about God’s relationality. But it doesn’t answer this question: “Is depending upon creatures a bad thing?” And “What’s the harm in thinking God always loves creatures, and love always involves dependence?”
To account for God’s relational love, I’m not satisfied by appealing to intra-Trinitarian relations alone. I see good reasons to think God necessarily relates and loves externally. God essentially relates ad extra, to use the Latin words, not just ad intra.
Some forms of independence are praiseworthy. But some forms of dependence are also praiseworthy. We need to identify how a loving God may depend on creation in some ways and not others. As I see it, depending on others is not always a bad thing, even for God.
Creation is a Gift
Some Christians think creatio ex nihilo tells us something important about God’s motive for creating. Creation is a gift, they say. If God must create, creation is required. Because God’s creating is a gift, the motive for creating must come entirely from God. True gifts are not forced.
I mostly hear scholars offer the “creation is a gift” reason for affirming creation from nothing. But some in the wider Christian community also find it attractive. Saying creation is a gift seems to support the idea that love motives God’s creating. I can why this view is appealing, because I also affirm love as God’s motive for creating.
“Creation is a gift” can mean many things, however. If it means nothing external forces God to create, I like the idea. I think God’s nature of love motivates God to create. But we don’t have to affirm creation from nothing to say love motivates God’s creating. We’ll need to examine God’s motivations more closely and what their source might be.
The Creator Differs from the Creatures
Some Christians affirm creatio ex nihilo because it identifies a way the Creator differs from creatures. We creatures always create out of something. God alone can create something from absolute nothingness, say some. Despite biblical texts and common speech to the contrary, some even claim that the word “create” means bringing something from nothing.
Theologians use “transcendence” to identify how God differs from creation. The Creator transcends creation and creatures in many ways. Conceptual problems immediately arise, however, when we say God differs in all ways from creatures. If this were true, we’d have no language to talk meaningfully about God. Numerous biblical passages – such as saying we’re created in God’s image or that we should imitate God’s love – would make no sense. We are wise to believe the Creator does not transcend creatures in all ways.
Problems also arise if we say God differs from creatures in no way. If this were true, much of the Bible would also be meaningless. God would simply be another creature and in no way transcendent. Consequently, just about every theologian – whether explicitly or implicitly – assumes there are differences and similarities between Creator and creatures. God transcends creatures in some respects but not in others.
This leads us to ask: Why insist that the ability to create something from nothing is one way God must be transcendent? There are many other ways the Creator transcends creation. For instance, God transcends creation by being omnipresent, omniscient, sovereign, perfectly loving, blameless and pure, everlasting, etc. Is adding “can create something from nothing” to the list of divine transcendence identifiers necessary?
These three reasons for affirming creatio ex nihilo and the six from previous essays have varying degrees of helpfulness. Some are rather weak; others have more strength. I’ve hinted at my alternative creation theory as I surveyed them. And I’ve promised richer explanations.
In future blogs, I’ll lay out my alternative theory…
Thomas Jay Oord