Why I Reject Creation from Nothing
Few people wake up one morning and say, “Today, I will renounce the idea God created our universe from nothing.”
I suspect that most people have not even heard of the idea, which is expressed by the Latin words creatio ex nihilo. And those who have heard of creation from nothing probably have no reason to question the theory. Until we discover problems with our views, we continue believing them.
I’ve spent the last few days at a conference at which I was probably the only scholar who thinks Christians should renounce creatio ex nihilo. That experience prompts me to write this blog.
I want to tell a bit of my story about how I’ve come to reject creation from nothing.
Until the 1990s, I accepted creation from nothing. I had no reason to question the longstanding view of how God made the universe. The theory identified God as Creator, and I didn’t matter to me much how God created. In my view, the details were irrelevant.
I discovered during this time that the Bible provided little to no support for creation from nothing. Believers might read the theory into the text. But it wasn’t explicitly stated there.
Upon discovering that creatio ex nihilo isn’t explicitly stated in the Bible, I didn’t reject the theory immediately. After all, the Bible has little to no support for the theories of gravity, photosynthesis, or evolution, but I accept them. I had come to believe that science tells us what God creates and the Bible tells us that God creates. The how and the why of creation were not central to me, at least as I tried to make sense of how science and theology relate.
The Primacy of Love
During the 1990s, I also became convinced that God’s nature is love, and God always loves all creation. I believed that humans were to some extent free, and God did not control everything. I did not blame God for unnecessary pain and gratuitous suffering, because I believed God opposed evil. My orienting concern became the biblical claim that God is love, although I was just beginning to work out what this entails.
I also came to believe God calls us to live lives of love. As a Christian, I wanted to love God, others, myself, and all creation. I wanted to follow Jesus’ example and live in response to his life, death, and resurrection. I encouraged others to love too. To me, love mattered most both for understanding God and for understanding how I and others ought to act.
In the latter portion of the 1990s, I began to think in greater depth about God’s power and love. I realized that if God allowed genuine evil that God could have prevented, God could not be perfectly good. A truly good person prevents genuine evil if doing so is possible. To put it another way, a good person – whether human or divine – does not permit the unnecessary suffering that could be stopped.
Defending Belief in God
As I took graduate classes and eventually earned my doctoral degree in philosophy of religion and theology, I encountered sophisticated “defenses” for why God permits evil. Famous scholars offered excuses for why a loving God allegedly allows evil in our lives. But none of those defenses or excuses convinced me. I could think of no good reason why a loving and omnipotent God would allow unnecessary evil that God could have been prevented.
I recognized, of course, that God might not want to eliminate all discomfort, pain, and suffering. Our growth and ultimate happiness sometimes require difficulties. But a loving God would want to stop meaningless malevolence, unnecessary pain, and gratuitous suffering. These are genuine evils. Genuine evils make the world worse than it might otherwise have been had some other possible events occurred. We all believe in genuine evil — at least we act like we do. The Christian view of sin assumes that genuine evils occur, and our sin makes us culpable for at least some evils.
By the turn of the 21st century, I was convinced God must not have the power necessary to prevent evil by acting alone. To put it simply, God can’t prevent creatures or creation from doing evil. God can’t do so, because God’s love is self-giving, others-empowering, and uncontrolling. Consequently, I wrote several articles that addressed God’s power and love in light of evil. My most sophisticated argument to date is found in my book The Uncontrolling Love of God. If you’re interested in the details, I hope you consider getting the book.
But here’s the crux of my argument…
God Can’t Prevent Evil
Like just about everyone, I think genuine evils occur. Most if not all murder, rape, torture, incest, and genocide are genuinely evil. And we could list many other genuine evils. Such evils didn’t need to occur. They seem to serve no greater purpose. Because of them, our lives are worse than they might have been. A loving person with the power to stop genuine evil ought to do so. Love not only does good, it also prevents evil, if it can.
In my intellectual journey, I came to believe God cannot prevent genuine evil, at least not by acting alone. To put it in a sophisticated way, God cannot unilaterally determine any creature, situation, or natural law to stop genuine evil.
Some people are troubled when they hear me say God can’t do something. Most Christians don’t realize the Bible says there are things God cannot do. But thinking God’s power is limited is common among theologians and Christian philosophers. Most say God can’t act illogically, for instance. Many say God can’t contradict God’s own nature. If we think about it carefully, saying God cannot do some things isn’t so odd.
My argument says God cannot control others. God cannot do this, because controlling others would require God to contradict God’s own nature of love. I call my view “essential kenosis.”
In his letter to the Church in Philippi, the Apostle Paul says Jesus reveals God’s kenosis. I think kenosis is God’s self-giving, others-empowering love. In kenotic love, God provides freedom, agency, self-organization, and/or existence to creatures and creation. God’s love gives, does good, but cannot control others.
Because love comes first logically in God’s nature, God’s must self-give and others-empower. God cannot not love, to use the double negative. Love is God’s heart, and God “cannot deny himself,” to quote the Apostle Paul (2 Tim. 2:13). God’s gifts are “irrevocable,” to quote Paul again (Rom. 11:29). God always and necessarily expresses self-giving, others-empowering love.
Essential kenosis says God cannot control others, in the sense of unilaterally determining what they do. I’m using the phrase “cannot control others” in the way philosophers might use the phrase “sufficient cause.” More specifically, God cannot withdraw, withhold, or override the freedom, agency, self-organization, or existence God necessarily gives creatures and creation.
In short, I believe God can’t control others.
Because God cannot control, God is not morally responsible for failing to prevent evil. The uncontrolling God of love neither causes nor allows genuine evil. Creatures and creation are evil’s source. Stopping evil requires both 1) God’s loving action and 2) creaturely cooperation or appropriate creaturely conditions. In other words, creation plays an essential role in preventing evil.
Essential kenosis solves the central riddle in the problem of evil. It rejects the idea that God voluntarily refrains from controlling others. Some kenosis theologies affirm such voluntarily self-limitation. But a voluntarily self-limited God should sometimes freely become un-self-limited, in the name of love, to prevent genuine evil. Theologians who say God voluntarily self-limits, therefore, cannot solve the problem of evil.
My view says God’s nature of love regulates God’s power, which means, in part, that God cannot control others. Self-giving, others-empowering, and therefore uncontrolling love is essential to God’s nature, and God always loves. That’s why I call my view essential kenosis.
Essential kenosis rejects the idea that external forces limit God. Rather than outside powers, agents, or natural laws placing limits on God, God’s own nature limits divine power. Exterior authorities don’t box God in or put God in a metaphysical straightjacket. God’s own nature of love orders what God can and cannot do.
God cannot control others, because God’s nature is uncontrolling love.
The Problem of Evil and Creation from Nothing
Because I think genuine evils occur often in the world, I came to believe creatio ex nihilo ought to be abandoned.
There are other reasons I think we ought to reject creation from nothing. I’ll address those in due time. But I’m walking through my intellectual journey to show the connection between the problem of evil and rejecting creatio ex nihilo.
I came to see that the creation from nothing theory assumes a view of divine power that makes God culpable for failing to prevent evil. In other words, a God who can create from nothing could stop unnecessary evil. A God culpable for evil isn’t a consistently loving God. Because I think God always loves and is never morally blameworthy, creatio ex nihilo had to go. And because I believe God’s motive for creating is love, I needed a theory of initial creation that put love front and center.
I’m currently working on a book that explores these issues in greater depth. My main point for this essay, however, is to indicate a bit of my journey to rejecting creation from nothing. In short, I cannot affirm creation from nothing and also explain well why a loving and powerful God fails to prevent genuine evil.
In the name of love, I reject creatio ex nihilo.In the name of love, I reject creatio ex nihilo. Click To Tweet