From the Pastor's Study
From the Pastor’s Study
Creatio ex Nihilo
Nov 2, 2022
One of the laws that govern the universe is that matter cannot be created or destroyed. When we burn gasoline in our cars, the atoms (mostly carbon) are not destroyed. Rather, through a chemical reaction (burning), they join themselves to oxygen and become either carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide. All the components of gasoline remain in existence, although in a different form. The law of the universe that says that matter cannot be created or destroyed is an important one, and we have come to depend on it.
Although this law was not articulated in the form we have it today, long before Jesus was born people were saying the same thing. They had a little statement: “nothing comes from nothing.” Simply put this meant that anything that exists at present had to come from somewhere. In some of the ancient creation stories, therefore, it was said that matter (physical stuff) always existed and that creation was simply an organization of matter into forms that we know today. The gods, these ancient myths say, did not create matter from nothing but, rather, used what was around them to form the world an all that is in it.
But what do Christians say? While we hold to the scientific law that, at present, matter cannot be created or destroyed, at the beginning of time, God created out of nothing everything that is. In other words, before God began to create the universe, there was nothing, and then God spoke and everything came into existence with the form and order that we are familiar with. As Christians we hold to the teaching, “creation out of nothing,” meaning that matter did not always exist but had its origins in God.
Interestingly, this position of “something out of nothing” is being adopted by scientists who hold to the “Big Bang” theory. They say that at some point, there was nothing and, suddenly and without warning, everything that wasn’t suddenly was. They go on to say that the order and form that we know today is a result of millions of years of evolutionary process. An atheistic person (one who believes that God doesn’t exist) will say that this was all random and accidental. We’re just lucky to be here, they might say.
So, for philosophers this is all an interesting question, but does it have anything to do with the common person? We want to make sure that we get out theology right, of course, but does it really matter, in the long run, if God created matter or if matter is eternal? Surprisingly, it does.
Many have noted that the creation story of the Bible shapes how we view relationships, both between us and the rest of creation but also between us and God. So, let’s think about how the eternality of matter might affect how we view our relationship with God.
First, if we consider the ancient idea that the gods shaped and formed pre-existence matter, what does that say about our relationship with them? In this view, while we might have to say that we owe our lives to the gods, we do not owe our existence to them. Already, before the gods got involved, we existed, although in different form. Thus, we become somewhat independent of the gods and we will exist forever with or without them.
Second, if we consider the “big bang” theory in which everything came into existence through a random, unplanned explosion of some sort, we would have to say that we do not owe our existence to God either. In fact, we can eliminate God from our conversations, for he has no part in our existence. Negatively, however, we would also have to say that our continued existence depends on the necessary random events to continue. In other words, we would not be assured that this universe will continue or that our lives have any meaning beyond the here and now because something could go randomly wrong.
The third option gives us an entirely different view of our existence. If God spoke and intentionally brought into being all that is, we must say that we owe our existence to him. In fact, Christians also say that we owe our continuing existence to him, for if God would remove his hand from governing the universe, it would fall apart. Our existence, therefore, becomes God’s responsibility.
Contrary to what we are often told today, namely that we have to take care of the world so that we don’t cease to exist, we would say that our existence is dependent on God’s will and word. That might be a little frightening, of course, because we might conceive that there could be a moment that God would become a little tired of this world and simply remove his care of it, leaving us to cease to exist. The only thing that threatens our existence, then, is the fact that God would cease to care enough to continue to provide for us.
But do we have to worry? Paul writes in Romans 8:31 that “if God is for us, who can stand against us?” Paul goes on to say that God is so in favour of the continuation of this world that he sent his own Son to die on the cross for us so that we could be saved. Thus, the only thing that threatens our existence, namely that God would remove his gracious hand from our lives, is not a threat at all. God made us out of nothing, but he will not allow us to go back to nothing. He will continue to sustain us, no matter what.
And, because how this world came into being helps us understand our relationship with God, we can trust God and put our lives into his hands. We are not here randomly, and we are not here because God is like a child modelling a world out of clay. We are here because God intentionally spoke a word, creating something out of nothing, and, loving what he created, we can be assured that he will take care of us.