Is God Responsible? God, ex-nihilo, and Evil
Things are not right – inwardly we all feel that. The world is manifestly not a perfect paradise, at least according to our human frame of reference. We would acknowledge that from our point of view, creation is not “perfect” . Some Christians go further and say that it is in fact “fallen”. Well that’s a subject for another day, but one of the oldest questions in Christianity is the one that asks: “Given that there is evil in the world, is God to blame?”
Christian thinkers have argued this point for early 2000 years. I am going to argue that God has created a universe where evil is possible, so in a logical sense, if not a moral sense, we have to say that God is involved. I hope to explore the possibilities this opens up, avenues of thinking about life’s challenges which are more, rather than less, helpful.
In the Christian sacred text (the Bible), God is believed to have created everything. That means not just that he crafted everything from something unformed, but that he created everything. Without being too profound, it means He created reality itself; there was no reality to make things from before God made reality itself.
The traditional view is known as creation ex nihilo, a Latin phrase meaning “out of nothing”, which usually comes up in the context of creation, meaning “creation out of nothing”. It is more central, and more important to most Christians’ concept of God than they realise, despite it not being explicitly stated in the bible. It is impossible to envisage, and impossible to prove. It is not knowledge, it is belief. Ex nihilo is implied in scripture by Genesis 1:1, appropriately the first verse of the bible, and reaffirmed in the fantastic words of John 1:3:
“He (Jesus) was with God in the beginning. 3 Through Him All things were made, and without Him nothing was made that has been made.”
Not every Christian thinker has accepted ex nihilo, especially as it is theologically derived from the Bible, rather than explicitly stated. However, the alternative view centres on the assertion that God made what we see from pre-existent matter. This means, if true, that the matter of the universe is as eternal as God is and all sort of theological questions then arise. It means that either matter is eternal or that something or someone created the chaos. Creation itself remains unexplained, being the product of something or someone else who failed to finish the job.
That view is convenient (if not attractive) because we could blame evil on that unidentified creator and not on God but the implications are wider than that. We pretty soon end up with God either coexisting with another being (something preceding God or superseding God), or derived from another being, who may or may not have the qualities we associate with “ours”.
Yet if we decide that God cannot have made evil or had any part in it, in an effort to defend God then this is precisely where we end up – ex nihilo is discarded, whether we realise it or not. On the other hand, if we accept ex nihilo as a fundamental basis of Judeo-Christian belief about God and creation then in a sense, God created evil. We can nuance this by saying God created everything therefore He created the possibility, perhaps the probability that evil would emerge.
Our task is not to try and explain that away, but rather accept it as logically inescapable and speculate why. Whether or not we then “blame God” is another matter but we need to start from first principles that at least grant God the supremacy that is claimed in our sacred texts. That need not be devastating if we keep thinking. We can argue that the way in which the universe works, and the way in humans are made contains something of such value and preciousness, that the emergence or possibility of evil must be worth it. The alternatives might be worse, or there may be a purpose or a reason for all this? I hope to explore that in this series of blogs. Let’s see where we go with it.