Lately, I have been thinking about the idea of divine creation. For centuries Christians—and most Jews and Muslims too—have asserted “creation from nothing” (creatio ex nihilo). The central point of this idea is that God required no building material out of which to make the universe. For, if God had needed anything other than God’s own power and will to create, we could not think of God as the absolute Lord of creation—a really scary thought! To accomplish this task God would require help from something else. The Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle understood that beings in the world are ever changing, coming into existence and going out of existence. But they also knew that something had to be eternal or nothing would exist, which would be inconceivable…because if nothing existed there would be no mind to conceive and no concepts to think. For them it was axiomatic that the eternal and unchanging world of intelligible forms and ideas exists necessarily. It deserves to be called divine precisely because it is self-sufficient and necessary. Aristotle was so clear that true being is eternal and unchanging that he declared that “from nothing, nothing comes into existence” (ex nihilio, nihil fit). Hence even matter is eternal and does not come into existence or go out of existence. It is always there to be shaped like the potter’s clay into different beings.
The Christian teaching of “creation from nothing” does not directly contradict Aristotle because it does not say that creation sprang into existence from nothing; existing things come from God and God is eternal. So Christian teaching agrees with Aristotle that “from nothing, nothing comes into existence.” Since God is eternal, there never was a time when there was absolutely nothing. But matter is not divine or eternal or necessary. Christianity asserts only one eternal being, God.
The idea of “creation from nothing” has profound implications in many areas of thought and life. I will mention only one. Everything, everyone, and every event that was, is and will be depends totally on God, and God alone, for its fundamental existence. Taking this truth seriously could change your life. Learn this skill: when you feel yourself relying on, serving, worshiping, working for, overvaluing, fearing or desiring anything in creation let it immediately trigger the realization that that creature also depends absolutely on God. Now let that thing direct you to its God and yours. God is the source of every good thing and the answer to every threat found in creatures, no matter how beautiful, powerful or good. If you learn this practice you might find yourself becoming a more thoughtful person, more aware of God than before. And in a world as beautiful and dangerous as ours that’s got to be a good thing.
I have found the works David Burrell, Robert Sokolowski, Michael Dodds, and Thomas Weinandy very helpful on the topic of creation.