Ex Nihilo: Everything from Nothing
One element of the Christian faith that makes it differ from religious and non-religious beliefs around the world is the idea that all of creation was created out of nothing by an eternal and changeless God. Pantheistic religions like Buddhism argues for a pre-existent natural realm that is an expression of the divine, Greek religions believed that the gods created all things out of pre-existing matter that was formed into the world around us, and atheistic groups hold to the position that matter is eternal. Christianity, though, takes a very different view.
In Christianity, all matter and all life was created out of nothing by divine fiat — God said, and it came into being. This makes all things to be dependent on God for their very existence. Were God to cease to exist, all matter would burst into an infinite number of particles. In philosophical terms, we would say that God is the only “non-contingent” being and all things apart from God are contingent — in other words, our existence depends on God’s, not the other way around.
Why is this important? If God is God…that is, if God is who he says he is…that means he is greater than any being in existence. Yet, to be “greater” or the “greatest” that means he must rely or depend on no one and nothing. Were God to rely on something else for his existence, then that something would be greater.
Why can’t nature be eternal? The Greeks certainly taught that as do the atheists of today. It is primarily because nature is changing and thus contains the potential to not exist. Furthermore, if it cannot provide a first cause (what philosophers would call an “efficient cause”) that actualizes the potential. In other words, every effect must have a cause and that cause must in turn have a cause as well. At the very least, there must be an initial cause who needs no cause (in other words, that initial cause is pure actuality and has no potential).
To some of you, that may seem like another language, but the heart of the matter is that the material world, according to logic, is dependent for its existence on a force or being that is independent or “non-contingent.”
But, that is a broad, philosophical perspective. The more basic Christian perspective is that our Bibles teach that God created all things that are. In other words, prior to Genesis 1:1, nothing but God existed — He simply was and he existed in perfect harmony within his Triune Godhead. Genesis 1:1 begins the work of his created order…and thus it is His to be used as He intends — he governs and sustains it, in other words, but we get ahead of ourselves.
It has become popular in our recent age, to deny the historicity of God’s creative work recorded in Genesis 1-2. People often treat these chapters more as if they are a grand myth and not as if they were historical narrative. Of course, the whole Bible treats creation as historical narrative and the early church believed that a belief in the principle that God created all things was essential to the Christian religion (remember, in Heidelberg Question #26 we are dealing with the Apostles’ Creed). They would go as far as to say that you cannot even call yourselves Christians if you denied the principle that God created all things. Why do we think differently?