Creation Ex Nihilo

I was in a theological reading group at school and we had an exchange about creation ex nihilo, the belief that God created the cosmos "out of nothing."

While belief in creation ex nihilo is the norm in the pews, it has been contested in many theological quarters.

The issue goes to theodicy. If theodicy is a big theological concern of yours, creation ex nihilo creates some issues. If God is The Original Cause everything goes back to, then it places God on the hook for all the bad stuff that's transpired in history. Of course, there are the standard responses to those concerns, but the issue always seems to go back to this one doctrine: creation ex nihilo.

So what if we reject creation ex nihilo, might that alleviate some of the theodicy issues?

The idea here starts with taking a close look at the first words in Genesis. The spirit of God hovers over the chaos. God then starts to order that chaos, declaring that order very good. In short, in the first chapter of Genesis God doesn't seem to be creating ex nihilo, God creates by ordering chaos. The view here is that God is Creator in the sense of bringing goodness into existence, God creates goodness and inserts goodness into the chaos.

That seems to get God off the theodicy hook. If God is the creator of goodness then only goodness traces back to God. The problem, however, is where did the chaos come from if God didn't create it? Do we have to posit the chaos as existing eternally alongside God? If so, that idea is considered to be heresy.

The reason it's a heresy is that the doctrine of creation ex nihilo is the doctrine that keeps us clear of idolatry. Creation ex nihilo posits an absolute, qualitative distinction between creation and Creator. If we ever lose that distinction, it is worried, we'll have no defense against idolatry. So for many theologians, creation ex nihilo is that doctrine that polices and enforces this line.

Where do I come down? Predictably, on both sides. Theological propositions are proposed to deal with certain problems. So it boils down to what you worry more about. If your worry is theodicy, I see why you'd reject creation ex nihilo and look for other ideas. But if your worry is idolatry, I see why you'd think creation ex nihilo is non-negotiable. At the end of the day, your theological worries pull you in one direction of the other. And since I worry about all of it I find myself caught in the middle.

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