Creation Ex Nihilo: Part 3, Goodness/Power Tradeoffs

The alternative biblical parsing of the opening lines of Genesis illustrate how some might continue to confess God as "Creator of Heaven and Earth" while at the same time rejecting creation ex nihilo.

Specifically, as Genesis recounts, "heaven" and "earth" are orderings within existence, each reflective of artistic intent and output. And as Genesis also says, these ordered and artistic expressions are "good."

If we follow this line of thought, we can see how it seeks to affect our conversations about theodicy. The origin and ever-present activity of the chaos is taken as an ontological given, a force God shapes and works with but is not the source of. What God does is bring order out of the chaos, and it's this order that is created and called "good."

The theological "win" here is that God's actions in creation are thus only associated with "the good," locations where there is harmony, peace, love, and well-being. Goodness is the "creation" of God. Evil and suffering, by contrast, are due to the forces of chaos that disrupt, disorder, and destroy the good structures God creates and works to maintain with and alongside human beings.

If all this seems a bit too abstract, here's a simple metaphor. God is a creator like a gardener. What you see in Genesis 1 is gardening, imposing order on the chaos to create something good. The idea is that when we find goodness, wholeness, structure, and beauty in our world and lives God is the originator of that bit of order. God in this view becomes wholly aligned with the good. All the disordered parts of existence--evil, suffering--don't trace back to God, because God didn't create everything, God didn't create the chaos. God is a gardener. 

Okay, with the basic idea now out there, let's start to make a turn to suss out the various theological implications of this viewpoint.

Again, the "win" in this viewpoint is that it seems to extricate God from evil and suffering. The causal chain only runs from God to the good since God didn't create everything. God only creates the good. Everything else, it seems, is off God's plate.

But you see the obvious question. But where, then, did the primordial chaos come from if it wasn't created by God?

The answer, of course, is that we don't know. It's a mystery. And while that might seem to be unsatisfactory, this is always where the theodicy question ends up. With a mystery, with a "we don't know." So there's mystery and dissatisfactions all around. This is nothing new. The issue is where you want to place your mystery and dissatisfaction.

So as a starting place in evaluating the God-as-Gardener view, we can observe that it trades a theodicy mystery for an ontological mystery. And for many, that's a good trade. It's better to question some notion of God's power than to question God's goodness.

In short, the God-as-Gardener view is another example of the goodness/power tradeoffs we see in the theodicy debates. Specifically, if you want to keep God's love and goodness unsullied and unquestioned, you have to work the power side of the equation, putting forth some view that "limits" God's power in some way. By contrast, if you hold firm on God's omnipotence you risk, in the eyes of some, putting serious questions marks around God's goodness and love. These goodness/power tradeoffs are everywhere in the theodicy debates.

So the God-as-Gardener view seems to be a species of that tradeoff, questioning God's power (God doesn't create ex nihilo) to salvage God's goodness (God only creates the good, like a gardener).

But is that all there is here? A goodness/power tradeoff? A theodicy mystery exchanged for an ontological mystery?

I used to think so, but I've recently begun to wonder.

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