At my age you’d think sophomoric questions no longer matter. Likely they wouldn’t if I hadn’t slept through religion, logic, and philosophy when I was an actual sophomore (the real action was over at history, journalism, and political science). Besides, it is my age. These things take on a keener edge as time advances. What I need for this discussion, though, is about five other pastors and two six-packs, maybe three. But, you’ll do in a pinch.
Turning to the internet my search finds nothing about why God creates. The hits always connect to us. Google the question and the suggested links invariably return “Why did God create us?” I don’t care about us. I’m trying to wiggle myself inside God’s mind and Google isn’t helping. Admittedly, Google is hardly an authoritative source for answers to impossible questions, but the scant returns suggest my question is the sort of question nobody much bothers with. Hmm, if Google can’t answer in the first fifty hits, does the question even exist?
“What was God doing before creation?” is another stumper but here there are some answers—of a sort. Augustine flat declared it was impossible even to ask inasmuch as there never will be an answer, so there. I like Luther’s better. He ventured the opinion God was off cutting switches so he could flail us when we did ask. (Naturally, God would have had to first create the branches from which the switches were cut, indicating there was hardly a time when God was not creating, but maybe that’s something Luther meant to put across.)
I’m not asking “Why does God create” as some play on the physics question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” That is a different question, and the reply among some physicists is trending toward “spontaneous creation.” When certain laws of physics happen the universe happens, no sweat, and the result is something. That argues a complete absence of any intentionality about the cosmological enterprise but, then, that is the objective. Nor does a spontaneous creation get us anywhere near God, but that too is very much the point.
Nor is philosophy much help. “Why is there something rather than nothing?” is the title of Bede Rundle’s 2004 book. This, Rundle says, is “philosophy’s central, and most perplexing, question.” I can’t say Rundle eases the perplexity even a little but he does critique the responses of both theism and scientism. That’s a nice approach but it doesn’t leave him with much. From what I can tease out of it—the book demands very close reading—he appears to say “absolute nothing” makes no sense. Describe the qualities of absolute nothing and pretty soon we’ve edged over to a description of something. “We’re here because we’re here because we’re here,” like the old nonsense camp fire song says. But if that’s why there is something, I might have saved ninety-six dollars hardbound by just singing the song.
An Islamic site offers, moving to theology, “Creation is fundamentally the consequence of the divine attribute of being the Creator. A creator who does not create is something of a contradiction in terms.” It adds, though, this doesn’t indicate that God in any sense “needs” creation. “God is free from all needs. It is creation which needs Him.” Granted the latter, but if God does not need to create, why go to the bother?
An evangelical site offered a rather effusive answer to that. God creates because he’s an egoist. That’s not what it says but that’s how it strikes me. God “created the universe first and foremost to bring glory to himself.” That means, “everything was made because of God’s design in making His name BIG.” Everything made “was designed to scream out that our God is an awesome God!”
I find that progression rankling. God wanted a big name for himself? If God is free from all need, back to the Islamic site, why should he care? I’m sensing a hint of low divine self-esteem in here.
I cannot find clear answers theologically, philosophically, or scientifically. That doesn’t leave me without my own answer, though. The arena is open for speculation, far as I can see.
Certainly God has no “need” of creation, if that means divinity is somehow improved or enhanced by the existence of creation. Yet it is also the case that a creator who doesn’t create is a contradiction. That’s why God fusses with it. He creates not merely because he can but, in a certain sense, because he must. If it is within the character of God to create, he will create. God, as Christian scripture suggests, cannot deny himself.
Creation reveals something of God’s own instinctual love for order, design, and complexity. If humanity mirrors the imago dei, so then all creation too is a reflection of the creator.
We describe creation, measure it, and discover how it works right down to the Higgs boson. That seems to be something of our task in the second Genesis account. We also trim hedges, put up straight lines, construct vaulted arches; we design. We do all that to reflect something of ourselves, to say what we are like and who we are.
It seems to me, we will never understand any part of the cosmos at its heart by physics or philosophy or theology until we understand it first as God’s self-portrait.
Russell E. Saltzman is dean of the Great Plains Mission District of the North American Lutheran Church, an online homilist for the Christian Leadership Center at the University of Mary, and author of The Pastor’s Page and Other Small Essays. His previous On the Square articles can be found here.
God’s big name
Bede Rundle, Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing
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