by George Sidney Hurd
Did God create us out of nothing or did He create us out of Himself? The answer to this question is important since it greatly affects our sense of worth and answers the question as to our ultimate destiny.
“For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.” (Rom 11:36)
The following is an excerpt from the book, The Triumph of Mercy.
How did we come into existence? Were we created out of nothing or out of God? Since Augustine, traditional Christianity has argued for a creation by God ex nihilo or “out of nothing.” For many years, that reasoning was acceptable to me, since I believe in a special six day creation as related in Genesis. And as opposed to evolution from the ex magnus crepitus (big bang), it seemed the most logical option of the two.
It is more logical to believe that the eternal God, “the Uncaused Cause,” created everything out of nothing than to believe that nothing caused everything, as the atheistic evolutionists do. Intelligent design and beauty are better explained by the existence of the Intelligent and Loving Designer than to argue that nothing somehow exploded in a “big bang,” producing the astronomically complex and precise order and the glorious creative beauty all around us.
However, upon discovering God’s marvelous plan for the ages from the creation to the consummation, I realized that God’s creation is much more personal and intimate than can be adequately expressed by the Latin term ex nihilo. If creation was from nothing, then that raises another question: Where does nothing come from if God is omnipresent and there is nowhere that God isn’t? Does nothing come out of nowhere? But if God is everywhere, then there is no nowhere for nothing to have come from. As creationists, we insist that there must be a Creator – a self-existent uncaused first cause, who is the source of all things. To the atheistic evolutionist we respond: ex nihilo nihil fit, “out of nothing, nothing comes.” They say we were formed out of a primitive mass. If that were so, then we would be back where we started: Where did the mass originate - from nothing or from God? If everything is the result of a “big bang,” what exploded?
Nevertheless, we as creationists should realize that the saying “out of nothing, nothing comes” also rules out the belief in creation ex nihilo. Since it is true that “out of nothing, nothing comes,” then we must have come out of God as to source, just as the Scriptures declare. Some Christians would argue that nothing refers to the invisible world and that out of nothing means to make something invisible appear, much like a rabbit out of a hat. In support of this idea, they cite Hebrews:
“By faith we understand that the worlds (aionas) were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.” (Heb 11:3)
However, the word translated “worlds” here is aionas in the Greek which means eons. Eons are, by their very nature invisible; a measure of time, and ages or eons are only visible in the sense that time-markers, such as the stars, the sun and the moon used to measure them are visible. The invisible realities such as the eons, sound waves, spirits, etc., are just as much a part of creation as that which we can see. In reality, according to science, the objects that are visible and tangible to us are nothing more than different concentrations of invisible energy contained in atoms. The invisible world was created along with the visible tangible world which can be seen by us. However, the eons or ages, although invisible, are not nothing. It is incorrect to say that nothing refers to the invisible, because the invisible world is also a part of the creation of God, as we see in Colossians:
“For by (en “in”) Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.” (Col 1:16)
God Himself is Spirit and therefore is also invisible to us. Therefore, invisibility cannot be synonymous with nothingness.
While philosophers and theologians go in unending circles of reasoning concerning our origins, I believe that the Bible is simple, clear and at the same time profound in its revelation concerning our origins:
“Now all things are of God (ek theos), who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2Cor 5:18) [i]
This text tells us that all are “ex Deo” or “out of God” (Gr. ek Theos). It further states that, as firstfruits of the New Creation (v.17), we who have already been reconciled to God have been given the ministry of reconciliation for the benefit of the rest of creation.
In all of God’s Book, the term ex nihilo or “out of nothing” never appears. What we do see clearly stated more than once is that all things are “ex Deo” or “out of God.” There is a world of difference between saying that we were created “by God out of nothing” and “by God and out of God Himself.” The first is impersonal and by nature independent of God. The second is very personal and implies a connectedness and dependence.
I remember a tale about a kind farmer who cared well for all of his farm animals, and they all loved him. When he fell on hard times the mother hen wanted to do something for him as an expression of love and gratitude. She got together with mister pig, who she knew was also very grateful to the kind farmer, to see what they could do for him. When mother hen suggested preparing a ham and egg breakfast for the farmer, mister pig replied: “That’s easy for you to say. For you it would just be a contribution but for me that would be a personal commitment.”
While the illustration falls short, it does demonstrate the difference in personal value placed upon something existing external to oneself as opposed to the value placed upon something which is actually a part of oneself. What would you be most likely to care for and maintain, your foot or the shoe you made for it? The answer should be obvious. We may throw away anything that we made out of nothing and for our own benefit like the shoe, for example. But we would do everything in our power, and even beyond, in order to save our foot because it is a part of us.
Traditionalists would have us think that we are something external to God, created out of nothing, only to serve His purposes. If He decides that we no longer serve His purposes well, it is no loss to Himself if He throws us into the fire, much as we would do with anything that is no longer useful to us.
That is why annihilationists see no problem with God exterminating 90% of His creation. They would say ex nihilo ad nihilo, “from nothing to nothing.” Our word “annihilate” is from the same Latin words ad nihilo (to nothing). As we would say: “Easy come, easy go.” They would emphatically deny that the God of love is as detached from His creation as their belief in ex nihilo ad nihilo implies. However, in reality, according to their belief, human life as with the rest of creation, is just as disposable to God as an old shoe.
Having been raised under the annihilationist doctrine, I know first-hand the low sense of self-worth that that doctrine instills in an individual before God on a heart level. Though they present God as a God of love, I didn’t feel less hope or self-worth during my brief time as an atheist than I did as a child, believing in the annihilation of all but the strongest and the best.
When I had my saving encounter with God at 18 years of age, His love was shed abroad in my heart by the Holy Spirit. I didn’t know anything about theology; I just knew from the very depths of my being and without any room for doubt that God loved me and that I was valued by Him more than I could fathom. It wasn’t until I began studying theology that I began to have fears and doubts once again concerning His love for me and my worth in His eyes.
Within a few years’ time, without even realizing it, I went from the selective ex nihilo ad nihilo (from nothing to nothing) belief of the annihilationists, to the absolute ex nihilo ad nihilo fatalism of the atheist, then finally entering into the infinite sea of God’s love, only to come out on the other side through the influence of the traditional fear-based doctrine of eternal punishment for the majority.
If it were not for my personal encounter with the love of God at 18 years of age which served as an anchor for my soul, I would have been worse off than when I still believed in the annihilation of the lost. At least at that time, when I felt low self-worth and feared rejection by God, I could console myself with the thought that I would be incinerated and eventually go out of existence. But once I was taught to believe that the unworthy “throw-aways” were burned in hell forever, the knowledge of the unconditional Love of God began to be challenged by a continuous tug-of-war conflict with the fear of an eternal hell.
All of us, if we are honest, experience failure and sin, and fall prey to the accuser of our souls. If we are not rooted and grounded in the love of God, we begin to struggle with low self-worth. That leads us to have fear and doubts concerning our standing with a god, whom we are told is unending love, but at the same time eternal hate and if we don’t die on good terms with him, he will hate us and burn us in the flames of hell forever and ever.
Little by little, I came out of the first-love encounter with the Lord where I felt safe in His love, into a dualistic traditional doctrine of God in which I went from saying: “He loves me!” to “He loves me, He loves me not, He loves me, He loves me not.” My sense of self-worth before God began to be based upon my performance rather than upon His unconditional love for me.
When I was in the Arminian church, I was told that God loved me unconditionally, but unless I persevered to the end, He would send me to an eternal hell. The Calvinists told me that if I was one of the elect, I didn’t need to worry. But if I didn’t persevere to the end, then that meant I was never elect in the first place. Both positions led to the same sense of insecurity. Calvinism is called “eternal security,” but in reality, neither position offers the hopeful sinner any real sense of security.
In my opinion, to say that we come out of nothing, ex nihilo, as do the traditionalists, tremendously devalues us as God’s creatures. It is an expression which inadvertently depersonalizes God’s creation, converting us into throw-away items like an old shoe. What we see presented in the Scriptures is that all things came out of God ex Deo, and since we came out of God, we also exist by Him, somewhat as our foot exists due to the fact that it is part of us. Even though man fell, and nature was subjected to vanity, all things still originated in Him, are sustained by Him and will eventually return to Him. What we discover in the Scriptures is not “ex nihilo et nihilo ad nihilo” (out of nothing, for nothing, into nothing) but rather the glorious truth: “ex Deo per Deo ad Deo” (out of God, through God and into God):
“For of (ek) Him and through (dia) Him and to (eis) Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.” (Rom 11:36)
In this passage alone, we can see God’s wonderful plan for all of His creation summed up. All that which had its beginning in Him is sustained by Him and will return to Him. There are no throw-aways in all of God’s creation. We are not objects ex nihilo to be thrown away as worthless trash, but rather, we have been created out of God Himself and are of infinite worth in His eyes. That is why He will ultimately restore all to Himself:
“Now all things are of God (ek theos), who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2Cor 5:18)
Here we see that all creation originated in God, and although we fell, He has also reconciled us to Himself and given us, as His elect, the ministry of reconciliation for the rest of creation. In Colossians 1:15-19, we see that the reconciliation is of all creation, both visible and invisible. In Romans 8:18-23, we see that, in the time of the manifestation of the sons of God, all creation will be set free. There are no throw-aways, no eternal garbage dump. In eternity, all will have been reconciled and God will then be all in all.
The truth that we are created out of God rather than out of nothing, is not to be confused with pantheism which teaches that all is God. Although creation began in Christ (Gr. “en auto” Col 1:16), and came out of Him, it is nonetheless distinct from Him. The triune personal God eternally self-exists. In the beginning, before creation, God, being eternal, already was:
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1)
“For by Him (lit. “in Him”) all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” (Col 1:16,17)
God is eternal, without beginning. Creation, on the other hand, had a beginning. Yet it did not begin out of nothing ex nihilo, but rather out of God ex Deo. We are of God, much in the same way as Eve was out of Adam:
“For as woman came from (ek) man, even so man also comes through (dia) woman; but all things are from (ek) God.” (1Cor 11:12)
Having come out of Him, there is still distinction just as there is distinction between Adam and Eve, even though she came out of him. However, having come out of Adam they were one flesh. There is union in distinction, in the same way mankind came out of God, and while there will always be distinction of persons, all of us live and move and have our being in Him. Although many, as the men of Athens to whom Paul preached, are yet blinded to this reality because of sin, and alienated in their minds, we all live by Him. None of us are self-existent. We may be, for a time, spiritually separated from God, but it is impossible that there should be any ontological separation from Him because in Him all things consist:
“so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ 29 Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man's devising.” (Acts 17:27-29)
Paul is referring here to those who were at that time as yet unregenerate. Many of them even scoffed at him. Yet he included them in his declaration that each one of us; as His offspring, live and move and have our being in Him. While we are each individuals, we all came out of Him, exist by Him and shall also all return to Him. The end result is that He will be all in all.
[i] Our English word “things” does not have an equivalent in Greek. Neither does the neuter form in Greek always indicate objects as in English. When the translators insert “things” in contexts that are evidently referring primarily to persons and not inanimate objects I take the liberty to cross it out in order to keep the focus where it belongs.
The Inerrency of Scripture
The Love of God
The Fear of the Lord
The Question of Evil
Understanding the Atonement
Homosexuality and the Bible
Answers to Objections:
Has God Rejected Israel:
God's Glorious Plan for the Ages
The Manifest Sons of God
The Trinity and the Deity of Christ
Eternal Preexistence of Christ
Preterism vs. Futurism
The Two-Gospel Doctrine Examined