Friday, January 2, 2015

Creation: Nothing or Something?

It is not good that the man should be alone. [Genesis 2:18, NIV]

From the perspective of a weak theology, nothing is feebler than a creation by mere thought. It is an energetic God that creates from 'something.' Only an asthenic God would create from nothing. Act and idea are united in God; there is no occasion for working from a pre-existent chaos.  Of course, God still needed to rest from creation, but there are no present participles in an act of creation; there are no immanent processes for God. So translations of Genesis  1 that run something like, "in the beginning when God was creating..." are problematic from the get-go.

 בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָֽרֶץ׃ 

The sense of the words is about something already accomplished, something that accounts for the beginning itself: "first, God formed heaven and earth." The 'first,' the re-shith, is already reckoned. Is this reckoning eternal---is it God's very nature to be good, and so he eternally brings about the good? If so, then given the unity of idea and act, it is not inconceivable that 'something' was there all along, if 'something' is more other than 'nothing.' If God is love, and love only has meaning in relation to an other, an eternal other would be 'good'.

John Caputo embraces the Joycean 'chaosmos' as the something-nothing God creates from, as Catherine Keller's 'tehomic' theology would predict. There is really nothing to this something until politics gets involved. And so we have a conflict between creatio ex nihilo and creatio ex profundis. Still, we have to get to Genesis 1:2 before we get to tehom in the first place.

And darkness was upon the surface of the deep. [Gen. 1:2, NIV]

The NIV has 'surface' while Keller's impressive work, Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming (Routledge, 2003), has 'face'. Perhaps a look at Keller's own translation will illuminate the matter.

"When in the beginning when Elohim was creating heaven and earth, the earth was tohu vabohu, darkness was on the face of tehom, and the  ruach Elohim vibrating upon the face of the waters..."

Keller argues that "creatio ex nihilo has reigned largely uncontested" (p.4) until recently, when the ground beneath the binary of creatio ex nihilo/ex profundis became fertile soil to till. I am grateful to Caputo for introducing me (via The Weakness of God) to the genius of Face of the Deep and its author. If some thinkers doubt that the feminist critique is alive and well, I would advise them to give Keller a read, or at least view some of her lectures available on the internet. Regardless, her strategy is to deconstruct the power machine seemingly at work in creatio ex nihilo.

I wonder about the necessity of privileging ex profundis over ex nihilo. The earliest thinkers on the subject were not so much fretting over ontology as over theodicy. To protect God from evil, he needed protection from matter itself: that matter is 'evil' is just good old-fashion gnosticism. The usurpation of ex nihilo, if usurping is even required (who thinks about creatio ex nihilo in terms of power anymore?), by the upstart ex profundis, seems to have more of a dissociative effect, than a deconstructive effect. To charge the early Christian thinkers on creation with obscuring the "chaos of scripture" (p.58) might very well befuddle them. A persecuted church would not likely dream dreams of domination and hegemony (certainly the case for the ante-Nicene 'fathers'). The problem was Gnosticism not Arianism.

Whether God creates from nothing or something 'first' does not negate that he continues to create from something when something gets itself created. Keller locates the feminine within chaos, and recovers that feminine at the beginning, and further, wants to bring the restored feminine to bear on the process, once it gets going. If God is a Father, then Fatherhood, like personhood, is determined by relationships. So, God the Father must interdigitate, evaginate the 'something-nothing' with a wind, and plumb the depths of the deep: reach creatively into tehom like a potter up to his shoulders in clay. Keller leads from the top down, from surface to depth, reintroducing what it means to be 'depth' at the beginning. Keller restores the good, the whole good, and nothing but the good to the beginning.

I honestly do not understand why Keller's discovery transgresses the omnipotence ascribed to God by deceptive, power-grubbing ex-nihilo-ists. While I certainly welcome clarifications of just what omnipotence means when applied to God, I would be more circumspect about sending shots accross the bow of analogical omnipotence, which is more to the point. Happily, the power politics critiqued in no way compromises the freshness and clarity of Keller's project; but both Keller's and Caputo's arguments are at their weakest when the necessity of a creatio ex profundis drives the deconstruction. In  the face of analogical language, the critique of divine omipotence is overwrought.

I would suggest that there is fertile ground under man's solitude and the imago Dei, and perhaps the imitatio Dei as well.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” [Gen.1:26, NIV]

Where is man in the likeness of God? Ex profundis. No one seriously argues that 'image' and 'likeness' refer to physical attributes. Instead, they refer to the immensity of mind, of spirit, of Geist. In the depths beneath the surfaces of analogical language one finds how man is like God: not that mankind is as deep as God but that God and man share a likeness, an image, of deepness, depth, and the unfathomable, unplumbable, unknowable, unquantifiable spirit itself. "It is not good that the man should be alone." I take this to mean that it is not good that God should be alone. God is love; God is good. Here is the likeness to God and the mystery of creation. God so loved the world, he 'worlded' it at the beginning through the unity of idea and act.

God was never alone. He loved the something-nothing. It's what She does. This is omnipotence. Omnia vincit amor.

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