Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano
From David Bentley Hart: God, Creation, and Evil: The Moral Meaning of creatio ex nihilho
Of course, theological language is determined by scripture; which is why I began with some of the New Testament’s most famously universalists verses, including those asserting a strict equivalence between what is lost in Adam and what saved in Christ; I could have added several more. It is odd that for at least fifteen centuries such passages have been all but lost behind so thin a veil as can be woven from those three deeply ambiguous verses that seem (and only seem) to threaten eternal torments for the wicked. But that is as may be; every good New Testament scholar is well aware of the obscurities in what we can reconstruct of the eschatological vision of Jesus’s teachings. And, really, plucking individual verses like posies from the text here and there is not the way to see the entire landscape. The New Testament, to a great degree, consists in an eschatological interpretation of Hebrew scripture’s story of creation, finding in Christ, as eternal Logos and risen Lord, the unifying term of beginning and end. For Paul, in particular, the marvel of Christ’s lordship is that all walls of division between persons and peoples, and finally between all creatures, have fallen; and that ultimately, when creation is restored by Christ, God will be all in all. There is no more magnificent meditation on this vision than Gregory of Nyssa’s image of the progress of all persons towards union with God in the one “pleroma” of the totus Christus: all spiritual wills moving, to use his lovely image, from outside the temple walls (in the ages) into the temple precincts, and finally (beyond the ages) into the very sanctuary of the glory—as one. By contrast, Augustine, in the last masterpiece produced by his colossal genius, wrote of two cities eternally sealed against one another, from everlasting in the divine counsels and unto everlasting in the divine judgment (the far more populous city destined for perpetual sorrow). There is no question to my mind which of them saw the story more clearly. Or which theologians are the best guides to scripture as a whole: Gregory, Origen, Evagrius, Diodore, Theodore, Isaac of Ninevah…George MacDonald.
Here however, again, the issue is the reducibility of all causes to their first cause, and the determination of the first cause by the final. If we did not proclaim a creatio ex nihilo—if we thought God a being limited by some external principle or internal imperfection, or if we were dualists, or dialectical idealists, or what have you—the question of evil would be an aetiological query only for us, not a terrible moral question. But, because we say God creates freely, we must believe his final judgment shall reveal him for who he is. So, if all are not saved, if God creates souls he knows to be destined for eternal misery, is God evil? Well, why debate semantics? Maybe every analogy fails. What is not debatable is that, if God does so create, in himself he cannot be the good as such, and creation cannot be a morally meaningful act: it is from one vantage an act of predilective love, but from another—logically necessary—vantage an act of pudentialmalevolence. And so it cannot be true. We are presented by what has become the majority tradition with three fundamental claims, any two of which might be true simultaneously, but never all three: that God freely created all things out of nothingness; that God is the Good itself; and that it is certain or at least possible that some rational creatures will endure eternal loss of God. And this, I have to say, is the final moral meaning I find in the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, at least if we truly believe that our language about God’s goodness and the theological grammar to which it belongs are not empty: that the God of eternal retribution and pure sovereignty proclaimed by so much of Christian tradition is not, and cannot possibly be, the God of self-outpouring love revealed in Christ. If God is the good creator of all, he is the savior of all, without fail, who brings to himselfall he has made, including all rational wills, and only thus returns to himself in all that goes forth from him. If he is not the savior of all, the Kingdom is only dream, and creation something considerably worse than a nightmare. But, again, it is not so. God saw that it was good; and, in the ages, so shall we.