Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Creatio Ex Nihilo

There are so many mysteries that accompany our walk of faith. Like Winnie the Pooh, I walk this path of faith realizing that I am a bear of very little brain… so I can only handle one, or maybe a few, of these mysteries at a time. So as I deal with one mystery, I have to let the others take a back seat in my mind; it is a simple tactic in pursuit of some measure of sanity.

I think the mystery that lingers at the forefront of my mind more often than the others is this: Why does God choose to accomplish most of his work in partnership with the likes of us? There are, of course, those instances in which God completely and sovereignly overwhelms a situation, changing the course of things with a dramatic miracle. But the usual way that God accomplishes his purpose is through His people. Why does God degrade His work by mixing his perfect and powerful ways with our flawed and puny ways? Why risk it on us? If I were God I would likely do it all myself.

Yet, His primary mode of operation is to accomplish His work through people. I think it probably has something to do with God’s mission not only being about what he accomplishes through us, but maybe even more importantly, His mission is also about what He accomplishes in us. Furthermore, I believe it is at the forefront of God’s mission to not only accomplish His will in us and through us merely individually; He desires to work in and through us corporately as His people. More than just a vast number of persons, we are called to be His people. God’s mission is to accomplish His work and will, both through us and in us, as what the New Testament describes as the Body of Christ. God’s plan is to work through His current, bodily representatives on earth, that is the Church.

So with that theological framework in mind, I press a bit more into the mystery by asking: What kind of work would God be doing through His Body/Church/People? To answer that question, we are forced to get to know God, which leads us to His Book. If we start with the first words of His Book, we read, “In the beginning God created.” God as creator may not be the most important theological understanding, but it is certainly one of the first (actually, I think it is the second since the first theological understanding is the preexistence of God stated through the first three words “In the beginning”).

It is a pretty easy jump for people to understand that the Church ought to be creative. Creativity is a God-like quality that should mark the Church. But what about the kind of creating that is referenced there in Genesis 1:1? What about creatio ex nihilo? The standard view is that only God can create out of nothing… that creatio ex nihilo is what distinguishes God from us; creation out of nothing is off limits for us mere mortals, even off limits for the Church.

But I wonder if creatio ex nihilo is really off limits for the Church. I’m not proposing that we suspend the laws of conservation of matter or conservation of energy, but are there real areas in which these laws do not apply? I think that wealth is one area in which the laws of conservation do not apply. Creation of wealth is more than the sum of its parts. A productive enterprise should create more wealth than the sum of the values of components and natural resources, even more than the component values of soft resources like knowledge, skill, and even labor. When business works like it should, there is some part of wealth that comes from nowhere… creatio ex nihilo!

Could it be then that the Church ought to be more intentional about the intersection of our faith and business activity? Could it be that the creation of wealth is a Christian endeavor, especially when we are approaching this all with a proper view of stewardship?


Anonymous said...

I wonder if 'ex nihilo' is the best description for what happens with economic 'expansion' (obviously one cannot avoid metaphors). Is there ever a case where an economic reality comes into being without some prior substance? It would seem to me there is always some prior 'capital', whether that be an idea, energy, seed money, or some other thing in which case ex nihilo does not apply.

Neary said...

Of course you’re right… I keep using the ex nihilo language just to get a rise out of people. I’ll get around to posting a follow-up in the coming days. Ex nihilo is too strong… merely expansion is too weak… I’ll come up with something that I think is just right.

Anonymous said...

What exactly is it you wish to convey that keeps drawing you to the ex nihilo language. It seems from your article that the central 'tease' is the remarkable idea that God who is omnipotent nonetheless chooses to 'outsource' so much of his operation to people like us (what kind of a business model is that!?!). I think you are on the right track when you surmise that this in part is how he redeems us and forms us for eternity.

Neary said...

Oh… I get it… I’m supposed to know where I’m going before I start writing!!!???!?!?!

I suppose that what draws me to the ex nihilo language is that part of ongoing creation (in this case illustrated through creation of wealth) comes out of nothing. Synergy was a buzz word in pop-business literature a number of years ago… this idea that the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts. I guess I’m fooling around that that part that is the difference between the whole and the sum of its parts … that part is real (and often times significant) and it comes from nowhere.

I’m in agreement with you that the remarkable thing here is how God accomplish His mission for, through, and in us.

Anonymous said...

Liked it. The concept of value-added at its core recognizes that the addition of intelligence to raw materials in manufacturing or to the provision of services creates wealth that did not exist before. This mission of adding value to the creation seems to me to be part of the missio humanitatis of Genesis 1;28. It is how we subdue the earth. When we do it, we are fulfilling part of our mission. Much more to say about this. But the most important thing abou thw creation of wealth is that ot constitiputes obedience to God's first command.

Cool stuff.