“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Can God Love without Creating?

I recently shared some thoughts on the question "does God need creation?" What I said there is, I think, sufficient to demonstrate that (from a Christian perspective) the answer is a definite "no." But it may seem a little vague to say, as I suggested there, that the love between God and creatures (in particular, us humans) is incomparably lower than what God experiences in himself. Here I want to focus on this particular facet of the question: does God need creation in order to be in relationship with another, in order to love?

According to Christianity, love is central to God's character. But how, one might ask, could love be part of God's nature if he does not experience it in himself? And how could God know love without knowing another? Anyone other than God is a creature. Does God then need creation in order to love? Again, the answer is "no," and it is here that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity becomes essential.

If God was just one "person" as a human being is simply one person, he could not love another without creating someone to love. But God is Triune, both one being and three persons (see "Creation Reflects the Pattern of the Trinity" and "The Trinity: Mystery Beyond Comprehension"). Scripture speaks of Christ as the Son, who is "in the form of God," "one with the Father," "the image of the invisible God" and "the exact imprint of his nature." John begins his Gospel by saying simply that Christ, the Word, "was God." Implicit is the idea that the Son is uncreated and co-eternal with the Father. The bond of love and joy between the Son and the Father is so real and strong that many have understood the Holy Spirit to be a sort of personification of this love. In Jesus' own words, the love and glory shared by the Father and the Son as they delight in one another's perfection has been a reality since "before the foundation of the world" (John 17:24, see also 17:5).

Those who think that God must have been bored without creation have no imagination. They do not realize Who they are talking about. We humans must do things in order to entertain ourselves, but God needs no such diversion. He is the definition and climax of all goodness and beauty and glory and majesty, so it is only right for God to delight in himself. We humans delight in things or people because they are praiseworthy, but all worth and value is derived from God. All that is good in creation is only the faintest reflection of that eternal fullness. What could be more worthy of God's delight than himself?

Love between two persons then, is not only something God experiences in his own inner life, but part of his very being. "God is love" (1 John 4:8). And no love given and received between God and a creature could ever compare to this love. As the cube transcends the square, as consciousness seems to transcend matter, so also is the Love within God himself incomparably higher than any creaturely love.

This understanding of God as Trinity helps us to see a little more of the glorious truth that God has no need at all for anything he creates, and to see the beautiful nature of his love for us.

God's love for us is not a need-love but a gift-love. That is, he loves us not because he needs to love but because it is in his nature to give himself, to share himself with other things, to overflow. Because he is love and goodness by his very nature, it is in his nature to give good things. But there can be no giving unless there is something to give to.* God's love and goodness must therefore be expressed first by the giving of existence to something other than God - that is, by creation - and then by the sharing of his joy with creatures. In the end, we will join in the Dance of God and share in the love and glory of the Trinity (John 17:21-23). His own Love is extended to things other than himself.
*There is giving within the Trinity, but this does not mean God is not inclined to love and to give in new ways.

To be loved by a God who has no need for us but simply delights to give us the gifts of existence, intrinsic value, love, joy, etc. - this is infinitely better than to be loved by a God who needs to love us. Why? Because a God who needs nothing and is all-sufficient in himself is infinitely more worthy and glorious than a God who creates to satisfy unfulfilled needs. And if he is more worthy, then his love given to us is a greater treasure. That is why it is a glorious truth for us that God has no need for us.

All this giving and sharing of himself is part of God's self-expression - that is, his creative work as an artist. That we receive his love is part of what it means to be made in his image. So it is with all creation - the light of God's glorious nature is shared and given and received, and in this act God shines forth his light and glory as an artist revealing himself in his work. All things are "from him and through him and to him" (Romans 11:33). In Lewis' words, God is not merely "all" (the sum total of reality, as he was before creation), but "all in all" (Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer, p. 70).

We should of course be glad that God loves us and created us so that we could share in the love that he has always known. But let us praise him not only because of who he is to us, but also because of who he is in himself - not only because of his gifts, but because he is the Giver. Praise him not only because he will satisfy our thirst, but because he is the fountain of living water, not only because he loves, but because he is Love. All the gifts he gives to creation are eternally present in him, and when he gives to creation, he is not any less himself, but more - always full, always overflowing.

"From Him and through Him and to Him are all things...All things are by Him and for Him. He utters Himself also for His own delight and sees that He is good. He is His own begotten and what proceeds from Him is Himself. Blessed be He!"

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