In The Difference Nothing Makes: Creation, Christ, Contemplation, Brian D. Robinette offers an extended meditation on the idea of creation out of nothing as it applies not only to the problem of God but also to questions of Christology, soteriology, and ecology. His basic argument is that creatio ex nihilo is not a speculative doctrine referring to cosmic origins but rather a foundational insight into the very nature of the God-world relation, one whose implications extend throughout the full spectrum of Christian imagination and practice.
It is maximally clear because in Christ the creaturely and the divine are united “hypostatically,” in one person. It is salvific because it unveils and transforms the deep-seated ways the God-creation relation has become misconstrued or disordered on account of human sin. Human desire, which is originally good and participative of divine life, is susceptible to rivalry, conflict, and violence, and this susceptibility can lead us to cast the God-world relation in contrastive, even agonistic terms. God is thus seen as over against the world, or perhaps associated with a sacral violence underwriting conflict in human relations.
Among the most remarkable features of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is that precisely in the midst of a human failing—a brutal lynching—God is revealed as having nothing to do with our violence. But more, God is revealed as the One whose self-emptying love enters into the depths of rivalry, conflict, and violence in order to overcome them. This overcoming is not the deployment of an even greater force but, paradoxically, the victory of an inexhaustible and efficacious vulnerability that exposes the roots of conflict and violence. This exposure is simultaneous with the communication of a pacific, pardoning, and divinizing presence. From the perspective of the risen victim, which is one way to characterize the peculiar density of the Easter-event, we can begin to envision creation anew, as though for the first time, and perceive with unprecedented clarity that creation is originally given “to be” out of unconditioned goodness and love. Its origin is agapeic, not conflictual, and the God-world relation, so far from a matter of competition or rivalry, is the very site of communion. Creatio ex nihilo, or our coming into existence “from nothing,” is in fact a relation of sheer intimacy with God, and thus our sense of contingency and creaturely poverty, rather than a matter of threat and defensive posturing, can be welcomed and embraced as pure gift, as that which we may freely accept, share with others, and ultimately cherish.
There is a contemplative dimension to this welcoming and embracing of our shared creatureliness. Creation does not have to be, and yet is—gratuitously, freely, wondrously. God summons all things “to be” out of divine freedom, not for God’s sake but for the sake of creation itself, without any mediating obstacle or ulterior motive. Creation is given. But more, it is loved into being. It comes from God. God summons that which is other than God into existence as an expression of God’s own fullness of being and love. Creaturely being is thus primordially received by us. We can never get to something prior to this original gift. We can never get to its backside, so to speak, for it is who and what we are. Our being thus depends upon God, and this ontological dependence is original and without any other ground. This sense of creation’s essential gratuity, if deeply lived into rather than merely thought about, can begin to transform the felt sense of our contingency from one of anxiety-tinged precarity to the welcoming of finitude and our mutual dependence in loving communion. Contemplative practice invites us to “let go” of our defenses and “live into” our creaturely contingency with progressive freedom and deepest acceptance. This acceptance is truly liberating, for rather than struggling to achieve our identity through reactivity, competition, and acquisitiveness, the contemplative way allows us to recognize that with God—and God alone—we do not have to negotiate our existence with a rival; we can wholly trust and live from the One who loves all things into being ex nihilo. In characteristically paradoxical fashion, the Christian contemplative path is one of purgation unto union, kenosis unto theosis, nothingness unto fullness.