Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Beauty of Orthodoxy: Creation from Nothing Lends Hope to Salvation from Nothing

From time to time I hope to post reflections pertaining to the relevance of Christian and Catholic doctrine for persons living in the 21st Century. These reflections will run under the theme "The Beauty of Orthodoxy." By "orthodoxy" I mean considerations of the categories that comprise the Christian or Catholic faith "system" that accurately reflects the tradition pertaining to these categories (ex: an "orthodox" consideration of Jesus as a person would include referring to the ancient belief that Jesus is fully human and fully divine). However, these reflections are meant not merely to "point back" to what the tradition has long held to be true, but are also meant to help us articulate our beliefs in a manner befitting contemporary questions and concerns.

Last April I celebrated the funeral of a dear friend's father. I remember vividly how my friend lamented her dad's passing and remarked to me how she was anguished by the thought of her dad's continued existence and "where" he was. I believe that the anguish my friend was feeling has to do, in part, with the threat that death poses of oblivion or nothingness. This is a fear deeply rooted in the human psyche and can be traced across time and cultures. There are actually philosophies which are founded upon the idea that everything ultimately comes to nothing (nihilism). What to do (or say) in the face of the threat that death poses?

One argument against death as oblivion is, of course, the Resurrection of Christ. However, this response begs the question "who raised Christ?" The New Testament answers that question definitively by stating that God raised Jesus on the third day (Acts 2:32). But what can serve as an explanation for "how" or even "why" God can raise someone from the dead? The easy answer is because "God is God" and, as such, is all powerful. This answer, however, still doesn't point to a more precise account for the "how" or "why" of God being able to save from death.

To provide a "way out" of this dilemma, we can refer to the ancient Christian doctrine of "creation from nothing" or creation ex nihilo. This Christian idea was established early in the Church's history as a way of explaining the conviction that God alone is eternal and that God creates freely and out of love. The idea may provide us with a compelling and relevant reason to explain why we believe God saves us from the nothingness that threatens us in death. Very simply put: if God can create from nothing than God must also be able to save from nothing. The 19th/20th Century process philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, had a beautiful saying along similar, more poetic lines, "God is the tender concern that nothing be lost." In other words, the very love that freely breathes life is the self-same love that freely saves life. Pat, TOR