Good Question: Was God so 'needy' that He had to create the universe?
Date: May 30, 2002
Someone sent this in:
My closest friend presented me with a very tough question. She told me that if I could explain this to her then she would become a "devout Christian".
She asked me why, if God is truly a complete being, He would decide to create human beings and other creations in addition to what He already is? Why would He need anything else outside of Himself? Wouldn't He just be content as is?
I tried to explain that we humans go to the glory of God to worship Him, but she passed that off as a "selfish" act on His part, and didn't know why He would need to be worshiped. I had no clue what to tell her.
What should she (and everyone else) know concerning this issue?
Please help, whenever time constraints don't hold you down. I would seriously appreciate it.
The general Christian understanding of God's creative act does NOT include the notion of 'needing worship' but of 'free generosity' or 'chosen creativity'…Let's look at this:
One. Classical Christian theism believes that there WAS no need in God to (a) create anything; or (b) to create this specific universe:
· "God, furthermore, enjoys freedom in creating, sustaining, and governing the world. To say that God is free means that God cannot be forced, constrained, or controlled by anything outside himself. Unlike creatures, God has no need to adjust himself to an environment; rather, all environments exist only in virtue of his creating and sustaining activity. Moreover, God has the freedom to choose what sort of world to create and how to dispose of that world. To be sure, given God's essential goodness, it is impossible that God should choose anything that conflicts with that goodness. But this leaves God still with a very wide range of possibilities, among which he chooses the ones he will bring about. Indeed, it has generally been held that God was perfectly free either to create a world or to refrain from creating; prior to creation, there were no creatures to whom the "right to exist" was owed, nor would the goodness of creation "add to" the greatness and goodness of God in such a way that creating was for him necessary and inevitable. So the decision to create was itself a free and generous choice on God's part. [RRB:70]
· "Throughout the centuries, it has often been seen as central to the Christian conception of creation to affirm two other propositions about the scope of God's freedom with respect to the activity and products of creation:
(1) God was free to refrain from creating any universe at all.
(2) In choosing to create, God was free to create some other universe instead of our universe." [Morris, Our Idea of God, p.145)
Two. Classical Christian theism believes that there are a plurality of persons within the one being of God, and that any 'personal needs' for inter-personal interaction can be fully met within the Trinity (negating any 'need' to create an external set of personal agents):
· "In particular, the idea that God "needs" the world in order to fulfill his own life is sharply rejected by theism. God needs nothing outside himself, and so it is wrong to say (as is sometimes said even in orthodox Christian circles) that God "was lonely" and "needed our companionship" and therefore created us. God is, after all, according to Christianity, the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Is it to be supposed that their eternal companionship lacks something which could be made up by human beings? [Hasker, Metaphysics, p. 115]
· "The moral goodness of a being is naturally expressed by what that being does. And many of the morally good things done by a person can be thought of as ways of passing along or sharing ("communicating," "diffusing") the resources of his goodness. It may even be the case that an individual's goodness would be somehow truncated or incomplete unless he had some other person with whom to commune and to share. But, as we shall see in the next chapter, Christians believe that God exists as three persons in one nature, eternally and necessarily. The eternally existing relations among these members of the divine Trinity are thought to encompass precisely the sort of communications of love and sharings of goodness that the legitimate insight behind the principle of diffusiveness requires. So in order for divine goodness to be expressed in an interpersonal way, it was not after all necessary for God to bring about the existence of a contingent universe containing created persons. It is expressed quite naturally in intratrinitarian relations. [Morris, Our Idea of God, p.147]
Three. Deficiency models (e.g., "needs" and "discontent") are not the only (nor even the predominant) models for creative acts. Abundance models (e.g., Expansiveness models--a couple deciding to start a family; Expressiveness models--deciding to make a present, rather than simply giving a verbal expression of love; Altruistism--forgoing the meeting of one's own needs so the needs of others are met instead; Virtue/Valuation models--creating something just because it is good/beautiful) are equally valid causative models for creativity. Christian theism asserts that God's external actions spring from Abundance models.
· A good illustration of this might be the natural expansiveness of marital love, one form of which might be in the 'creation' of a baby. But this love or moral goodness NEED NOT express itself in procreation:
"It is natural for a man and a woman who love each other, and who are good people, to want to bring into existence a child, or children, with whom to share that love and toward whom to express that goodness. But it is not necessary for marital love and moral goodness to be expressed in this way. A person is not necessarily any less loving or good for choosing to remain celibate. A person physically or biologically prevented from having children of his or her own is not necessarily thereby condemned to an incomplete state of personal goodness. Bringing new life into existence is a natural expression of love and goodness. But it is not essential." [Morris, Our Idea of God, p. 148f]
· A good illustration of the expressiveness model might be the universe itself…There is a theme in biblical theology that the universe was created for the Son (Col 1.15: "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him."), which allows us to use a metaphor of something like: "the universe was a gift to the Son". If we understand, say, this gift to be an expression of love between the Father and the Son, then the creative act is only one form of expression out of many possible ones. The Father could have expressed His love to the Son by simple communication (within the Trinity), without having to create anything. Hence, the creation was a completely free choice, simply one form of expression of love. Any hypothetical 'need' to express love could have been 'satisfied' without the creation, showing that the (fully optional) creative act would have been independent of any 'need meeting process'.
On an infinitely smaller scale, when I want to express my love to my kids, I have a number of means at my disposal, ranging from hugs to verbal expressions to sharing time to giving material gifts. Any 'need' I might have to 'get my love expressed' can be satisfied by any of these options--hence the individual options themselves are not 'need meet-ers' per se. They are simply optional/available instruments or tools in the larger act of expression. (In fact, I have been 'semi-scolded' once or twice by using material gifts too often!)
· Altruism models are fairly obvious, whether it be the rich who share their wealth with the needy, the experienced who tutor and mentor the less-experienced, or the martyr who gives their life that others may live instead.
· Virtue/valuation models are sort of in the category of 'random acts of kindness' or 'spontaneous events of beauty'. I compliment someone just because it's good to do; someone creates a CG landscape just because it's beautiful; someone plants a garden because they like the way bright colors 'light up the world'.
Let me hasten to add that not all who do the types of creation given above as examples do so for these non-need reasons! I am sure there are pathological cases of the above: people who have babies to meet some need for a sense of importance or to have someone dependent on them; people who give ostentatious gifts out of a need for public praise or political gain; people who do acts of 'charity' so they will be recognized as being 'charitable' and/or 'elite'; and people who create "beauty for beauty's sake", so they can brag (quietly perhaps) about their love for beauty…But I know equally well that non-pathological events of creativity are also done in profusion…I have been the recipient of such grace and goodness and generosity myself on many occasions…[If her question involves another level of detail in the philosophical area, I would recommend the entire Chapter 8 in Morris's Our Idea of God (IVP:1991).]
Four: We need to be sure we avoid smuggling in a reductionistic model of 'choice' here. It's too easy to assume that all our choices somehow reduce down to 'meeting needs', when our experience evidences a much wider reality.
Although this is somewhat similar to the point above, it is necessary to make it explicit here, become sometimes people assume that the abundance models are simply 'special cases' (or even 'disguised cases') of deficiency models. In other words, I like 'beauty' because I need to like beauty. I give my life as a martyr because I have a need to do so. The reductionism model is simply too 'reduced' to cover all the cases we know of. Two simple illustrations of this can be seen in likes and preferences.
· Likes. I enjoy scented candles in my little apartment. I burn them when I can, because I like the aroma. Do I have a 'need' for these aromas? If I do, the need is too weak to honestly deserve the term 'need'. [This would/could also apply to many 'wants'--some wants are probably intense enough to create a deficiency ('need'), but others would be more in the 'like' category.] I like certain scents, so I freely choose to enjoy them on occasion. Reducing this down to 'need' is certainly counter-intuitive and would require a pre-commitment to reductionism to maintain this belief (in this case).
· Preferences. I absolutely LOVE apple-cinnamon muffins and honey-peach muffins, but most of the time I slightly prefer honey-peach muffins. Do I have a 'need' for honey-peach muffins than makes it the slight preference? Since I only have these muffins about 2-3 times per year (and only think about them probably 5-6 times per year), 'need' would be a bizarre term for this. And the act of choosing such a muffin would be even less likely to deserve the 'need' term ("I need to choose things that I have slight preferences for--I really, really do!", said with a deep, sober, serious facial expression…smile)
These are not acts of creation per se (although the muffins have on occasion created extra volume on my frame…sigh), but my point is simply that decision making processes are not all (or perhaps even, not 'mostly') acts of 'need meeting'. And, we also need to make sure we don't superimpose some otherwise-assumed reductionist grid upon God's choice to create. [Frankly, though, I have known people with an apparent 'need' for reductionistic models…(sly smile).]
The Christian understanding of God's creation is that of a free, good, gracious, and from-abundance act. It was not that God was 'so abundant' that He was about to 'burst' and therefore had a 'need' to create something--to take the pressure off(!)…It's not that He was 'lonely' or 'needed' some (additional) outlet for His affections…
But it came from a heart and from motives that were neither coerced nor pathological nor self-conscious…
One of the ways I think of this is derived from an old Celtic model of the trinity (of three Persons in ecstatic dance). They dance wildly and ecstatically, within the Trinity, with love and fervor and passion and joy and celebration…and in that intense joy, they decide to create other persons--to invite them into the joy of the dance. There is no 'need' for more dancers. There is no 'need' to stop the dance and spend time enjoying blessing others. There is no need to create people just to thank Them for inviting them to the dance. There is no need to 'let off some joy-pressure' by creating others. There is no need to change anything. There is just the joyous creative overflow, of grace and generosity.
The world we live in teaches us--over time--to be suspicious of such generosity. We doubt its motives ("he is just using me to meet his OWN need by doing this") or its sincerity ("no such thing as a free lunch") or its hidden consequences ("I helped you out last year--you OWE me this favor"). And unfortunately, the suspicions are sometimes correct.
But we don’t doubt the motives of 4 year-old who shares his snack with us, or of a three-year old who wants to sing us a song she made up 'just for us'…Why not? Because we know these gifts come from 'abundance of heart' and not from 'deficit' and 'need'. There is no self-consciousness about the act ("look how noble and giving I AM by sharing my Cheetos with you") nor an awareness of the social implications ("you will owe me one after this, Teach…"). True abundance of heart can produce true generosity, and it is this Abundance of heart, love, and goodness that created our little hearts who long to know and to become hearts like That.
I hope this is of value to your dear friend, and that she comes to know this Guileless, good-hearted God…
But one minor qualification--I would encourage her to become more than just a 'devout' Christian. I would encourage her to become a creative and celebratory and freedom-loving and joy-making Christian, whose choices and acts come from her own abundant heart…Recall the words of Jesus: "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" …I encourage her to join the dance with the Abundant Heart, and to fill her life with such boundless Life…that it too would overflow into the lives of others.
Touched and held by that Life,
May 30, 2002