It is Christianity that revealed the true concept of God – the concept of His essence and of His nature. It is Christianity that explained the concept of the universe, its beginning, and its end.
Whence came the universe? From what did the universe spring? For what reason did the universe come into being? Only Christianity has given a true and definite answer. For how could the instrument that revealed to us the essence and nature of the creator, hide from us the essence and nature of creation, and its relationship with the creator?
As we received from Christianity and hold in our hearts the true concept of God, even so we received and hold fast the true concept of the universe, for it is the handiwork and creation of God. Consequently, Christianity demolished and utterly overthrew the system of the deists and pantheists, and loosed a deadly arrow against idolatry and materialism.
Ignorance of the true God accounted for the rise of all the false religious and theological systems associated with the idea of God. Ignorance of the essence and nature of the universe accounted for the rise of the worship of nature and of idolatry in general, and of the deification of the universe.
The misinterpretation of the true God has produced two false religions in the world; both are inventions of Satan, the father of lies. Deism accepts the existence of one god, but not of one who is creator and maker of the world, but synonymous with fate and blind chance, and who cannot be known in his essence or nature, or in his relationship with the world and man. Pantheism denies the separate, distinct existence of God, but views everything as divine, and God as mingled with the universe.
The misinterpretation of the universe introduced materialism and the worship of nature into the world, because the universe was understood as being self-existent and an eternal substance (hypostasis). This false concept wars against the true concept of the existence of God.
When, through Christ, the nature of the true God and His essence were revealed to us, there also was revealed the concept of the beginning, the essence and the nature of the universe, and of its final destiny. Therefore, we received and possess two true concepts as two lighted lanterns, dispelling the darkness in our understanding of the whole universe:
- The concept of the true God;
- The concept of the beginning and of the destiny of the universe.
If we follow in their light, we cannot go astray or be hurled upon the rocks of deism or materialism. Nor can we be swept away into the quicksand of pantheism and idolatry. It is the rocks of these errors that shipwreck all who have not been illuminated by the brilliant, shining light of Christ and the Gospel. They make their voyage in darkness and ignorance.
It is not the beginning wherein each creature was organized and placed in regular working order and sequence that is the beginning of the universe, but the start of its creation, the beginning in which it received its being. In Orthodox theology it is not asked if the universe had a beginning, because Orthodoxy reveals and teaches of God as eternal, God as ever existing, and God as having necessary existence. It reveals and teaches that the universe had a beginning in time, that it had a cause, that its existence is derivative, and that the universe has an end and a goal for which it came into being and toward which it makes its way.
This is indeed the truth. If God is eternal in essence and nature, the universe is temporal, because two eternal beings of different natures, or two of different essences, cannot co-exist for eternity, since the eternal and ever-living being is one. If God is the eternal Being, the universe is something that came into existence, because the eternal Being is one, and from the one, all beings received their existence. The absolute, the perfect, the eternal, and the ever-living God is one. If God exists by necessity, the universe is dependent, because God was able to make it or not to make it. The being that exists by necessity is one. If the universe does not exist by necessity, then it possesses the cause of its existence in God. God, therefore, is the cause of the existence of the universe.
Amidst many rambling thoughts and speculations of mankind concerning the beginning of the universe, Holy Scripture alone proclaimed clearly and authoritatively that the universe came into being in the beginning from God. and that the cause of its existence is the power of God for creation: “In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1; LXX). Before the witness of Holy Scripture, all legendary notions and tales of the eternity of matter were dispersed as smoke. The edifice of the lie that the universe requires no external agency, is everlasting, and occurs fortuitously, collapsed.
The universe has a cause for its existence, and that is God. The universe came into being in time. These are the words of Holy Scripture. These are the truths which Christianity revealed. In the beginning, says Holy Scripture, God created the heaven and the earth. Therefore, the universe is the handiwork and creation of God. God is its author and creator.
What existed before the universe was given existence? Nothing, for all was a mere thought in the mind of God. What is a dwelling before it is constructed? It is nothing. It is a mere thought, a mere design in the mind of the architect. The very nothing of a dwelling, before it is constructed, is the matter for it – the stones, the wood, and the tiles.
The nothing of the universe, before the universe came into existence, is the matter of the universe. But before the matter itself existed, there was nothing. There was only non-existence. Consequently, before the matter existed from which the universe was made, nothing existed: there was a state of non-existence. From nothing and non-existence, matter came into being through the infinite power of God.
The beginning of the universe, or rather the beginning of the matter of the universe, is the time when non-existence, nothing, received existence and essence, when non-existence became existence and received reality by the power of God. The activity of God by which He operated and created the matter of the universe is called reality-productive action; the act itself is called the creative act. This is to create, to initiate being, and what comes into being is called creation, a product, and a work.
God, as the cause of the creation of the universe from that which has no existence, is called creator and maker of the whole. Therefore, when we proclaim in the holy Creed our belief “in one God, the Father, almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible,” we confess and acknowledge one God, creator of all, who created everything, whether visible or invisible, from nothing, from what had no existence, by His almighty power.
Only Holy Scripture has revealed the cause of the universe’s creation. No man could have thought of the truth that the universe is the handiwork of God, a handiwork made from nothing. The ancient philosophers imagined God to be the one who placed matter in order, the one who designed the specification, the final account of creation. They did not think of Him as creator and maker, one who made the universe from the non-existent. They understood the matter and the substance (hypostasis) of the universe as being eternal, equal to God, but God they understood as shaping matter and making the world according to His specifications.
Thus they attributed human capabilities to God, for man makes everything from matter that lies at hand; he cannot make anything if he does not have the matter for it. Holy Scripture, the inerrant Word of God, was the first to speak the truth to the ear of man -that the cause of the creation of the universe is God. It states this explicitly with the words, “In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1; LXX). Again it states, ” . . . by him” (Christ) “were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible . . . “ (Colossians 1:16). According to the psalmist, ” … all that the Lord willed, he did in heaven, and on the earth, in the sea, and in all deeps” (Psalms 134:6; LXX).
Therefore, because the universe came into being and was non-existent before its coming into existence, it is called a creation; it is under time and in time. As St. Augustine noted, it is “involved in time” because it does not possess eternal existence; God alone possesses eternal being. Thus God alone is known as He Who Is, the self-existing one, abstract being, perfect wisdom, and underived life. God alone continues in being outside all time and place, and is eternal, infinite, perfect, and absolute.
Orthodox theology confesses these two crucial truths:
- The Holy Trinity is the real cause of the creation of the universe;
- The universe came into being from nothing by the power of the eternal God, and had a beginning, an origin in time; this was the birth of the universe, or its creation.
The universe, as the handiwork and creation of God, came into being outside God, through His omnipotent creative power. It came into being out of what was non-existent, out of nothing. Inspired Holy Scripture bears witness to the foundation of the universe from nothing, regarding form and matter, when it declares: “In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth.”
The term He created means that God brought it into being, God created it from the non-existent. He established the unestablished, for it could not receive existence and foundation outside of God. St. Paul taught that God ” . . . calleth those things which be not as though they were” (Romans 4:17).
God calls them because He also makes them. He causes the non-existent to exist. If He were unable to create them, neither could He call them in this manner. God calls the non-existent existent, for He also makes the non-existent exist.
St. Paul noted, “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear” (Hebrews 11:3). He taught hereby that everything which has come into existence came into being from non-existence, from that which had no previous experience or existence.
Addressing the church at Ephesus, St. Paul revealed that the beginning of the universe was of God, “. . . according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world . . . “ (Ephesians 1:4) – before He founded it, before He established the universe, and before He created the world. This is because the foundation of the world is the act of bringing it into being, the creation of every creature and being, the making of matter.
In His great prayer to the heavenly Father, the Theanthropos attested to the creation of the universe from the nonexistent. Said He, “Father, I will that they also . . . be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24), which is to say, “before thou didst found the universe, before thou didst create all beings.” In the sacred book of Maccabees, the mother of the Maccabees addressed these memorable words to her son: “I beseech thee, my son, look upon heaven and earth, and all that is in them: and consider that God made them out of nothing, and mankind also:” (II Maccabees 7:28; LXX).
Hence the beginning of creation is found in the creative activity of God – in the very instant in which there came into existence the previously non-existent, that which was not, before it was given birth and existence. Before creation we find only the Ancient of days, the eternal God Himself, the artificer and creator, not yet having set to work to bring forth the creation of anything, but having the plan of creation in His mind from all eternity.
Before an architect designs and constructs a house, he possesses a mental picture and plan of the building, and when he desires, he turns them into reality. This lies within his free will and is the product of his own free action. Nevertheless, the mental picture precedes the work and the work is the implementation of the plan in his mind.
Likewise, creation is the implementation of a mental preconception of the universe. The plan of the universe is eternal in God our heavenly Father, but its actualization rests in time. It possesses a beginning which is determined by the point when it was given birth.
The following diagram aids comprehension of that which has been discussed heretofore:
God, the eternal Being, creates a being, a work, or an entity from that which does not exist, from nothing. The being or work is called a temporal entity because it is in the process of becoming; God, of course, fashioned the matter of which the world and entity are created. The temporal entity, which is of a finite nature, contains many beings whose sum total comprises the actual world which is the work and creation of the pantokrator God, its author and creator.
Creation lies between the eternal Being, God, and the nonbeing, or nothing. It is contingent upon the will of the eternal Being and of His free activity.
Therefore, the creation of the world rests unquestionably upon the will of God, and for this reason it is purely and wholly the product and result of the free will of God. It is the carefully prepared work of an omniscient and omnipotent will and not the product of chance or fate – as taught by the foolish who say in their heart that there is no God (Psalms 13:1; LXX).