The following is the latest in a series of daily meditations amid the pandemic. For today’s musical pairing, listen to Peter Gregson’s recomposition of the prelude to Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1. All songs for this series have been gathered into a Spotify playlist.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
Meditation 18. 2,127,873 confirmed cases, 141,454 deaths globally.
Christian doctrine refers to the creative activity out of which God brought forth the cosmos as creatio ex nihilo. The universe we inhabit has not existed forever, in other words, nor was it refashioned from preexisting matter. It was created “out of nothing” (ex nihilo) through the intention and the will, the intelligence and the love of God.
One cannot be a Christian very long without hearing the classic Latin phrase. A lesser-known phrase from the theological canon is preservatio ex nihilo. God’s will is not only creative but preservative. He both brings and sustains all things in being. The moment God no longer wills for all things to exist, they will not.
The insight is fundamentally the same, and the logic is compelling. God is the only necessary being, the only one who contains the principle of his existence within himself. All other things are contingent upon his will.
The biblical narrative begins with the beginning of the temporal order we inhabit. It does not fold back the curtain of time and show us any deliberation within the community of the Trinity or within the throne room of heaven before God chose to create the universe. What it does make evident is that God is perfect and sufficient unto himself. He was not compelled to create by any imperfection or need. It also makes clear that we serve a God who is defined by love and grace. It is “from him and through him and for him” that all things were made (Rom. 11:36).
When I was a gymnast, I built up enormous callouses on my hands until I could scarcely feel the high bar in my grip. When those callouses were ripped away, suddenly the raw skin felt every grain of the bar. Many of us feel that way now. The layers of distraction and numb routine have been ripped away, and the raw skin of our souls feels the nearness of death more keenly than ever.
Confronting the possibility of our death, however, brings a startling appreciation for the fact of our life. That we need not exist illuminates the wonder we do exist.
It is a part of God’s unchanging nature since before the beginning of time that he is a giver of good and perfect gifts. And if our existence is neither necessary nor earned, then it is a gift. The God who is love creates in love. Although he did not need to create us, evidently he desired to do so. God willed for us to be so we could be in relation to him.
Creatio ex nihilo and preservatio ex nihilo may sound like the kind of dusty Latin phrases that echoed in stone churches centuries ago. Yet they actually tell us something incredibly vital and relevant in this season. They tell us that everything is a gift. Every day and every hour and every moment we exist is because God generously wills it so. All of creation, all throughout time, is the overflow of the love of God.
We may feel vulnerable to know that our very existence is contingent in every moment upon the will of God. But God’s being and character are changeless. With him there is no shadow of variation. Is there anything more reliable to stand upon?
If these things are true, then the first gift ever given is the simple grace that anything exists in the first place. Creation itself is the original witness to the generosity of God. The world only is because grace is.
Help us, O Lord, even in the midst of this time of anxiety and mortality, to remember that every moment we are is a moment when you will us to be. We thank you for the gift of this life, this day, and this hour. May we never take for granted the good and perfect gifts you give.
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