“God’s creative love is grounded in his humble, self-humiliating love. This self-restricting love is the beginning of that self-emptying of God which Philippians 2 sees as the divine mystery of the Messiah. Even in order to create heaven and earth, God emptied himself of his all-plenishing omnipotence, and as Creator took upon himself the form of a servant…. God does not create merely by calling something into existence, or by setting something afoot. In a more profound sense he ‘creates’ by letting-be, by making room, and by withdrawing himself.”
(Moltmann, God in Creation, p. 88)
One of the fascinating aspects of Moltmann’s thought is his frequent appropriation of Jewish theology. In The Crucified God this is seen especially in his use of the pathos of God as developed by Abraham Heschel (a theme I’m sure will come up before too long in my Crucified God series). I believe this is in part because he is doing “theology after Auschwitz” and as he remarks elsewhere (I’m going to paraphrase because I don’t have the book in front of me): It was the voice of the Jewish victims that loosened our tongues to learn to speak of God in light of what had happened after a very long silence.
In God in Creation the key Jewish insight that Moltmann brings into the conversation is zimsum, a kabbalistic doctrine first developed by Isaac Luria:
Zimsum means concentration and contraction, and signifies a withdrawing of oneself into oneself. Luria was taking up the ancient Jewish doctrine of Shekinah, according to which the infinite God can so contract his presence that he dwells in the temple. But Luria applied it to God and creation. The existence of a world outside God is made possible by an inversion of God. This sets free a kind of ‘mystical primordial space’ into which God – issuing out of himself – can enter and in which he can manifest himself. ‘Where God withdraws himself from himself to himnself, he can call something forth which is not divine essence or divine being. The creation is not an ‘unmoved mover’ of the universe. On the contrary, creation is preceded by this self-movement on God’s part, a movement which allows creation the space for its own being. God withdraws into himself in order to go out of himself. He ‘creates’ the preconditions for the existence of his creation by withdrawing his presence and his power. ‘In the self-limitation of the divine Being which, instead of acting outwardly in its initial act, turns inwards towards itself, Nothingness emerges. Here was have an act in which Nothingness is called forth.’ It is the affirmative force of God’s self-negation which becomes the creative force in creation and salvation.
(God in Creation, p. 87)
Moltmann’s use of zimsum can be summarized in these three movements (see pages 87 – 89 in GC for more how he develops each of these):
1. God makes room for his creation by withdrawing his presence; the void created is the “nihilo” (nothing) of creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing).
2) God ‘withdraws himself from himself to himself’ in order to make creation possible. This is the humble self-limitation of God expounded in the quote at the beginning of this post.
3) It is in this “ceded space” that creation happens. Creation of “the heavens and the earth” (i.e. all reality outside of God), which God has made space for, remains in God.
In all of this, Moltmann seems to be maintaining a cruciformity similar to what he develops in The Crucified God. How do we interpret “creation out of nothing” in light of the cross of Christ?
In light of the cross of Christ, creatio ex nihilo means forgiveness of sins through Christ’s suffering, justification of the godless through Christ’s death, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal life through the lordship of the Lamb.
In light of creation, the cross of Christ means the true consolidation of the universe. Because from the very beginning the Creator is prepared to suffer in this way for his creation, his creation endures to eternity. The cross is the mystery of creation and the promise of its future.
(God in Creation, p. 91)