Who Created God? A Question That Cuts Both Ways
"Who created God?" This was how the wheels would fall off the bus of our after school program chapel time. After leading the kids though a few songs and a Bible message, I knew that one of the girls would inevitably ask the question with giggles as the rest of the kids groaned - every single week. I appreciated the question for sure - but wow... it's hard to talk systematic theology with fourth graders at four in the afternoon!
I had heard the question before - not from fourth graders, but rather from atheists. In fact, I came across it again recently in Richard Dawkins' staple contribution to the new atheist literature, The God Delusion:
The girl in our after school program asked the question repeatedly out of innocent curiosity. The new atheists, on the other hand, often intend the question as a deal breaker. Regardless of how solid of a case theists make for God's existence, there's always the trump card question - who created God?
I appreciate honest inquiries, but I have to be honest that I'm not all that impressed with the supposed weight or difficulty of the question. Christian thinkers have never been ignorant of this question, nor have they been troubled by it. On the contrary, Christian theology has always confessed a God for whom such a question is no real difficulty and to whom such a question does not ultimately apply. And upon closer examination, it turns out that the same basic question applies to a materialistic view of the universe and its origins.
What Kind of God?
While some atheists have a commendable grasp of Christian theology, it appears that many have in mind a god with little to nothing in common with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Anthropomorphized versions of God - the old bearded man from a Michelangelo painting, for example - are an easy target for questions like, "Who created God?" Such a god would be subject to categories like time, space, and even existence itself as we experience it. And so, naturally, the question of such a god's origins would pose a serious question to his/her/its existence. However, the Scriptures present a God who is radically different:
"From everlasting to everlasting, you are God..." (Psalm 90:2)
"You are the same, and your years have no end..." (Psalm 102:27)
"I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God" (Isaiah 45:5)
"Do not I fill heaven and earth?" declares the LORD (Jeremiah 23:24)
God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.'" (Exodus 3:14)
This God is not bound to any category we know. He is all-present (omnipresent), all-powerful (omnipotent), and all-knowing (omniscient), and all-sovereign. While the Scriptures themselves are neither systematic nor philosophical in their expression of God's nature, theologians have translated the language of the Bible into detailed terms that describe the unique nature of God's existence in comparison to anything and everything else. For example, theologians use the term "aseity" (a Latin word that means "from himself") to describe the all-sufficient self existence of God. In other words, God is on an entirely different level - not subject to limitations like space, time, and origin. The Lutheran dogmatician Francis Pieper describes God in these terms:
God is in a class by Himself... God is the ens summum, the Absolute Reality, and therefore He cannot share being, activity, authority, glory, with anyone or anything... All creatures are finite, that is, they are subject to the limits and boundaries of their being and activity. God is infinite... God in his being and activity is in no way bound by the limitations of time and space... (pgs. 437-441).
I often wonder if this is the same God atheists (or fourth graders!) have in mind when they ask, "Who created God?" And I also wonder if atheists realize that the question they pose also applies to their worldview as well.
A Question That Cuts Both Ways
The question of who created God, while certainly not posing any serious problem for the true Christian understanding of God, ends up applying to the atheist/materialist view of the universe as well. Both Christians and atheists face the same conceptual conundrum - someone/something must exist before other things, and eventually that someone/something must be self-sufficient, self-existing, and eternal. For the Christian, that someone is God. For the atheist, that something is matter (or whatever preceded it).
When materialists still held to the idea of a static, eternally existing universe, the idea of matter simply existing without origin was not a problem. If matter is all there is, then what other option remains? To put it in theological terms, materialists believed that matter possessed the attribute of aseity. But can you see the problem here? The same inquiry about who designed the designer equally applies to materialism - who/what came before matter, and what accounts for the existence of matter? It's the same question applied to God, just reversed.
The problem is just as thick for atheists now that more recent cosmology strongly suggests a very sudden beginning to space and time in the remote past. The Big Bang provides a picture of the event that accounts for matter and its expansion. But what accounts for the event itself? What preceded it? And what accounts for the laws behind the event (even if so much was apparently determined in one decillionth of a second)?
The answer to the question reveals one of two truths: Either something/someone else lies behind the Big Bang (which opens the door to God again), or the Big Bang event is all there is - no category exists beyond the sudden explosion of matter into space and time. And if that is true, then we've arrived at the same affirmation Christians apply to God - only in this case, applied to matter alone.
The point is this: Both Christians and atheists believe that someone/something has always existed in and of itself (even theories of spontaneous creation of matter are cornered on this point, since they assume a preceding law or principle). Atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel sums up the conceptual stalemate well in his article The Fear of Religion (a nice critique of Dawkins's The God Delusion, by the way):
All explanations come to an end somewhere. The real opposition between Dawkins's physicalist naturalism and the God hypothesis is a disagreement over whether this end point is physical, extensional, and purposeless, or mental, intentional, and purposive. On either view, the ultimate explanation is not itself explained. The God hypothesis does not explain the existence of God, and naturalistic physicalism does not explain the law of physics.
Two Worldviews With Two Different Starting Points
So, it turns out that Christians and atheists have the same conceptual issue of who/what precedes everything else. However, while the question is the same, the starting point for each worldview is completely opposite. From the atheist/materialist perspective, matter preceded mind. In fact, for billions of years matter rested unobserved by any mind, until by chance matter acquired the ability of self-reflection. Only then did mind arise from matter, and before this there was only cold silence. The universe, as glorious as it is to human eyes, existed in reference to nothing and no one.
For the Christian, mind precedes matter, and not any mind, but the mind of the self-sufficient God who has no beginning and no end. From his eternal mind proceeded all things, for "in him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28) and "from him and to him and through him are all things" (Romans 11:36). And finally, the mind of God allows for other minds - embodied minds tangled up in the stuff of matter, able to perceive matter, and called into relationship with the mind behind the matter - even to the point that the mind took on matter. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). For the Christian, matter receives the ability to forever enjoy God and his gifts - "I believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting." For the Christian, neither mind nor matter exist as a cruel accident, but rather as reflections of the glory of the mind of God, and the means by which we know and serve him.
And so, the real question that remains is which worldview makes the most sense out of our experience of reality. Matter that accidentally perceived itself, and that will only be perceived as long as intelligent life exists? Or matter that exists as the result of a mind, meaning that our perception of it is full of purpose?
Rev. John Rasmussen - Our Savior Lutheran Church