Out of Nothing—Ex Nihilo

The Latin word “Ex Nihilo” (yesh me-ayin in Hebrew), means out of nothing, and is used to describe God’s creation of the universe and His forming of life from nothingness. Let us therefore ask this question: Can something actually be created out of nothing? Rationally, our minds would tell us no. But if we believe—by faith—that God created the universe ex nihilo, which is both irrational and seemingly impossible to comprehend, then we can also conclude that the universe cannot continue to exist apart from the One who created it.

There is a common misconception, even for those who believe in creation, that we see ourselves as separate beings from God. Sure, we turn to God when we need Him, but otherwise are content living independently. Do we realize that we cannot exist without Him? Obviously not as most people feel that God created the world, set it in motion, and has now left it in our capable hands to manage. In fact, our entire civilization is built upon this false premise as it would appear that man is continually seeking to establish his own heaven on earth. This country’s Declaration of Independence even says, “We are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights—that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Interestingly, none of these rights are in the bible. The word “unalienable” means impossible to take away or give up, and implies these things are due to us “by right,” and not by any gift or privilege. It is true that no man has the right to take away your life, but I am speaking of God. Contrary to our misconception, Yeshua said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10, NKJV).[i] He is the grantor of life, which is found only in Him, and this life is a free gift of God and not a right.[ii] Yes free to us, but at an immeasurable cost—the precious blood of His only Son, Yeshua.

And nowhere in this declaration is there any reference to our complete and total dependence on the One who created us. No, we declare that God has given us certain rights, and that we as separate beings own these rights, and are now free to exercise them in any way we choose. This is what some might call “free will”—another misconception—but I call it rebellion.

Do we really have free will or has God simply given us a choice—a decision that would either direct our lives towards receiving His eternal love, or conversely receiving His eternal wrath? Complete free will should give us absolute sovereignty to control our eternal destiny, even escaping death, but we know this is impossible. All will die and all will be judged by the Lord; some to everlasting life and others to everlasting punishment. For if the righteous are forever sustained by God’s love, then the wicked are equally sustained by His wrath.[iii]

Let us begin to understand these absolute truths about God’s unity with His creation, and the reasons why we must fully surrender our existence to the One who sustains all things. Maimonides[iv] says: “God is the Knowledge, the Knower, and the Known. God is the means of comprehension—the Knowledge, and at the same time is He Who understands—the Knower, and is also that which is understood—the Known.”[v]

Maimonides continues by saying: “This is not within the power of any man to comprehend clearly; as it is written, ‘Can you find and understand God by searching?’ And it is also written, ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts’ [says God]; and consequently ‘your’ [human] thoughts cannot possibly comprehend ‘My’ thoughts.”[vi]

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (the Alter Rebbe),[vii] further clarifies that, “God’s essence is truly infinite—even higher than the inscrutable level of knowledge that Maimonides refers to. Thus it is written, ‘You have made them all with wisdom,’ indicating that God’s wisdom is the highest level within all the Worlds.”[viii]

Maimonides goes on to say, “This is beyond the capacity of the mouth to express, beyond the capacity of the ear to hear, and beyond the capacity of the heart or mind of man to apprehend clearly. For the Holy One, blessed be He, His Essence and Being, and His Knowledge are all absolutely one, from every side and angle, and in every form of unity.”[ix]

The Alter Rebbe then adds: “The Holy One, blessed be He, is a perfect unity, without any composition or element of plurality at all [although we recognize the Hebrew name of God ‘Elohim,’ and His Essence are a plurality of One—what we call the trinity]. He and His knowledge are all absolutely one, and knowing Himself, He perceives and knows all the higher and lower beings. One must conclude that His Essence and Being and Knowledge are all absolutely one, without any composition. Therefore, just as it is impossible for any creature in the world to comprehend the essence of the Creator and His Being, so it is impossible to comprehend the essence of His knowledge, which is One with God Himself; [it is possible] only to believe, with a faith that transcends intellect and comprehension, that the Holy One, blessed be He, is One and Unique.”[x]

Before the creation, there was nothing that existed except for Him. After creation ex nihilo we might erroneously assume that something now exists in addition to Him.[xi] This would effectively be a change in God’s absolute unity. How can we thereby say that God exists alone after creation when there now exists an additional entity—the universe?  Or how can we say that once the world was created, that God is somehow aware of something He previously was not?

No, it is clearly understood that the world is entirely nullified in relation to God, and at the same time is wholly united with Him. God is therefore just as alone after the world was created as He was alone prior to its creation. Relative to the Infinite One, all the worlds are as sheer nothingness and nonexistent.[xii] For it says, “You were [the same] before the world was created, [You are the same since the world has been created]. Being of absolutely no account relative to God, all the worlds effect no change in Him.”[xiii]

God does not change His nature or His will, and there is nothing existing that can alter Him. The Alter Rebbe adds that God’s knowledge has never changed: “For by knowing Himself, He knows all created things, since all derive from Him and are nullified in relation to Him. Creation thus added nothing to God’s knowledge. This knowledge self-existed before creation, and it is with this prior knowledge that He knows all of creation.”[xiv]

So in light of this understanding, how can we continue to believe that we, as created beings are somehow separate from God? No, it is implausible, except in our arrogance which is pride. Pride is the elevation or even consideration of one’s own identity over God’s unity. God is the Supreme King of kings—and all of creation is considered as nothing before Him and utterly nullified before His Will, which brings life to all, and continually brings us into being out of nothingness—ex nihilo.

As it says, “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they” (Hebrews 1:1-4).

Yes, God upholds all things by the word of His power. Pride thus represents a denial of God’s unity, meaning a denial that nothing exists apart from Him. And for this reason the Gemara (the oral Torah) equates it with idolatry; “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry” (1 Samuel 15:23). Idolatry implies that there is something—anything—that exists outside of God, and separate from Him.[xv]

The essence and root of our idolatry is that we regard ourselves as independent beings, separate from the holiness, which is the oneness and unity of God. Was this not Israel’s sin against the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3); even the original sin of Adam when he ate of the forbidden tree, desiring to make him wise like God?[xvi]

Idolatry does not imply an outright denial of God. Oh no, it is considered idolatry only because we consider ourselves similar to God as separate beings, thereby separating ourselves from the holiness of God, and refusing to efface ourselves before Him.[xvii] Using this false analogy, we compare the work of God—the Maker of heaven and earth—to the work of man.

For example, when a metal-smith has completed a vessel, it no longer needs the hands of the metal-smith. The hands are removed and it remains intact by itself. And some philosophers apply this model to the creation of heaven and earth, imagining that once God created them they no longer need Him. These thinkers deny what is called hashgachah pratit, which is the individually-directed Divine Providence of the Creator’s constant and ongoing contact with His created beings.[xviii] Yeshua said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Nothing implies “nothing;” even our continual existence.

But the opposite of pride is humility, which leads to submission. Humility says, “I am nothing before You—less than dust—I am completely non-existent in Your presence, and my very breath and subsistence continually depend on You.” Submission says, “I give up my [perceived] rights, even my right to exist, and fully submit to the unity of my creator.” These properly view life as an undeserved gift from God; and certainly not free, but paid for with the precious blood of Christ. He did not die for our life, liberty and happiness; but for our love, joy, and peace which is found in Him alone.[xix]

Surrender requires us to either humble ourselves, or in His love which is grace, be painfully humbled by the Lord—always remembering with fear and compassion, the severity of God which has fallen on all idolaters, “who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25). And it requires full submission to the One who holds the keys of life in His hand.[xx]

But we can rejoice in this truth, knowing that, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). When we nullify ourselves before our creator then we are capable of receiving the fullness of His love; this so we might conceivably demonstrate His immeasurable love to an unlovable world.[xxi]

This is why “Jesus [Yeshua] began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matthew 4:17). He knew that only repentance would turn the hearts of the children of Israel back to the heart of their heavenly Father. “Thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, With him who has a contrite and humble spirit, To revive the spirit of the humble, And to revive the heart of the contrite ones’” (Isaiah 57:15).

Yeshua then prayed, “that they [Israel and all who are grafted in] all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:21).

And this is my prayer for us—that we remain in humble submission and continually repentant before our God. Repentant from our idolatry of self, and turning from the deception that we are somehow independent beings that exist apart from God. Let us see ourselves fearfully nullified in His presence and forever remembering that we are completely dependent upon Him, and that our spirit and very breath will rest in His hands for all eternity. Only then, when we are completely crucified in our flesh[xxii] and alive in His Spirit will we fully become One in Him and One with one other. Dear brothers and sisters—let us all become One.


[i] All Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Bible (NKJV) unless otherwise noted, Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982.
[ii] Romans 1:32, 5:18.
[iii] Revelation 21:8.
[iv] Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (מֹשֶׁה בֶּן־מַימוֹן‎ Mōšeh bēn-Maymōn; Arabic: موسى بن ميمون‎‎ Mūsā bin Maymūn), commonly known as Maimonides /maɪˈmɒnᵻ.diːz/ (my-MON-i-deez; Greek: Μαϊμωνίδης Maïmōnídēs), and also referred to by the acronym Rambam /ˌrɑːmˈbɑːm/ (רמב״ם‎, for Rabbeinu Mōšeh bēn Maimon, "Our Rabbi Moses son of Maimon"), was a medieval Sephardic Jewish philosopher who became one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars of the Middle Ages. Wikipedia.
[v] Lesson in the Tanya—Iggeret HaKodesh, middle of Epistle 25. The Tanya of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, elucidated by Rabbi Yosef Wineberg. Translated from Yiddish by Rabbi Levy Wineberg and Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg. Edited by Uri Kaploun. Published and copyrighted by Kehot Publication Society. Chabad.org.
[vi] Ibid.
[vii] Shneur Zalman of Liady (Hebrew: שניאור זלמן מליאדי‎‎, September 4, 1745 – December 15, 1812 O.S. / 18 Elul 5505 – 24 Tevet 5573), was an Orthodox rabbi and the founder and first Rebbe of Chabad, a branch of Hasidic Judaism, then based in Liadi in the Russian Empire. He was the author of many works, and is best known for Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Tanya and his Siddur Torah Or compiled according to the Nusach Ari. Wikipedia.
[viii] Ibid.
[ix] Ibid.
[x] Ibid.
[xi] Matthew 11:27.
[xii] Isaiah 40:17.
[xiii] Ibid—Kuntres Acharon, end of Essay 6.
[xiv] Ibid—Iggeret HaKodesh, middle of Epistle 25.
[xv] Ibid—Likutei Amarim, beginning of Chapter 25.
[xvi] Genesis 3:6.
[xvii] Ibid—Likutei Amarim, end of Chapter 22.
[xviii] Ibid—Iggeret HaKodesh, middle of Epistle 25.
[xix] Galatians 5:22.
[xx] John 5:39-40, Revelation 1:18.
[xxi] John 13:35.
[xxii] Romans 6:6, Galatians 2:20