I’m in seminary. Correction: I’ve been in seminary for some time, longer than I care to admit. Recently, I started a class about worldviews, and the age-old question was posed: “Why is there something instead of nothing.” One of my textbooks for the class is by James Sire, and he reasons that “all worldviews assume that something is there rather than that nothing is there.”1 A simple concept but true enough. The point being: if one does not first acknowledge this ontological understanding of the universe as primary, then one can move no further down the road, so to speak. As Sire puts it:
“Throughout the history of Western thought till the seventeenth century, the ontological question has been implicitly understood to be primary. That something exists has been taken as a starting point. The first question then becomes, What is it that is there?”2
This brings us to Kabbalah! Jewish rabbis from the Kabbalistic tradition (Jewish mysticism) understand God as infinite—they even call him Ein Sof, which means “No End” or “Unending.”3 Some in this tradition have proposed that since God is infinite, in the beginning he had to or rather chose to make space for anything other than him, e.g. creation or finite space. They call this: tzimtzum, which means “contraction.”4 Out of nothing, there was. This is perhaps connected to what philosophers and theologians have understood as ex nihilo or “out of nothing.” The pre-existent Creator God, in other words, created something out of nothing (as opposed to using pre-existent matter).
Back to the question at hand. Why is there something instead of nothing? Perhaps, one could answer this way: God is one who makes room for the other. The incarnation itself is a picture of God’s tzimtzum-ness, that is his contracting, making room, limiting his infinitude to put on finitude. Jesus, the very revelation of God, always made room for the other, the stranger, the foreigner, the poor, the outcast, the enemy. On the cross, Jesus demonstrated that he is one who would rather die for his enemies than take their lives. These are a few of the manifold reasons why the Jesus life, the Christian life, is how I choose to view and live in this world.
1. James W. Sire, Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept, 02 ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015), 19.
2. Ibid, 70.
3. Nissan Dovid Dubov, “Tzimtzum,” Kabbalah, Chassidism and Jewish Mysticism, accessed August 03, 2016, http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/361884/jewish/Tzimtzum.htm.