Several years ago I set myself the task of writing an essay without using the letter “e.” It was more daunting than I thought it would be. It became a real challenge. I had to read and reread my drafts over and over. Those pesky little critters (“e’s,” that is) kept creeping in everywhere. I would be sure that I had expunged them all. “Out, you varmints!” And then, lo and behold, another one! It took a while to finish that piece.
After that experience, I wanted to again do something difficult. So I decided I would challenge myself again. But how? Then I hit upon an idea. I would write about nothing. Hmmmmm! Here are the results of my meanderings in the realm of nothingness.
My musings about nothing traveled along several different tracks. I thought I could take this in several directions… But, I chose to write with a philosophical approach—to which you will herewith bear witness… (This should be interesting. Or totally boring.)
The concept of nothing is intriguing. My mind is drawn to it. Think of the very word itself: NOTHING = NO THING. To really understand this concept, you have to let your mind go… just let it wander. Release your imagination. Can you conceive of a reality in which there is no thing at all? Not one thing exists. There is no space, no time, no being, no reality. Nothing. Pure nonexistence. Wow.
The existentialists liked to play with this idea. Heidegger and all his gang. They posed the question: Why is there existence? Why does any THING exist at all? Why not rather nothing? Why is there being and reality? Why did anything come to be in the first place.
Of course, for the existentialist, nothing is certain. (If you analyze even that statement, it is paradoxical, entertaining, and engaging.) Nothing, except… our existence. For the one thing we do know is that we are here. We may have come from nothing. (How? Well, no existentialist seems to know.) And after our brief time of existence here, we most probably will go into nothing. “Dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return.” Period. Except that the coming from and the going to are “from” and “towards” something much less than dust. For there is no dust. There is no thing out there. Nothing!
The notion of no-thingness held such fascination with many of the existentialists that they wondered if our very raison d’être was to grapple with this idea. Sartre once said that the only truly existential question that man faces is whether he is to be. If we accept this position, then the only real choice we make is whether to go on living, to continue be-ing. Thus, the possibility of suicide a la Sartre! (In this context, it is worth noting that some think the French writer Camus may have purposefully killed himself in a car wreck—the ultimate tribute to the philosophy of a committed existentialist. Alas for poor Albert.)
Some Buddhist sects also are drawn to a consideration of NO-THINGNESS. There is a school of thought in Mahayana Buddhism that makes the idea of nothing a topic of philosophical inquiry. (I started to say “theological inquiry,” but this would be a misnomer—since Buddhism is essentially atheistic, at least as regards belief in a personal Supreme Being.)
These Buddhists focus on the concept of the VOID. They assert that all reality came from nothing, from pure emptiness. They also emphasize that the void, the reality of emptiness, of no-thingness, is worthy of contemplation. Think of it. If we start with a blank sheet of paper, you could write anything at all on it. Thus, if there is nothing, then there exists the possibility of ANYTHING happening. Emptiness, reality devoid of all things, has the potential to become or to be anything at all. Thus such Buddhists believe that we should apply this truth to ourselves. We must empty ourselves of the very notion of self. We should divest our mind of thoughts, rid our hearts of illusions. Only then are we capable of experiencing true reality. Only then do we open ourselves to the infinite possibilities of life. Thus spake Siddhartha (sorta).
Interesting speculation. Both the existentialist and the Buddhist provoke us to think about no-thingness. But the question cries out to be answered: Are these philosophical positions true? (Of course, some would ask if there can be truth in philosophy at all? But I won’t touch that.)
Part of the Christian response rests on what we hold to be the definition of “thing.” In other words, what do we really mean by the word “thing”? If we mean any person, object, spirit, being or reality that exists (including the Supreme Reality) then we must say that there has never been, nor ever will be the possibility of pure nothingness. For there is one ultimate true reality, one fact that comes before all other facts. It is this: God exists. This is the primary and essential quality of His reality. He is. He is being or existence itself.
“He is.” Worlds of truth, and galaxies of ideas, are to be found in that simple, two word sentence. We could explore enough thoughts about this to write volumes. Just to give you one example, Aquinas used the concept of the “Is-ness” of the Deity as one of his five proofs of the existence of God. We don’t have time to consider, nor would you probably be interested in, the details of this ontological proof of God. But to summarize, this idea simply states that if we can conceive of the existence of God then, in fact, He must exist. Chew on that for a while
However, the Christian faith does affirm belief in a certain understanding of no-thingness. This is in regards to the creation. The doctrine is called creation ex nihilo. The words ex nihilo are Latin and mean “out of nothing.” This concept, based on both Scripture and reason, states that God created all that exists out of absolutely nothing. Originally there was God, and nothing else. Then God commanded and all else came to be. What exists was not formed out of pre-existing matter, as is asserted by pagan religions. Instead, God simply spoke, uttered the Divine fiat, “Let there be…” and things came into being. Planets, stars, animals, dust, flowers, mountains and meteors—all came in existence by the simple pronouncement of the Almighty.
Wonders and marvels are contained in this idea. Let your mind roam free again. Imagine that there is only the fullness and completeness of Deity. The One is all that is real, all that exists. Then in pure love, with an ardor and passion to give and to share being, God in Three-fold abundance chose to speak worlds and women, men and monkeys, ants and atoms, galaxies and grains of sand into existence. What an awesome God!
So you see, contemplating nothing is not really a waste of time. Indeed, it is a fruitful topic for pondering. From pure no-thingness, God made everything that exists. What an idea! And to carry this pondering a little further—what if we apply this truth to our everyday lives? If we love and serve a Lord who is able to create from nothing, is there anything we face in this life that He cannot handle? Certainly not. There is nothing in your life that God cannot deal with, correct, redeem, heal, save or change. Nothing! The Creator of the cosmos—“creator” in the truest possible sense of the word—is in your corner, present to help you. He who made the universe out of no-thing, except His own word/Word can speak solutions and answers into your life. We can trust His creative ability and His eternal omnipotence. For our God can do anything! (See Romans 4:17, 21 and Hebrews 11:3, 6).