Have you ever watched an elaborate display of dominoes falling? I’m talking about a masterpiece with thousands of dominoes, made into an elaborate contraption. Each domino is positioned perfectly to push over the next, and the next, and the next, and so on. Almost every domino falls because of the one before it. But it doesn’t take a domino expert to tell us that something else must have pushed the first domino.
Similarly, when we think about the universe, we encounter a similar question. Everything in the universe began to exist because of something else. You’re alive because of your parents, and your parents because of their parents, and so on. But where did it all begin?
People have contemplated this for many years. If you are a Christian, the answer is an easy one: God started the process. He’s the one who began it all. The very first passage of the Bible starts with this: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1).
But to this, many might raise a dilemma. “If everything must have a creator,” they say, “then who created God?”
If you’ve ever found yourself pondering this question, join the club. It’s a fair question to ask. And everyone asks it at some point or another. When we explain where everything comes from, why do we stop at God? Where did He come from? Many have asked these questions, and fortunately, they’ve all been answered before.
The dilemma arises from a false understanding of what Christians mean by “God”, and if it’s true that “everything must have a creator”. If you believe “God” is a cosmic being granting wishes and dishing out curses from the sky (similar to the Greek and Roman gods), then we have a problem. But that isn’t what we mean when we talk about God. If we understand God correctly, we see that God does not need a creator.
God is Eternal
If we’re going to understand why God doesn’t need a creator, we must understand what it means to be eternal. Many think of eternity as an infinite amount of time, or at least a very long time. But that’s not entirely accurate. To exist in eternity is to exist outside of time, to not be limited by time. That’s why St. Peter could say that to God “one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8).
Outside of time, words like “before” and “after” don’t exactly make sense, since they refer to the relationship of incidents in time. So asking what came before God makes about as much sense as asking how many gallons are in a mile.
But unlike God, the universe isn’t eternal. It had a beginning. In fact, the Bible refers to the creation of the universe as “the beginning”, indicating that the creation marked the very start of time (Gen 1:1). From that moment on, the dominoes began to fall.
So when we speak about God, we are not talking about someone a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. We’re talking about a God who exists entirely outside of our realm of space and time.
God is Being
God isn’t just the greatest being. He isn’t even a being. This may shock some of you. But it’s true. Properly put, God is being. Notice the subtle difference in words. Yet the difference in meaning is anything but subtle. Being isn’t something that God just has, as humans do. God is being itself; He is existence itself.
Notice how God chose to answer Moses when asked His name. God answered with the mysterious, “I am who am” (Ex 3:14, Douay-Reims translation). God revealed Himself as He who simply is. St. Thomas Aquinas even described God as “Him who is subsisting being itself” (Summa Theologiae I, Q 4, Art 2). Existing isn’t something God does, it’s something He is.
Unlike God, humans only exist because existence is something that is given to us, something inherited. But we don’t own it. We partake of it. I only exist because of my parents, and they because of theirs, and so on. I’m not responsible for my own existence, nor do I sustain my own existence. Scripture tells us that in God “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
So when we speak of God, we aren’t talking about one who inherits His existence, as we do. We’re talking about one who is existence itself. So according to the Christian definition of God, asking where He got His existence is nonsense.
Dismantling the Question
So let’s look at the question again: “If everything must have a creator, then who created God?” First of all, Christians don’t assert that everything must have a creator. If that were the case, then the charge would be a valid one. But only things that began to exist must have a creator. By definition, an eternal God never had a beginning, and thus never began to exist.
Furthermore, the question betrays an assumption that God, too, must obtain His existence from something else. But that isn’t at all what Christians mean when they speak of God. He isn’t just a bigger domino in the chain of little dominoes. By definition, God is existence. Existing isn’t something He has, it’s something He is. Asking where He got His existence is a nonstarter. By definition, He doesn’t derive his existence from somewhere else.
While the question “Who created God?” poses a dilemma to many, it’s not without an answer. It’s only when we don’t have a proper understanding of who God is that we run into problems. But when we understand God as the eternal source of all existence, the question falls flat.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article was previously published by On This Rock Apologetics.
image: Metropolitan Museum of Art [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons