Karl Barth on the reason for creation


This may not be an exact quote (and I can’t find the passage right now), but I think Karl Barth said “God, alone in His eternity (with only the potential for change, and needing nothing from us), created and entered into time out of love, so that He could share the potential joys of existence with finite creatures.”

(I was reading Barth online last night, and I read something like that.)

Anyway, I don’t want to get into a discussion of time and eternity here, but I’m interested in the idea of God creating out of love, because He wants to share something worth sharing.

I like that idea, but someone once suggested to me that it involves a category error, because (in his words) “you couldn’t be any better or worse off if you didn’t exist, because there would be no ‘you’ to be any better or worse off.”

I don’t know how to argue with that logic, but something has always seemed wrong about it to me.

As a thought experiment (and assuming for the moment that death equals total extinction), if I suppose the building that surrounds me were to catch on fire, it’s difficult for me to believe I’d be no better off if I were to die from a sudden heart attack before the flames reached my body, than I would trapped in this chair and slowly burning to death?

But I think my old acquaintance would say (again assuming, just for the moment, that death equals total extinction) that there’d be no “me” to be any better or worse off than the me burning to death if I ceased to exist before the flames reached my body.

Again, I don’t know how to argue with that logic, but it seems wrong to me, and I’d be interested in any thoughts from those of you who may be more familiar with the rules of logic than I am.

If there is a God, could His bringing finite beings into existence be an act of love, or is Barth (and other thinkers who’ve made similar statements) making some kind of category error?

Is it at all possible to compare states of existences with non-existence?

And assuming death is the end, is it really no better to die of a sudden heart attack, than to slowly burn to death?


I believe that God created out of the overflow of His grace. I say grace because you cannot deserve to be created. God sustains by grace and is under no obligation to keep sustaining with His grace. For Grace is God’s unmerited favor and never owed. If it were owed it wouldn’t be grace. God is unique in His role as Creator and as such He has rights and prerogatives that His creatures don’t. Nonetheless He always has justifiable reasons for permitting suffering even if we can’t tell at the moment what they are. He sees all of reality (past, present, and future) and we do not. He is infinite in wisdom and knowledge and we are not. But because of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ I can trust Him through the good and the bad. At the cross we see God permitting the worst evil in history for the salvation of the world. He brings Beauty out of ashes so, my faith is in Him and I have hope. There is a saying that I learned from A.A. that I always use because it is the absolute truth for me. Trust God - Clean House - Help Others. That’s my job. God’s sovereign will is His business. Moreover, when we trust God we are following in the footsteps of Christ who by the joy set before Him endured the cross.


I believe your thoughts on Grace are scripturally sound, but I don’t think they really address my question here (unless you’re suggesting God showed each of us unmerritted favour by simply bring us into existence, which would just be another way of saying that He did it out of love, which is what Barth said.)

The question here is whether it makes sense to say (as Barth does) that a God who created ex nihilo did so out of love (or as an act of unmerritted favor, if you prefer)?

I asked this same question on another forum, and someone (apparently an atheist) suggested “Maybe we are His model train track. A guy’s gotta have a hobby, you know.”

To which I replied

Do you see any category errors in the above proposition that an excrutiatingly painful existence is worse than non-existence, or that a pleasurable existence is better than non eixistence?

Assuming that the guitone was quicker than being beheaded by the back and forth sawing action used by today’s knife weilding Islamist extreamists (and assuming that death equals oblivian), would you see any category error in saying that it was better to be beheaded during the French Revolution than in modern day Syria and Iraq (or that it’s better to be beheaded than burned alive, like that poor Jordanian pilot was)?

That’s the question I’m asking.

Does it make sense to say (as Karl Barth does) that a Trinitarian God who created ex nihilo brought finite beings into existence because He wanted to share the valuble possibilities of existence with them–things like the love shared between the persons of the Trinity, and joy, and happiness?

Does it make sense to say that existing, and being able to experience such things has some intrinsic value when compared to not existing, and not being able to experience anything (or is that a category error)?

That’s the question I’m asking here.

Do you have any thoughts on it?


Hey Michael,

I think it is a categorical error. Something and nothing have nothing in common so they can’t be compared. It’s like comparing apples and nonapples, insisting that non apples taste better.


I’ve often heard people say you can’t compare apples to oranges, but I’ve never understood why.

Apples and bannanas aren’t my favorite fruits precisely because they come up short when I compare them to oranges, peaches, tangerines, pineapples, berries, and melons (all of which are soft, juicy, and refreshing when compared to apples and bannanas.)

Bannanas are starchy, dry, and bland, and apples (though less starchy, and maybe less bland) are hard and dry (compared to citrus fruits, melons, and berries.)

A good cantelope, watermelon, or pineapple is far better than a good apple.

So maybe what people mean when they say you cant compare apples to oranges is that you can’t expect a good apple to be as refreshing as a good orange (and you certainly can’t expect to enjoy either of them, or a host of other things if you don’t exist.)

So what was your point about apples and non-apples?

And are you saying that being in a state (or non state) of total non-existence is no better than being crucified, or slowely burned alive?

Or that enjoying a good meal, or a sexual orgasm is no better than being dead (or non existent)?

Or that a God who brought finite sentient beings into existence could have had no unselfish reason for doing so?

How than was creation an act of love?

And if you define grace as “unmeritted favor,” how was it an act of “overflowing grace”?

Oh, and if you exist, it must be possible for you to exist (right?)

And if God is omniscient, and has knowledge of all possible worlds (and all possible entities in those worlds), **wouldn’t you exist as a counterfactual even before creation?

Even apart from creation?

Even if you never actually existed?**

So wouldn’t it be possible for God to compare your state of existence to your counterfactual’s state of non-existence?
If Cole H. is enjoying the beautific vision in heaven, wouldn’t it be possible for God to say your existence in that state is better than your experience of absolutely nothing (as a counterfactual who never existed)?**

And (conversely), if you were suffering unending, conscious, eternal torment, couldn’t God say you were somewhat worse off as an actualized individual than you would be as an unactualized counterfactual?

In the OP, I said I didn’t know how to argue against the logic that it was a category error to say it would be better for x to exist in happiness than not to exist at all, but I think I’m beginning to see what’s wrong with that logic.

If x can exist, he exists as a counterfactual whether or not he’s ever actualized.

The counterfactual x feels no pain, so he’s better off than an actualized x (in some possible world) who can never feel anything but pain.

And the counterfactual x knows no happiness, or love, and feels no pleasure, so he’s worse off than an actualized x (in some possible world) who knows, and shares, and enjoys all these things.

I think that might be the answer to my question here.

And in that case the God who creates ex nihilo (who brings non-existent counterfactuals into being) could do so as an act of love, and creation could be what you call an act of overflowing grace.

Does anyone see any flaw in my logic?


Hey Michael,

I think it’s a categorical mistake to compare nothing with something. It’s not even like comparing apples and oranges since they are both fruit. Something and nothing have nothing in common so they can’t be compared. The reason I think God created by the overflow of His grace is because grace is unmerited favor. You cannot deserve as nonbeing to be created. Therefore, when God creates it’s a gift. As for selfishness, there’s no way to exclude self interest from love. But self interest isn’t the same as selfishness. Selfishness seeks it’s own private pleasures at the expense of someone. Love seeks joy in doing good to someone. That is, love seeks joy in the holy joy of another. Remember, it was by the joy set before Him that Christ endured the cross. In part the joy of purifying His bride. The point of the universe is the glorification of the grace of God ultimately in the expression in the suffering and death of Christ for sinners. These wonders of glory are the riches we inherit when the eyes of our hearts are opened to see His glory in it’s fullness and then be transformed by it. The Bible says that all things were created for Him. This means that the whole universe serves to glorify Christ. The praise of the transforming glory of God’s grace in the death for sinners is the ultimate goal of everything. Moreover, this glory has been there since the beginning. Christ was slain from the foundation of the world. All past, present, and future events are eternally “present” to God for He exists in a timeless eternal now.


If (as you seem to be saying), no state of existence can be compared to non-existence (and, therefore, no state of existence has any value when compared to non-existence), how could God’s bringing you into existence be a gift?

What your saying here is that God didn’t give you anything of value when He brought you into existence, and than "when God creates it’s a gift."

That really doesn’t make any sense.

When you say they have nothing in common, aren’t you making a comparison?

And why can’t things that have nothing in common be compared with one another?

The greater the difference, the clearer the comparison.

In fact, it would be much harder for me to compare two identical apples with one another than it is for me to compare apples and oranges (and Leibniz said that no two things can really be indentical, because than you’d have one thing and not two, and he called that the principle of undiscernibles.)

**Do good and evil have anything in common?

Can they not be meaningfully compared?

Do opposites have anthing in common?

Can they not be meaningfully compared?**

But Christ is God, and God doesn’t need glory, praise, or anthing else from us.

God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things (Acts 17:24-25.)

So it seems to me that if creation is The Father’s gift to The Son, it’s because wanting to give something of value is in the nature of The Son (and The Father, and The Holy Spirit.)

And with existence come possibilities that have real value.

It seems to me that creation can only be conceived of as a gift if existence is (or can be) better than non-existence.


Because I didn’t deserve it. Life is a gift.

That seems to be the paradox. When we do that though there is no way to say non-being is better than being for they have nothing in common.

Yep. They are both real.


You don’t have to deserve something that has no value, and by your logic no state of existence has any value when compared to non-existence.

And for something to be rightly called “a gift” it would have to have value.

So how can life be “a gift” by the logic you’re defending here?

If life is a gift, I believe there must be some way to say that being is (or can be) better than non-being.

Actually, Augustine said that all evil was the privation of some good.

So (at least according to St. Augustine) evil is not “real” in the same sense good is.


Just because you don’t deserve something doesn’t mean it has no value. I fail to see the connection here.

I agree

There is nothing to require us to say evil is nonbeing or privation. In dealing with good and evil themselves, it’s better to regard opposites on the same ontological level. Males and females are opposites but neither is a negation of the other. Both are substantial beings. It’s better to see both good and evil as forms of being.


I thought you were saying there was some category error involved in saying that any state of existence (such as eternal bliss in heaven) is any better than non-existence.

If that is what you mean to say, it would seem to follow that you gained nothing of value when God brought you into existence, so there was no “gift” for you to “desrve.”

Thank you.

Then existence can be favorably or unfavorably compared to non-existence, Barth isn’t guilty of any category error, and your life is a gift.

I don’t know about that.

I only know Agustine would disagree with you.

But regarding whether there’s a way to say existence can be better than non-existence, tell me what you think of this.


Do you see any category error in Proff. Holtug’s logic?


I agree. God seeks our praise because we won’t be complete until we give it. Therefore, this is an act of love to us from God.


No argument from me.

Thank you.

And thank you again.


Following with interest. :slight_smile:

I’d like some clarity please, when you get a moment, in your use of the term ‘category error’ or ‘category mistake’. I’m aware of Prof. Ryle’s usage of the term - which he coined - but I’m not certain you are using it in the same way.

If you would help with that, I could follow the conversation a bit easier.



Perhaps this is all a dream in the mind of God. With all that is going on with Astrophysics, Quantum mechanics, etc., perhaps it’s time to revisit philosopher Bishop George Berkeley

― Zhuangzi, Butterfly as Companion: Meditations on the First Three Chapters of the Chuang-Tzu

Anyway (to benefit the previous poster), according to Wiki,


Thanks Randy - I was wondering though if that’s how our original poster was using the term, or whether he is using it in the sense of ‘a general fallacious argument’. I’m not being nit-picky; if we are talking Rylian ‘category mistakes’ then we are in deeper waters than in general fallaciousness. (Is that even a word? :laughing: )


Fallaciousness is found in online dictionaries, like fallaciousness. As far as the original poster goes, now that they have a definition of how the good professor uses the terms (Wiki), perhaps they can answer that question for you.


Good wiki link, thanks.
Ryle’s theory of mind has always fascinated me too.


I think that “someone’s” argument as stated here, makes sense. But I don’t think it can be applied to your example as to whether it is better to have a heart attack and die rather than to die slowly in pain in a fire. I think it is clearly better not to have had to endure the additional pain of burning to death. But in that case, you are talking about a person who exists, namely you. The statement made by that “someone” as quoted above, deals only with the question as to whether you originally exist or not.

If you never had existed, there would be no “better” or “worse” for you, for there would have been no “you”.

In fact, you didn’t exist between the years 1200 and 1800. Yet, I suppose one could say that it would have been good (or bad) to have existed at some time during that period, for then you would have participated in some of the events and experiences of those years.