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Thursday, August 12, 2021

An Epiphany of Nothing

A picture of nothing

First I’d like to say that this article is about God and the fact that He reveals Himself to all people, big and small, important and not important. I use myself only as an example because this truly happened, and I explain it as best I can in hopes that it may be of use to other people. 

When I was a child I could not see, that is, I could see, but just barely since my eyes were so damaged that they were unable to focus. Until I received the miracle of glasses I never knew that people were able to see individual leaves on trees or flowers in the fields and I had never before then seen stars in the sky.

Without the benefit of clear sight it was difficult to understand what was spoken to me since I couldn’t see facial expressions or word formations on people’s lips. In school, teachers seated me in the front row and thankfully I was intelligent enough to understand what was taught verbally even though I couldn’t see what was written on the blackboard. Of course if I held books close enough to my face I could see the words and read.


While on family Sunday drives (what families did back in the day) I stopped trying to see the passing world from the back seat car window. My family would say, “Look at that (horse, house, building, sky, etc.) but all I could see was…well…nothing much. I would try to see stars in the indigo Florida night sky, but over time stopped trying and instead just sat and thought a lot.

One night when I was about eight years old on the return drive gazing into the darkness an image appeared in my mind which I still see now as clearly as the moment it happened. The entire image (from God) floated into my mind as a whole, but (in my humanity) I had to think it through step by step.

Nothing suddenly appeared to me – the nothingness of nothing, a void, a blank, an absence – absolutely nothing. For a while I stared at it – this nothingness – then began to think: 
“What if there was nothing? Nothing anywhere at all? There wouldn’t even be an anywhere for there to be nothing in it because nowhere would exist. There would not even be anything to say that there was nothing. There would be no people to define the word nothing or to point out, Look. There’s nothing here. Nothing at all. There wouldn’t even be so much as a spoken word wafting through the air saying, Nothing, nothing at all is here. There wouldn’t be a nothing to be nothing. And it wouldn’t be that nothing was empty because something has to exist for it to hold something to then become empty. And somebody would have to be there to empty the something out for it to become nothing!”

Not the equation of how
the universe came into being
Then I thought, “But that’s not true! There never was nothingNothing itself could never have existed because there would not have been anything there in the first place to be nothing. The world and everything in it exists and we’re all here, therefore there is something. Not only that but we’re alive. We breathe so we have life. The thought of there being nothing is ridiculous! It’s impossible to think that there could ever have been nothing because it could never be.”


It never occurred to my childish mind to doubt the existence of God because that fact was so obviously clear. Surely everyone in the world knew this? If I who was eight years old knew it, assuredly so did my parents and brother, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends, my teachers and of course, in my childish mind, the greatest authority of all – the President of the United States!

The clarity was that since creation does exist, it did not come into being from nothing because nothing can come from nothing. Since nothing can come from nothing, then everything came from something. That something had to have the ability to give life and life can only come from life itself. So what is life? God, of course. When we’re eight-years-old, figuring out these things is easy.

Of course throughout the ages other people have also figured out this fact:

  • “Nothing from nothing ever yet was born.” – Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 
  • “Nothing can come of nothing.” – King Lear (I. i. 92) 
  • That just didn’t pop out of thin air, young lady!” – My father
  • Ex nihilo nihil fit – Out of nothing, nothing comes.
  • “Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could.” – The Sound of Music
St John answers the nothing problem in the first line(s) of his Gospel. He doesn’t say that in the beginning there was nothing, but rather:
  • “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. See! I knew that!
  • The same was in the beginning with God. Of course! Everybody knows that, right?
  • All things were made by him, and without him was made nothing that was made. Because there never was “nothing”!
  • In him was life, and the life was the light of men. Life is God Who is!
  • And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. I did!
In his Summa Theologiae, First Part, Question 2, Article 3, Answer to Objection 2 on Whether God Exists, St Thomas Aquinas says, ”That which does not exist only begins to exist by something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist, and thus even now nothing would be in existence – which is absurd. …Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God.”

Well, just call me eight-year-old Little Susie Aquinas. I was a protestant child who had never heard of St Thomas Aquinas, had never opened a Bible, knew nothing about the Blessed Mother, saints or angels, and barely knew anything about Jesus.

I was merely a normal child who did normal childish things. I knew where the tadpoles were at the edge of the lake and would capture several of the wiggly creatures in a jar filled with lake water, marvel at them until their hind legs started to grow then would release them back into the lake. Like all Florida children, I knew where the alligators lived in the marshes and my friends and I steered clear of those areas. Caught in a sudden Florida noonday shower I knew to hide under the giant “elephant ear” plants to keep dry.

I didn’t know much at all except these childish things, but I did know that it was fundamentally impossible for there ever to have been a time in the universe when there was nothing in existence except the infinite God Who always was. In a split second He gave me a solid education proving His existence.

In no way do I equate my eight-year-old self to the great St. Thomas Aquinas, but rather that God can reveal whatever He pleases to whomever He chooses at any time He wishes. Unfortunately, the seeing of nothing at age eight did not stop me later in life from making bad life decisions, but in the current secular fight of the world against God, it has helped me know without a doubt that God is here with us. He was, He is, and He ever will be, from age to age. I saw that truth of our Catholic Faith in the epiphany of nothing.

4 comments:

Evangeline said...

What a wonderful gift and recollection! Those are the moments we treasure, and the moments God reveals something to us are surely our most precious memories. He speaks to children, and reveals Himself in ways we do not forget. It can be what to others seem like mundane moments, for example my Mom spent a lot of time at our doctor's office, which was in the 60's an old Victorian house. I can still see the mahogany paneling and big mahogany chairs of the waiting room, the receptionist sitting at this tiny desk by the door. I was an avid reader, and they always had Highlight magazine and a book of Christian stories for children. I read those stories and was particularly struck by them, and, the illustrations of bright blue skies and clouds, which to this day, represent God in His creation to me, one reason I am typically outside rather than inside. Isn't it marvelous, the way God uses the ordinary, to help us to come to know He is there. I have to laugh, your story also reminds me of when I was in fourth grade, and I remember going up to the desk of our fourth grade teacher and asking her how there could be an end of space, but how could there not be an end of space, and if there is no end, what's out there? I clearly remember her expression, but I don't remember her answer. Too bad. We could have all learned what was out there.

John B., retired English teacher said...

May God bless you, Susan. A beautiful post

Aqua said...

All true knowledge (the kind that matters) is grace.

Your recollection and observation is exceedingly interesting. Like you said - the great ones have speculated in it, but it takes a layman, under the influence of illuminating grace, to make it understandable, relevant to another layman.

It’s almost as if our Heavenly Father reached down and gave you something with just the right amount of grace to perceive what you needed to perceive. God gives us good things, all in due time.

Definitely a meditation to ponder. Thanks for sharing it!

Catherine Wylie said...

I really enjoyed your recollection and how much richer over time you see things that occurred to you at that moment. It was Truly, a God given experience. How beautiful and in-depth, and I am sure more appreciated as you grow in wisdom for what God revealed to you. I just wanted to share an experience I had at about the same age 8-9 years old. I was sitting in church before Mass looking at the altar and then gazing out the stained glass window near where I was sitting. In my mind, I just asked God, what would the world be like if you didn't exist? Well, he showed me. I saw a total black abyss and me as a child floating in slow motion, very slow downward with my arms and legs extended. He spoke to me interiorly and said, "You would never stop falling". I remember shuddering and I said back to him, "God, I will never not believe in you". Your experience was so much more in-depth in thought at that age. In mind and heart, it is the same message, without God there is Nothing!
God has richly blessed you Susan. I very much enjoy reading Les Femmes - THE TRUTH