When Your New Year Begins with Old Chaos (Monday: Genesis 1:2)
“The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”
"The same word used for the “earth” in Genesis 1:1 is used again here. This time, however, we are shown that the creation story is beginning in medias res. You might remember that term from literature class--it's an ancient mode of epic storytelling that means "in the middle of things." When an author begins in the middle of exposition instead of with a detailed preamble, readers are thrown into the energy of activity, and the larger context is provided later through flashbacks, conversation, and additional dialogue.
Though this may be a shock to some readers, Genesis 1:2 doesn't open with a physical vacuum. It claims that some sort of material “deep” was in existence before the six days of creation--and we are not told how long that substance had been existence. Because of Genesis 1:1, we can assume that God also created all that pre-existed, but an exegetical approach to the text shows us some sort of realm that preceded every day of innovation that God describes in subsequent verses.
Looking at the actual words Scripture provides here helps us see that the focus of Genesis 1:2 isn't origin so much as quality. Whatever this pre-existing substance of the earth was, formlessness prevails. The chaos is rife with confusion. Hebrew roots for the descriptive words used in this verse connote unreality, emptiness, void, and waste. The darkness that was over the surface of the deep wasn’t a neutral vacuum. It was the darkness of misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, wickedness.
I have often wondered why these words are weighted so negatively. If there is no back story preceding Genesis 1:2--if the non-universe is only an inert blank canvas upon which God designs all that is-- why would such gloomy language be necessary? What happened before the story we are told? God doesn't tell us. Yet from the remnants we are shown, an English word comes to my mind here--“ache.”
We will learn more tomorrow about the word "waters" upon which God hovers, but for today, let's say that Spirit of God brooded over a potential, aching universe with the calm of relaxed control. He hovered over the chaos and spoke, “Let there be light.” And there was light.
God separated the light from the darkness—he tore those two things asunder like ripped fabric. Like the flicker of a match in a dark cave, Genesis ignites when the invisible becomes visible.
This morning, I woke up with a heavy heart and a headache, bone-weary from appeals that I have made over and again to God.
Yes, it's a new year, but I feel more exhausted by the turn of the calendar than inspired by it. I dreading facing more prayers that seem to go nowhere and that meet with only silence. I am tired of reaching out in faith, tired of the patience and trust God is developing in me. I am tired of the attacks of shame my enemy uses against me--he kicks us when we are down, and he has no mercy.
God allowed me to face the situation I knew I couldn't survive, then he didn't let me die.
Despite my protests, he began using it to expose my sin, my unbelief, and my idols. How I want this process of growth to be over. I want to see results now. I want to fall asleep just one night, knowing that my beliefs have become sight instead of having to intentionally choose to transfer my hope from myself to an invisible God.
But as I opened a Bible app to read this morning, this verse appeared. "Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert."
The wilderness. The desert. Here is the backdrop of Genesis 1:2, the context upon which God is brooding, growing soft and relaxed as a competent artist who knows he has the ability to bring a heavy, aching chaos to order. He has a plan. He is not frantic like I am. He is not weary.
At any moment, he can make rivers in this desert. At any moment, he can speak, "Let there be light." And so I lay down my despair once more at the feet of The Light of the World--this embodied flash of clarity.
Immanuel. God is with us. And this time, instead of hovering over the waters, he has walked inside of them, absorbing the crashing waves of confusion, misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, and my own wickedness even into his own flesh—and rising like emanating daylight.
He is my way in this wilderness. He is my river in this desert. He recreates slowly this time, teaching me to lean into his resources, removing my grip from my own power, and encouraging me to sit in the worship of expectation.