Remember those essays you had to write in high school? The teacher wanted you to turn in a thousand words on “The Differences Between Direct and Representative Democracy,” single-spaced and neatly typed, and you had only the weekend to get it done. As a teenager, I recall staring at many a blank piece of paper, terrified that the connection between my brain and fingers had suddenly been severed.
A Blank Piece of Paper
God faced a blank piece of paper at the beginning of His creative work. The earth was “formless and void” (Gen. 1:2). These two descriptors emphasize the swirling blankness of pre-creation. The first word can mean a wasteland or wilderness, confusion, chaos, or vanity (as in the sense of worthlessness). The second word is synonymous with emptiness, desolation or an indistinguishable ruin.
This was some serious nothingness, folks. Marty Solomon at Bema Discipleship described it as putting nothing in a blender and pressing the “Whip” button.
But there were even more challenges for the Creator. God faced “darkness over the surface of the deep” (Gen. 1:2b). The word for “darkness” means dark darkness. It’s the kind of darkness you’d experience on a moonless night in the middle of nowhere with a blindfold over your eyes. Elsewhere in the Bible, this darkness describes a dungeon (Isa. 42:7) and Hades, the pit of oblivion (Psa. 88:12). Figuratively, the word can mean a state of misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow or wickedness.
The inclusion of the word “deep” may confuse some readers. Did an ocean exist before God? Not at all. The word is usually translated in reference to vast waters but, in this case, it is properly understood as an unfathomable, churning abyss. It was a way for the author of Genesis to describe the utter chaos to which God would soon bring order.
God, the Original Mover and Shaker
When I was a kid, I received a Bible for confirmation. I still have it. In this version, the last part of Genesis 1:2 reads that the Spirit was “moving” over the face of the deep. In my young mind, I pictured God flying over the chaos like Superman. But “moving” isn’t the most accurate translation of this word. It means to “shake,” “flutter” or even “to brood.”
A couple of years ago, a friend invited me to some acreage he had bought for a weekend getaway. As we sat outside one morning, I spied a far-off mother and father eagle screeching and circling their colossal nest. I grabbed some binoculars to see them take turns brooding over their young. It was fascinating.
The verb in Genesis 1:2 is the same word used in Deuteronomy 32:11, a song of praise to the God who shields and guards Israel “like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young…” (italics mine). What a fascinating word-picture! The Spirit of God fluttered over the chaotic darkness like a doting mother eagle brooding over an egg.
The only other time the Bible mentions this word is in Jeremiah 23:9. Brokenhearted over false prophets in the land, Jeremiah writes that all his bones “shake.” Interestingly, scientists use words such as “shaking,” “vibrating” and “fluttering” to discuss the energy fluctuations that set the universe into motion.
Review Time! What was the Spirit of God doing just before creation? That’s right: fluttering over the primordial darkness.
Let There Be . . . Tinkertoys!
As ads and newscasts keep reminding us, we are living in “uncertain times.” But every generation has faced this. My parents grew up during the Great Depression – talk about uncertainty. And each generation chooses to speak over the chaos of their era with words of peace and hope or hatred and despair.
When I was a kid, I loved Tinkertoys. I would grab that giant can and gleefully dump all the contents on the floor. Slowly but surely, I’d transform that mess of wooden wheels and rods into an engineering masterpiece (at least in my 8-year old mind). You wouldn’t want to invite “that kid” over to play Tinkertoys, because he’d always knock down what you created.
As we are made in the image of God, we are encoded with the desire to create, improve, build, organize. To sow discord and despair is called “sin.” These actions miss the mark of God’s creative intention for us.
There is a battle going on in our society right now. It’s not left vs. right, progressive vs. conservative, or antifa vs alt-right. It is the age-old struggle of humanity against heaven, the chaos we bring to God’s creation when we choose darkness over light, division instead of reconciliation, hate over grace.
“Let there be…” It’s up to you and me, through our words and actions, to complete that sentence.