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Beginnings in Genesis – Containing Chaos

January 17, 2008

In Chapter 1 creation is seen in its close relationship to chaos and this will be important to remember on the journey through these early chapters of Genesis. Look at what God does.

containing chaos :3-9
God separates light from the primeval darkness and calls them ‘day’ and ‘night’ (before the sun and moon were created incidentally) Then he separates these chaotic waters by an ‘expanse’ which he calls sky. By this command there is then ‘the waters above’ and the waters below’, later (:9) he gathers the waters below into one place and sets a boundary for the seas, the dry land thus appears.

It is surely significant that the watery chaos is not destroyed; rather the primeval sea surrounds the habitable earth on every hand. Were it not for the Creator’s power, by which the firmament was created and the sea assigned boundaries, the earth would be engulfed by the flowing together of the waters and would return to primeval chaos (cf Gen 7:11; 8:2).

ChaosThis is poetic language to describe the true state of the creation. We are only one step away from utter chaos. If God removed his care and grace creation would revert to chaos then nothingness.

“No language could express more forcefully the utter dependence of the world upon the creator. (pg 9 Bernard Anderson). Ancient peoples knew, perhaps in a more immediate sense than those who live in the modern era, that the goodness and order of human life are constantly threatened by the powers of chaos (cf Jer 4:23-26)” (pg 10 ). (See also Psa 46:2-3).

In suggesting that the earth is resting on the sea, Israel had in mind something other than the chemistry of water. The ‘chaos and desolation’ of Gen 1:2 is not just a statement about primeval times; it is a statement about a present possibility. Today, more than ever, people are becoming aware of this depth, this abyss. The anxiety over the possible meaninglessness of life, the fear of chaotic forces that threaten to overwhelm our secure world. The truth of the matter is that existence is not self-sustaining. The world and all the creatures in it are radically dependent on God. For it is by God’s command that order is created and sustained in the midst of the surging forces of the deep that threaten to burst beyond their assigned boundaries and plunge the world into chaos.” (pg 11 Anderson).

To believe in a Creator God is to say with the Psalmist, in the face of calamity:

Psalm 46:2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah

Here then, in these profound first three verses of scripture is a word of praise and of encouragement for us all. Paul must be thinking of these verses when he says:

2 Corinthians 4:6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

However deep our darkness. Whatever the mess we find ourselves, however trackless our personal desert, take encouragement from the God who brought light into the chaos of that first creation and even now keeps that chaos from overwhelming his world.

From → Genesis

  1. Andrew permalink

    I love the beginning of Genesis. I find I often forget or lose sight of the significance of the fact that this order from chaos is where the canon, and the whole story of God relating to his people, begins.

    On another note (!), I found your discussion of facebook interesting (I’m posting this comment here out of laziness). It is true that facebook adds nothing but convenience to relationships. Where people are separated by distance, it is in many ways easier to sign in, post on their wall, add something to your own status and then leave. Perhaps this convenience really is a bad thing. You don’t have to engage with someone to keep in touch with what they are doing – you can just infer it from their status, wall, pictures or whatever. It takes away effort that should perhaps be part of relating to other people. Many similar objections could be leveled at blogs of course. In some ways facebook is a kind of IKEA-blog.

    That was a disjointed ramble. I don’t think I’ll abandon facebook just yet.


  2. Pistol Pete permalink

    “The truth of the matter is that existence is not self-sustaining.”

    This is a profound, hopeful statement.

  3. asharedadventure permalink

    The beginning of Genesis is so reassuring in the display of God’s overall power, authority and control. It is interesting that light comes before the Sun, perhaps signifying that it is God’s divine presence that is the true source of light. It’s also interesting that the waters had a ‘surface’ before the sky was created? and that a creation that was to be perfect and eternal would need the provision of time ‘days, nights, seasons and years’. I agree Glenn that it is significant that the watery chaos is not removed but is controlled in a way to show God’s grace and care for his creation. In the same way God doesn’t eliminate darkness but uses it to contrast with and point to his provision of light. Human sin did not destroy God’s plan but again provided the opportunity to demonstrate his glory. Just as God introduces light into darkness, as Christians we need to do the same (1 Thess 5:5), we need to bring the light of grace, love and the truth that brings life into dark hopeless situations. It also hints that from the very beginning of creation God had a plan of provision and salvation.

  4. virtualmethodist permalink

    For the Jewish people water/sea and chaos are clearly synonymous… Perhaps a nod to their decidely non-aquatic origins as desert nomads and their fear of the Sea People (Philistines). We also see it in their passing through waters (Yam Suph and Jordan) on the journey to deliverance and the promises of protection while crossing waters in Isaiah… In the New Testament it is ultimately seen in the absence of sea in the vision of the new heaven and earth in Revelation 21. It is into all this that we have Christ’s baptism in water AND his command over the wind and waves in various Gospel stories. The discples may have asked “Who is this?” but his actions made it clear…
    Water may be the symbol of chaos for the Jewish people… but what is ours? Where do we need to hear Jesus saying “Peace be still?” What do we want banished from the new heaven and earth? In our individualistic, live-forever western world, I would suggest that one candidate may be cancer…

  5. Andrew, thanks for the facebook comment. I love the ikea-blog thing, and I agree that blogs can be dangerously addictive. (that could never haooen to me though!). But explain facebook to me. Explain its utility? Please. You might help address some unrecognised need or social gap in my life. I couldn’t stand it if people wrote me of ‘cos I’m not there.

  6. J – thanks for the engagement with the post. Question: is sin an opportunistic occurrence which God takes advantage?

    D – the cancer comment is profound. Thanks.

    ps could we also include manchester united??

  7. asharedadventure permalink

    Hmmm, opportunistic suggests unexpected, whereas I guess I see God having more knowledge and control than that. It starts to bring issues of predestination up and if God is all knowing then perhaps the fall of humanity and Jesus were not plan B but infact plan A. However, I think key themes include ‘potential’ and ‘choice’. The option of being able to sin i.e disobey and rebel is essential for free will to mean anything. Therefore, from the beginning, God created the potential in us to sin (he did not create sin, but the ability to choose)and being fully aware of our potential to follow the wrong path, he already had an escape plan in place to bring us back into relationship with him. Actually, if you think about it, a much deeper, intimate and loving relationship would result from the realisation of sin and separation from God, repentance and then true forgiveness and restoration.

  8. virtualmethodist permalink

    No way that Scum Utd will be in the New Heaven and New Earth.

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