Genesis 1:2 Primal Elements of Chaos and Primal Fears

The contemplation of creation is an act of worship, and the first line of the Bible is, as we established in the last post, a worshipful shout of joy. In the following verse, we find what the pre-created state looked like. For those who think of creation solely in material terms, or something from nothing (creatio ex nihilo), they are immediately beset with a problem. Where did the chaotic materials in verse 2 come from? This obviously is not the question the ancients thought was of primary importance, or else this would have been addressed here. Creation for them was all about form and function. How did all this beauty come about, and what was it all about?

Verse 2 is a very important verse in the structure of this chapter, and by extension, of the whole Bible itself. In it we are confronted with the three most primal human fears: darkness, formless earth, and the watery deep. Again, the text does not tell us where they came from. The Hebrew knew that they were at some point created by God, for chaos was not co-eternal with God. (The pagans believed the chaotic elements were divine entities themselves, chaos monsters in eternal conflict with the fertility gods and goddesses.) In fact, the Hebrew word for “create” in verse 1 (bārāʹ) tends to have as its object something to do with form and function, not usually something from nothing (Walton). The prepositional phrase “in the beginning” would therefore mean not the beginning of material existence, but the beginning of the seven day process of creating out of chaos the well-ordered and functioning cosmos described in this creation text.

Humanity cannot live in chaos. We do everything we can with our technology to fight back these three primal elements. We invent artificial light to brighten the darkness, and even to grow things. We cannot live in the dry and arid desert regions, unless we irrigate and fight back the encroaching sands. We have yet to conquer the watery deep, but we build bigger ships, and explore its depths with submarines. In the end, we are still afraid of the dark, are appalled at the prospects of being abandoned in the Sahara, and are terrified of the watery deep. In Genesis 1, God creates a livable, functional, and beautiful place out of this chaos.

If there is one action of God in His creating it is that of dividing and giving boundaries, not of creating material things per se. The chaotic elements do not go away, but are separated from livable conditions. From our fallen perspective, it would have been nice if God would have created a cosmos without the chaotic elements, something like we read in Revelation 21. But this would have not served His purpose. When God declares “it is good” to aspects of His creation, He is not saying it is perfect without chaotic elements or without the possibility of chaos breaking boundaries, but declaring that creation is good for His purposes. Yes, our primal fears are always with us, and there is a divine reason for this. It is hidden in the fabric of the creation narrative.

Structurally, the creation narrative is built around these three primal chaotic elements. Days 1 and 4 deal with the issue of darkness, days 2 and 5 deal with the issue of the watery deep, and days 3 and 6 deal with the issue of formless earth, culminating with the creation of humanity. This is capped with the final 7th day, the day of “rest,” the celebration of the completion of His grand cosmic temple fit for God to dwell with man. The Hebrew mind was mesmerized with the movement from chaos to order to rest. How far this mode of thinking is from the modern mind that is driven to pry open the secrets of the material world, wondering how material came about, and plotting how to manipulate it for our purposes!

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