1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.
There it is; the whole story of the Bible encapsulated in these familiar words. “In the beginning,” right from the start, from day one, we see one God at work in the business of creation. We see one God (not a pantheon of gods vying for attention, jealous of each other’s position, rankling for the top, at war, full of violence, with blood in their eyes and fury on their lips) taking the formless void and making of it something of tremendous beauty, taking the darkness and bringing into it such light it stops your breath and dazzles your eyes.
Those first two lines tell the story that resonates over and over again throughout the entire Bible: the clothing of Adam and Eve, the marking of Cain, the wrestling of Jacob, the stirring of dry bones in Ezekiel, the unending love of Hosea, the calling to Zacchaeus, the raising of Lazarus, the life of Jesus; it is all there. From the first words to the last, this one refrain echoes: “Behold, I am making all things new!” (Revelation 21:5).
And there, right up front, is the story both of creation and of humanity. As the writers depict it (not as history, mind you, but as poetry), the muck and the mire and the mess of an earth formless, void and dark exists as tohu va vohu: literally “unfurnished” “ruined” “lifeless” “chaotic”. In other words, what God does is not so much bring something out of nothing as He brings order out of chaos, life out of barrenness, shalom out of ruin.
The song of creation is meant to tell us that something is deeply amiss. Things are out of joint.To quote T.S. Eliot, the earth is a Wasteland:
“a heap of broken images, where the sun beats, and the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief, and the dry stone no sound of water.”
And then, into the brokenness, into the fear, into the dark, into the eternal night, comes the Spirit, the breath, the ruach of God: the active, creative breath that gives life to man (Gen 2:7), brings promise (Job 33), redemption (Ezekiel 36), and transformation (Isaiah 40). It is the tempest of God that will, in just a few short verses later, take the dust of man and stir within him life itself. So here, in the beginning, we see the active, redemptive, creative, transformative breath of God step into the wasteland and bring light and life and shelter and relief where once there was none.
This is the story of the Bible and, indeed, the hope of the Judeo-Christian story: into the wasteland of our lives (the broken marriages, the tragic addictions, the failed promises, the shattered dreams, the abuse, the neglect, the regret) comes the One of whom the prophet Isaiah speaks, the one whose spirit is still bringing good news to the afflicted, proclaiming liberty to the captives, and bringing comfort to those who mourn.
This God is still at work, singing the song of creation over the wasteland.