The God who Conquers Chaos

In Genesis 1:1 we are introduced to the Creator. In Genesis 1:2 we are introduced to the Conqueror. This verse tells of a chaotic mass without form that is void of any content or shape. It is a dark chaos. This is the context of creation. It is into this mass that God commands light. It is out of this shapelessness that he brings structure. It is from the void that he brings forth an inhabitable home. He dominates the chaos. He conquers it and transforms it into something functional, even beautiful. The first few sentences of the entire storyline of Scripture introduce us to a God who engages and wins over chaos.

Creation faith recognizes that the Creator is the Conqueror. It recognizes the capacity of the Almighty in the face of any and every form of chaos. Walter Brueggemann has a helpful section about this in his Theology of the Old Testament. He says, “creation faith is the summons and invitation to trust [the Creator] in the face of day-to-day, palpable incursions of chaos. The testimony of Israel pushes toward a verdict that [the Creator] can be trusted in the midst of any chaos, even that of exile and finally that of death.” The practical implications of Genesis 1:2 are far reaching for believers. The God we serve is no stranger to chaos. He has entered it more than once and demonstrated his sovereignty over it. For his own, he will continue to enter it and engage it. We can be confident that choas will not have the final say.

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8 comments

  1. This post has a feel about it that seems to portray chaos as something God didn’t expect, or had to struggle with. Yet, He was the creator of it. Why would we expect anything other than control over it. So the deeper truth may be: God is the allower, if not the creator, of what we may call chaos. Our reliance on Him is His goal, or perhaps more accurately – His goal is for us to see our desperate need for Him.

    1. It is an interesting question about Genesis 1:2. Where after all did the chaos come from? I read a real interesting article on this recently by a guy named Bruce Waltke. I am attaching a link to the article so you can check it out if you are interested. Your point is well taken. What else do you make of the presence of chaos in the beginning of the creation account? What are your thoughts on the possible choas theme throughout Scripture in relation to creation and redemption?

      http://www.bbmhp.org/editorial/gap_waltke.pdf

  2. Thanks for the article. It was very detailed. However, it seems to me that a plain and simple reading of Gen. 1:1-2 shows that vs. 1 is giving an introduction to what is going to be subsequently described. No gap. I believe this is Waltke’s conclusion as well. Therefore, validating what I said previously: God created the chaos. What can we say exists, at least in the natural world, that God didn’t create? Nothing. Every atom and particle in the universe is by His will. Addtionally, where did the word ‘chaos’ come from. The NAS and ESV use ‘formless and void’, or ‘without shape and empty’. What about sin? Evil? Rebellion? God is not the author of sin, the bible tells us. So how does it come into being? We think of sin entering the world through Adam, but it existed prior in Satan’s rebellion. Why is this allowed? How can this happen? Is it all God’s plan, just like the tree in the garden?

    1. I think Waltke is arguing that the text is not saying that God created the chaos in Genesis 1:2. Certainly we could infer that from other texts of Scripture. The narrative is not so much concerned with where the chaos comes from, but rather what the Creator does with it. Again, I don’t disagree with you that everything is created by his hand. In terms of what this chaos may be, it seems the text is pretty silent on this as well. I don’t really see any need to connect 1:2 to rebellion or sin. I think the term chaos is a word that has been used often in describing whats happening in 1:2. It seems a helpful way to describe the untamed and unformed mass. Have you read much on the creation myths and traditions that the Israelites would have run into as they rubbed shoulders with surrounding cultures? Genesis is contextual in this sense. It is forming the worldview of Israel while at the same time disassembling the competing creation views confronting them. It is speaking directly to the needs of the Israelites.

  3. But he is arguing that it didn’t ‘become’ that way.

    ‘The evidence, therefore, seems convincing that verse 1 should be construed as a broad,
    general declaration of the fact that God created the cosmos, and that the rest of the chapter
    explicates this statement. Such a situation reflects normal Semitic thought which first states
    the general proposition and then specifies the particulars.’

    Then he says Custance argues that the word ‘was’ in vs. 2 should be translated ‘becomes’.

    Waltke says: Although it is not possible to disprove this interpretation conclusively, it must be
    clear that the suggestion is highly unlikely (based on other scripture using the same word).
    Indeed, no ancient or modern versions understand the verb in the sense of “had become.” It
    would be most unusual for an author to introduce his story with a pluperfect.

    So that seems to leave us with God being the explicit creator of what ‘was’ made from nothing. And being it’s creator, He certainly is able to be it’s conqueror as well. I’m not disagreeing with your post here, but rather making your point even more strongly with respect to God’s sovereignty and power over chaos (if that is the appropriate word to be used).

    I am not familiar with other creation traditions from the time. But, as you alluded to, they would be in error and we are dealing with truth or reality in the Genesis account.

    I believe your larger question involves God’s relationship to, or power over, chaos.

    The opposite of chaos, in my mind, is order. I couldn’t find a direct scriptural basis for this, but I view God as being very orderly. There’s a saying that the wheels of God’s justice grind exceedingly fine. To me, the thought contained there is how God can piece together, or orchestrate, seemingly unrelated and various events to fit in with His grand scheme – both for the world in general, and even for us as individuals. Romans 8:28 speaks about this. Evil forces would have that thrown into confusion and disarray, but ultimately are unable to do anything other than fall into complete servitude to His will.

    1. At the very conclusion he gives us this outline. He says, ‘It is concluded, therefore, that the structure of the account of the creation of the cosmos is as follows:’

      I. Introductory summary statement, 1:1
      II. Situation prior to the creation, 1:2
      III. Narrative of creation, 1:3-31
      IV. Concluding summary statement, 2 : 1
      V. Epilogue: the Sabbath rest, 2:2-3

      He sees 1:2 as the situation before creation. I don’t think he is concerned with where it came from in his article. He is arguing against the view that God created chaos first and then formed the world from that position.

      I do see your point about his sovereignty in creating and conquering chaos as strengthening rather than weakening what we are discussing here. I do think you are right in terms of what I am trying to get at: God’s relationship to chaos and how that impacts us. To me its more a matter of how God engages the formless void and how that pattern of engagement continues through Scripture and into our lives. I see in Genesis 1-3 a blue print for how God engages the world. Good point as well on order. It does seem that the end result of the creation account is that precise thing. I would also throw in rest as the result of conquered chaos. I think order and peace may fall under that broader category in the Genesis account. What are your thoughts about that?

      Always appreciate the dialogue—sharpens me and pushes me to study and dig into issues I probably wouldn’t touch otherwise. Thanks Rob!

  4. Yeah, I see that, but I guess I also see the ‘pre-creation’ state as being a reality that is necessarily in existence as a result of God’s actions. As I said, what can be in existence that is not of God (at least in the natural world)? Could that be called a ‘pre-ordered’ state as opposed to pre-creation? Again, the NAS and ESV simply call it formless, without shape, void and empty. Chaos may be an appropriate term inasmuch as it describes lack of order, but I don’t get the sense of erratic, frenetic confusion we usually associate with chaos. I like your addition of rest or peace. When i was thinking about this earlier, my thoughts went to the sea of glass before the throne of God. No unrest, or chaotic upheaval.

    You are the one initiating this conversation. Thank you.

    1. I see your point here. That may be a better category for what we are discussing. I do agree that there is nothing in existence apart from God’s design. To your point again about the word chaos, I think that it also touches on the earth being uninhabitable before God transforms it. The flood is the reversal of creation. It is practically a return to Genesis 1:2.

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