The Creative Space of Chaos

Genesis 1:1-2:4a

Hendrik did not pay attention in the childbirth class. I know, I know, he wasn’t born yet, but still. We paid attention, we had books, I learned about timing contractions and when to call the doctor, and what to report to the doctor. We had a mental note of things to put in the bag to bring to the hospital. But he came three weeks early, and all the steps were out of order. It was rather chaotic. I think I remember telling Marie just as things were starting to snowball that this is not very orderly. And then things proceeded rather chaotically. Things were moving fast until they weren’t, and then they started to, and then there was a lot of beeping from different machines, and nurses and doctors looking rather serious, and people moving rather quickly. But it was out of that chaos that a new life came. It was that chaos that provided the space for a new life to enter the world. 

I don’t think I’m the only one who likes order. I like order, I like structure. Order and structure does not necessarily mean legalistic or rigid, though it can, but that’s not why I like order or structure. The human body is quite flexible, but it is the structure that makes it flexible. Without a skeleton, a body is just a lump of flesh.  

We are living in a time where disorder is more prevalent. Protests and marches, and some riots. It almost seems to be an uprising of sorts. We also see tear gas and pepper spray and rubber bullets, and riot gear. The nation is a powder keg right now, and even the smallest of sparks is able to ignite it, it seems. If you watch a place where the protests turned into riots, it looks like chaos. And when you look around the nation, it can seem as though we have descended into chaos. And we assume that chaos is bad. Order is good, chaos is bad. At least, this is the assumption. 


The first chapters of Genesis are not a science or history book, at least as we understand history or science. What we have in the first chapters of Genesis is poetry and mythology. It is far more concerned with meaning, with Truth, with a capital T, than with simply facts. What we have here before us, is poetry. 

Origins have always been a matter of intrigue for peoples, and this stretches throughout history. Every single culture has a story of origins. Where we came from, and how we got here. And this story here, for those who grew up hearing it, is so well known that we kind of move through it, “yes, yes, I know this.” Or, because this serves as a lightning rod, either we read it as scientific fact and insist all sorts of things about it, or we understand that they didn’t have a scientific understanding, and they certainly didn’t in the way that we understand science, and then we kind of gloss over it.  

But precisely because I don’t think that this is neither science nor history, it is precisely this reason that I think we need to look closely, here. 

And so it starts with God. It is also an expansive vision, here. This is not a national origin story, or the origin story of a particular region, race, ethnicity, or anything else. What we have is the origin of all things, “heavens and the earth” is shorthand for everything that exists. The earth was what we stand on, the heavens were everything above that. Everything that we see, those are “the heavens.” Of course, they had no idea of solar systems and planets, much less galaxies or a universe, but no doubt had the ancients known about these, they would have included them as well. 

And so the first action that is reported in the sacred scriptures is God’s action. In beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 

We continue, the “earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”

Here we have five words that are piled up: formless, void, darkness, the deep, the waters. These words are all used individually or in combinations throughout the scriptures to indicate chaos. Here it is an empty, arid, unfruitful, unproductive chaos. We tend to understand chaos to be mad, as if it is a result of sinfulness. But there’s absolutely no moral judgement given here to this. Whereas in other creation stories, there is a struggle between gods of order and chaos, but here, there is no struggle. Chaos is not personified. It exists neutrally. Rather, what we have here is a painter’s palette. 

I’m no painter, but I know painters, and the palette holds paints, and it is the place where the artist mixes colors that will eventually go on the canvas. But before the painting begins on the canvas, the artist has what appears to be a mess on the palette. It doesn’t look like anything, it doesn’t look like anything that could ever become something. It is chaos. It is, however, chaos with a direction, with a purpose. The chaos is necessary for the creation of something new. You need stuff, stuff that is all mixed together, and out of that, order and structure can come. 

And this is what happens. In a really fascinating way. 

The first day, light is created and there is a separation between day and night. Light and darkness, seeming opposites, put together in a harmonious whole. 

The second day, the waters are separated, for the ancients, the sky was a dome, and rain was water above coming through the dome. And so this is how they understood it, there is water, which is often understood to be the symbol of chaos for the ancient people, and a dome is placed there, and the sky is separated from the waters. Two things which are understood to be opposites, put together in a harmonious whole. 

The third day, dry land appears, and there is a separation between the sea and the dry land and plans are put on the land. Sea and land, seeming opposites are put together into a harmonious whole. 

And then beginning on the fourth day, we see the each are given their cognate. Whereas day and night were distinguished on the first day, on the fourth day we have the sun and moon. To lights, a greater and lesser, one for the day and one for the night, placed in harmony. 

Whereas the second day, sky was created to separate the waters, on the fifth day, birds and sea creatures are created, and placed in harmony. 

On the third day, dry land and plants were created, and a distinction between seas and dry land was created, on the sixth day, land animals and humans were created.

And finally, on the seventh day, God created the sabbath, almost like a lintel to hold a structure together. 

3 —->6
2 —->5
1 —> 4

An all of this, came from that which was described just a few verses earlier as formless, void, darkness, the deep, the waters. The epitome of chaos. 

And all of this makes me wonder if chaos, or what we understand as chaos, is not inherently bad. I wonder if chaos would also be the space out of which something new is created. Here, we see order being brought out of chaos. We tend to assume that chaos is, by nature, bad. That chaos must be avoided at all costs. And similarly, that order is always good That order must always be sought and maintained at all times. 

But even when a birth goes more according to plan, it is always somewhat chaotic. But it is that chaotic moment that brings forth something new into the world. 

Rather than being a scientifically historical account of origins, this speaks a lot about us, and about God, and about life. It is about God bringing order out of chaos. Taking something which is unfruitful, unproductive, and transforms it into something fruitful, something productive. 

I wonder if God can bring something new out of the chaos that we are experiencing now, too. Perhaps chaos is not necessarily bad, perhaps it can also be the space out of which something new can be born. 

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