Chaos and Order

June 18, 2017 – 2nd Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 1.1-2.4a

This morning, we begin a summer long preaching series from the book of Genesis. We won’t get to all of Genesis because it’s 50 chapters long and we have 11 weeks in this series. But we’ll hit some of the highlights and the lowlights.

We start in chapter 1. Genesis 1 comes with a lot of baggage. One of the commentaries I was reading has a section called “Further Reflections” in which the author, Miguel De La Torre, who teaches at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, addresses on some of the contemporary questions that are related to the stories in Genesis. And so there it was, on page 17, “Creationism.” And where does he go to talk about creationism? You guessed it. Northern Kentucky and the 70,000 square-foot, $27 million, Creation Museum.

De La Torre unpacks some of the issues around the fundamentalism of creationism and then he notes that “it is rare to find any biblical and theological scholars of color participating in the creationism debate. When…people live under repressive structures,” he says, “they turn to the Bible for the strength to survive another day, not to figure out how long a day lasted in Genesis 1.” De La Torre continues, “Most people of color look to the text to find guidance in dealing with daily life, a life usually marked by struggles and hardships. Debates over the scientific validity of the Bible becomes a luxurious privilege for those who do not endure discriminatory structures.”[1]

That is also a reminder to a related understanding that for the writers of the Bible, the question for them was not “Does God exist?” That’s not the question they are asking. But instead, “What is the character of this God who we claim exists?”[2]

That’s a big part of how I’m reading Genesis for our preaching series. Who is this God? And then, how do people relate to this God and how does this God relate to people?

This beginning in chapter 1 is the cosmic story of God. It’s the Hubble telescope view looking far into space and, turning around and looking in the other direction, it’s the view of the beautiful blue sphere of earth from space.

In chapter 12, we will zoom in close on one family who God will bless that they may bless all the families of the earth. And then through the rest of Genesis, we see the unfolding of the family of Abraham (and Sarah—oh, and Hagar, with whom Abraham also had a child), the family of Abraham and Sarah’s son Isaac (and Isaac’s wife Rebekah), the family of Abraham and Sarah’s grandson, Jacob (and Jacob’s wife Leah—oh, and Jacob’s other wife, Rachel—and Leah’s maid Zilpah and Rachel’s maid Bilbah, with whom Jacob also had children) and finally the family of Joseph, the great-grandson of Abraham and Sarah.

But back to the beginning.

Actually, while the translation in most Christian Bibles says, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,” the standard Jewish translation is “When God began to create the heavens and the earth.”[3] Which gives the impression that this is not the story of the absolute beginning, and, actually, we would say, theologically, God has no beginning. Even at this point in the story there is something—the earth was a formless void with darkness covering the face of the deep. Another translator says the earth was “devastation and desolation.”[4] Clearly, there is something already there in addition to God. And a wind from God—which could also be translated as “the spirit of God”—sweeps over the face of the waters. There is not nothing. Which if you’ve ever heard people say “God created the world ex nihilo” (which means “out of nothing”) that’s really not the biblical story.

When everything was chaotic, without form, God said, “Let there be light” and began to bring order to the chaos. And through each movement of the formation of the cosmos, there is more and more order—not uniformity, not order as in everything lines up or looks the same, but less devastation and less desolation, less formlessness. In fact, more and more different forms that God calls good.

The final form in creation are human forms.  (A side note: The word create and creation come from the Hebrew root that means “‘to form or fashion’ by means of cutting; it means to sculpt.”[5] And so some people speak of God as a sculptor.[6]) In verse 26 we hear God say, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” Jewish readers over the centuries often understood this “us” to mean “the heavenly host of angels from whom God took counsel.”[7] Christian readers have come to identify this as the Trinity, which, of course, would not have been in the early story tellers’ minds.

However we understand the “us” in whose image we are made, there is an indication of relationship. There is relationship at the heart of the Divine—which we Christians talk about in terms of the interrelatedness of the triune God: Creator, Christ, and Spirit. Relationship, of course, is required in the charge God gives to the humans to be fruitful and multiply. And God initiates a relationship of blessing and provision with the humans. If Genesis 1 is indeed addressing the question of who God is and who we are, these relationships are all part of the Divinely sculpted order and form of the cosmos.

But…relationships also bring chaos. Perhaps some of you have experienced that before. Relationships can be chaotic. Sometimes it’s the traumatic chaos of domestic violence or addiction or death. Sometimes it’s the busy chaos of children or a life overly full of activities with friends and family. Sometimes it’s the chaos of the splintered, broken world around us.

While God brings order and form out of chaos, God is not absent from the chaos. In the beginning of this story, God is present in the formlessness and the devastation and the desolation. The Spirit of God is hovering, sweeping over the deep waters.

Where ever the chaos finds us, God is present there.

In the story of the four generations of the family of Genesis, we are going to encounter a lot of chaos. God sculpts order and form and chaos returns, again and again we will see that cycle. Perhaps there will be part of this original family’s blessing or chaos that reminds you of your own experience—your own family—your own life in this world.

I heard an author on a radio program yesterday. Her book is titled, Where Ever You Go, There They Are: Stories About My Family You Might Relate To. I think that’s a great title for the book of Genesis. There’s craziness in here. Dysfunction and outrage. People who are broken and deceitful. There’s disappointment and heartache. And also blessing and surprise and a God who keeps showing up in the chaos and the order. Perhaps as we explore these stories, we will experience God showing up in our own lives in ways we did not anticipate. Hovering in the chaos. Sculpting new order and form. Bringing unexpected and undeserved blessing to our lives and to our world.

* * * * *

[1] Miguel De La Torre, Genesis, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 19.

[2] Ibid., 20.

[3] John Goldingay, Genesis for Everyone, Part One, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 5.

[4] Loren R. Fisher, Genesis: A Royal Epic, 2nd ed., (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011), 37.

[5] Ibid., 37, n.1.

[6] John Thornburg writes “God the sculptor of the mountains” in his beautiful hymn text by the same name.

[7] De La Torre, 20.