God: Creating Beauty out of Chaos
The writer of Genesis shows us a God we can trust when things in life go wrong. In the choppy waters of our lives God places limits on the chaos and destruction, and slowly creates beauty and life. We don’t always know how this happens, nor do we always know how long it takes – just like in this creation account.
One of the scariest times in my life happened just after I decided to take my 2-person catamaran out sailing, alone, into the open water of large dam known for its unpredictable winds. Things seemed quite calm in the sheltered bay where I set out but soon I was struggling to keep the boat from being blown away from the shore and capsized in howling wind and huge swell. I couldn’t get the sails set and the ropes tied down on my own. I was soaking wet from the constant barrage of waves. For a while it was chaos out there.
I think that’s the kind of image the writer of the Creation story in Genesis wants to give us of how things were before God began his creative work. Here’s verse 2 from chapter 1 in the original Hebrew:
The writer of Genesis uses two words to describe the state of the world before God began creating.
Tohu means without shape or form, it’s about confusion and things without meaning. Picture the choppy surface of an angry sea – that’s Tohu
Bohu simply means empty. Bohu is something with no significance or meaning—a massive void.
Eugene Petersen in translates this verse beautifully:
‘Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness.’ (The Message )
Waters in the Old Testament often symbolise death, destruction and chaos. In the Exodus story the parted Red Sea becomes a destructive watery grave for the Egyptian soldiers who are pursuing the fleeing Israelites. In the ancient rite of baptism, going down into the water symbolises death. That’s the picture we get of how things were in the very beginning.
But there is one hopeful thing there … God’s Spirit is close by. I once heard a preacher from Argentina say that God’s Spirit was ‘hoovering’ over the waters…’ Sadly, I don’t think there was actually any divine vacuum cleaning going on. But God was there. Present.
Here’s Petersen again:
‘God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss’
And then God begins to work. Try reading Genesis 1:1 –2:3 just listening out for the overall sense of how the state of creation changes from beginning to end.
Into the desolate darkness, God starts to bring order. God puts limits around the darkness and the deathly waters. God brings light and land into the chaos. God fills the water and the air with life. Creation, the writer is telling us, is about God bringing meaning and significance and beauty into chaos, mess and destruction.
How did this all happen? Was God there in human form speaking some words with a real mouth? My guess is most likely not. But that’s not the point. What is the point is that the storyteller is showing us something about God.
This is what God does! God broods over chaos and confusion and disappointment—the empty and confusing things in this world. Wherever there are things that have no meaning or there is no peace in our lives. God is there — hovering.
I was eventually able to get my sailing boat to the shore and wait till the storm passed over before sailing back sheepishly to our campsite. In choppy waters God creates dry land for us drag ourselves ashore. God places limits on the chaos and destruction, and slowly creates beauty and life. We don’t always know how this happens, nor do we always know how long it takes – just like in this creation account. The writers of Genesis are showing us a God we can trust when things in life go wrong.
The Biblical story doesn’t end with the peace and beauty at the end of Genesis 2. Soon there will be a whole new type of destruction and growing chaos as the human desire to take God’s place as ruler of everything shatters the peace. The story that unfolds shows a God who immediately gets to work re-creating and restoring what was lost. The stories of our lives are written on those pages too. We haven’t reached the end but we know how things turn out. Very well.
Enter the Story
A lot of the Jesus-stories in the gospels show Jesus doing exactly what Yahweh did long before. In Mark 4:35-41 Jesus finds himself in a scene very similar to what we see in the creation story.
Read the story and imagine you are there in the boat—seasick, wet and frightened. Chaotic waters, fear, death are all around. And there is Jesus—hovering, sleeping. Then you hear three words: ‘Quiet! Be still!’ And suddenly there’s calm, order, peace. And some very frightened disciples! ‘Who is this guy?’
What emotions rise in you as you live in that story? What could the storm represent in your life? Where is Jesus? What does Jesus feel about the dark and chaotic thing you’re living through?
In this tab you’ll find ideas and questions to help you lead your group through an interactive, story-based journey. Read our leaders guide to explore how to get the most out of these four parts.
Download a PDF version of this session here
If you had to give a weather report that captures how you life as been over the past few weeks, what kinds of weather features would be in it?
- What is the most chaotic, or scary event in your life you can remember?
- Imagine you’re sitting with someone who is watching a few clips of your life as it is right now. In these clips you are trying to deal with bad news, or something that has gone wrong—or a bit out of control.
- How are you dealing with this? What things or people are you turning to for help? Or are you just trying to cope on your own?
- What role, if any, is God playing in this scene?
Get the conversation started …
Get everyone to check out the WordSpace posts from this week on their phones or from a printout (you’ll find them in the next tab.)
o Is there a post that stands out for you? Why so?
o Is there something in a post that raises a question for you? What is that?
o If you had to choose one post to share with a friend, which one would it be?
Read the post in The Story tab.
In this session we’ve explored one of the aspects of what God is like that the writer of Genesis wanted to show us…
Some questions to help you replay your story …
o What one thing stood out for you most in what you heard?
o How do you feel about what you encountered in this session?
o Does what you’ve heard raise any questions or doubts for you?
o If what you heard was true for your life right now, how different would things be?
o Has there been anything in this session that has changed or challenged your idea of what God is like?
o Think back to the scenes of you dealing with disappointing or chaotic stuff in your life at the beginning of this session. How could that be changed by what you might have discovered about God today?
Re – draw your picture of Jesus
If you haven’t already, spend some time with the story of Jesus calming the story in the ‘Enter the Story’ section. How do you answer the disciples’ question ‘Who is this guy?’
How do you think Jesus feels about the tough things you might be going through right now?
What practical action, response, thought do you want to take into the week?
Have you encountered something about the way God brings beauty and order out of chaos that makes you want to say to God:
‘wow, I’ve kind of haven’t trusted you very much with things in my life – sorry! Help me put my hope and trust in you a bit more’
Jesus invites us to repent often and with freedom. It’s a real gift from God – go for it!
Some questions to help you remix your story …
o What are the empty and messed-up things in your world that this same God, who was there in the beginning, is hovering over? What would it take for you to give God the space to start bringing order and life into the confusion?
o The writers of the Old Testament story wanted to show us new things about God so that we would be inspired to worship God and live right. How does what you’ve seen about God inspire you to do that today?
Here are some words you might want to use …
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
and put their trust in the Lord.
From the WordSpace
Here are five posts from the WordSpace we’ve posted specially to tie in with this topic:
Maybe it was a friend’s death, or your own abuse or neglect. Perhaps just curiosity, but it happened: You opened the Bible looking for answers – and found this:
‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the spirit of God hovered over the waters.’ (Genesis 1:1-2)
Meaningless words in the chaos of your life?
But what if this was an introduction to the possibility of someone that is not afraid of chaos – someone who brings beauty and purpose out of empty and dark places?
Could a friend like that be exactly what you need right now?
Genesis 1 here: http://bit.ly/1d3JnYK
How hectic is your life at the moment: heeee…eectic or just a little bit crazy? Or maybe life feels empty or dark? If that’s you, here’s good news from Genesis 1v1:
‘First this: God created the Heavens and Earth – all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss’ ( http://bit.ly/1eVswHM )
I love how it says that God is present over the mess. Then God begins to restore order and hope so that eventually God can say: ‘check it out, that’s good!’ Where is God present and what act of new creation is God doing in your life today?
‘Trust GOD from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own:. Listen for GOD’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track’ Proverbs 3v5-6 (The Message)
What could your life look like if you learned to lean on God in everything? It might be hard to believe but God’s will is ‘good, pleasing, and perfect’ (Romans 12v2). God knows us better than we do and God’s will for our lives brings freedom and joy.
Is there something big you need to trust God on? Or something small?
Keep listening for God’s voice …
‘The Lord is a warrior, the Lord is his name.’ (Exodus 15v3) – did you ever think of describing God as that? Moses sang that because he had seen God deliver him and the Israelites from danger.
God is not distant. God is involved in our lives. God calls his children to obey what He wants us to do which is the best way to get through what we are dealing with. Then sometimes God says; ‘The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still.’ (Exodus 14v14).
Question is: do we listen to Him? Do we trust God? What does obeying or being still look like for you today?
I like to say: ‘No pain, no pain… ‘ James says: ‘No pain, no perfection’ (James 1v2-4)
Pain that perfects is pain that forces us to deal with what’s going on inside us – forces us to make adjustments; slow down; go with Plan C; give up on getting it all done myself.
Pain perfected Jesus who ‘learned obedience through what he suffered.’ (Hebrews 5v8)
Pain would crush us if we didn’t have a Father in heaven who turns the things we suffer into paths to perfection for us (Romans 8v28). Can you trust God with the pain you, or people around you, are facing today?