Original painting by C. O’Neal
1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the 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.
A storm at sea on a black night is perhaps the most terrifying thing a desert people could imagine. Perhaps one doesn’t need to be a desert people; storms are frightening even on land.
I wasn’t used to the summer thunderstorms of the Midwest when I began seminary. I had endured the winters, but gone back to California in the summers of college. But seminary started with summer Greek, three hours a day in a room with many young men (at the time, still men – could it be? It hardly seems possible now) and no air conditioning. The hot humid summer air gave fuel for dramatic evening storms. Our apartment was on the third floor, on top of a hill that dropped down to a freeway beneath our west facing windows. We could see the storms coming, and they hit us full blast. Growing up in California we rarely had lightning – certainly not thunderheads or tornadoes. That first year we ate dinner several times hiding in the small hallway of our apartment with all the doors closed. Add water and total darkness and you have true terror.
Jerusalem had known true terror. The Babylonian armies encircling the city. The signal fires of all the surrounding towns extinguishing one by one. The growing famine in the city. The desperate fear. The siege works. The break in the walls. The raging troops. The blood. The tears. The fire. The desolation. The chains. The long march to Babylon.
But there in Babylon they composed this narrative of total chaos – and then God speaks. Light comes to the darkness. And the light is gathered to form a day and the darkness restricted to a night. Into chaos comes a gracious order: day and night.
Again, God speaks. And the waters are divided. Limits are set. The dome of the sky is established. More limits are set. The water yields to land. And then vegetation, fruit trees, seeds and grains, the lush countryside, the grass covered hills, the cedars of Lebanon, the mighty oaks, the transcendent redwoods, the brilliant flowers, cherry blossoms, dogwood, redbud, trout lilies, day lilies, trillium, lavender, onions, garlic, barley, wheat, raspberries, thimbleberries, pomegranates, an explosion of goodness where there had once been only chaos.
In the dome of the sky a vast array of twinkling lights – and a big light and a little light. No names are used because the names for sun and moon and stars are the names of gods. These are not mighty powers, just an umbrella of beauty over a good world.
It is a remarkable composition. A wondrous affirmation in the midst of war and chaos and evil: “God saw all that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”
And humans. Humans, the authors know, are capable of such horror. But they are not evil. They are fashioned in the image of God. And God blesses them. And God entrusts them to one another and entrusts to them his wondrous creation.
This is not a creation story. It is certainly not written as a textbook. This is a great and profound confession of faith by those who had known unimaginable chaos and sorrow: the journey of the world is not into the darkness – but from darkness into light.
We are right to say that it is inspired.