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Formless and Void ... and Beautiful

Come with me to the beginning …


“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” (Genesis 1:1-2)


I was caught by the words “formless and void” so I read some online commentaries to see what they had to say about the verse. The expositions were filled with descriptive words such as wasteness, emptiness, lifeless, confusion, desolation, destitution, and chaos.


These words do not paint an attractive picture. That puzzled me … because God specifically and purposefully created the earth this way: as something formless and void. He could have created the earth instantly in its finished form, teeming with life and color and fullness. He didn’t. He who is Beauty chose to create the earth formless and void.


This wasn’t a mistake. God did not say, “That wasn’t what I meant to do!” It wasn’t an annoying intermediate step where God said, “That’s ugly, but I have to go through this stage before I can get to the good stuff.”


That makes me think something that stands in stark contrast to the impression portrayed in the commentaries I read: in the beginning, God created the earth formless and void … and beautiful. 


We usually do not think of formlessness and voidness as beautiful. Perhaps that is because we do not think of them thoroughly enough. Consider the sculptor kneading clay. The clay is formless under his hands, yet that very formlessness is full of exciting potential and possibilities. He enjoys the feel of this formless lump; he loves pouring his energy into it. It is not the final work of art, yet it is beautiful in and of itself – something to revel in, to enjoy, to cherish in its very formlessness.


Or think of a musician. Just this morning, I went downstairs and the sun was streaming through the window. I sat quietly and immersed myself in the hushed silence – the voidness of the air with no sound stirring it. The voidness was a beautiful thing in and of itself, an emptiness ready to receive the soft, lingering notes of a morning melody.


Hold these thoughts of formlessness and voidness for a moment … and consider darkness. “Darkness was over the surface of the deep.” As much as we tend to think negatively of that which is formless and void, we actively fear darkness. And this was darkness where there was no light at all. None. Not the dimmest glimmer that could cast the faintest shadow. Blacker than night because day had not yet been created.


And yet, God is Light (1 John 1:5). I was puzzled again. God did not begin creation with light. He began with the heavens and the earth, and created the earth formless and void – and dark. How does this mesh with his nature as Light?


It is inescapable: God was Light while the earth was formless and void, a place of chaos and unrealized potential. God was Light before he created the light by which we could understand his incomparable brilliance. God was Light in the midst of the impenetrable darkness of his virgin creation.


Now, come with me one step further: to the Spirit of God moving over the surface of the waters. Ellicott’s commentary on this verse astonished me. He points out that “Spirit of God” is more literally translated “a wind of God.” It has connotations of a mighty wind, a powerful wind. Yet the Hebrew word for “moved” is “fluttered lovingly.” It is a word that is used to refer to birds brooding over their nests and caring for their young. Ellicott writes, “it was a gentle and loving energy which, tenderly and gradually, with fostering care, called forth the latent possibilities of a nascent world.”


I pondered this, too. The Spirit of God was a mighty wind. A powerful force. Yet that power did not rip across the formless world. It did not manifest as a violent storm in the void, thundering in the darkness. The mighty wind of God fluttered lovingly over the formless and void world. In the hidden darkness, the Spirit moved with tender gentleness, brooding with joy over what was and what would be.


Draw these thoughts together in your mind and in your heart. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, yet strangely beautiful. It was cloaked in rich, velvet darkness as a mantle. Over it all, the Spirit of God was fluttering … as powerful as the mightiest eagle of the skies and as nurturing as that eagle on her nest with her eaglets covered protectively by her wings.


Stay there for a while in wonder and awe. When you are ready, there is one more thought I would share.


In life, there are times when our world falls apart. Whatever the circumstances that bring on the collapse, we find ourselves in a waste place. A place of emptiness. Confusion and chaos are within and without. Destitution and desolation stretch as far as mind and heart can see.


We are in the dark. Our emotions plummet into the abyss. Our thoughts swirl into nothingness, goaded by questions for which we have no answers. We cry out to God and yet his Light seems absent. All is unutterable blackness.


I am just emerging from such a formless and void time and space; one of the darkest I have ever experienced. That is why I was so captured as I meditated on these verses.


Because God is Sovereign, even the formless and void places of my life can be beautiful. Something happens there that can happen at no other time and in no other way … something that I cannot define but that is wrapped up in the eternally beautiful gift known as grace.


Because God is Light, I do not need to fear the darkness. I can express my faith in the words from Psalm 139, “Even the darkness is not dark to you, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to you.”


Because God is Love, I know that his powerful yet tender and nurturing care will bring forth something new and good in my life: this formlessness, voidness, and darkness will yield to solidity, fullness, and joy.


Once more, draw these thoughts together in your mind and in your heart. If you are hurting, perhaps use words like this to enter into a time of prayer:


“God, I come to you and worship you as Sovereign. My life right now seems formless and void: by your grace, make this a place of beauty. All seems to be darkness around me: help me have faith that you are Light. I know your Spirit is with me: nurture and create something new and good in me. Thank you for your everlasting Love.”

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