This is from a piece in Patheos by Chris Hoke which he titled, “Rubble and Re-Creation.” He writes:
In the beginning, when God was creating the heavens and the earth, the earth was a desolate waste. Chaos. Smoking rubble. Like after a war. Our beginning, we Bible readers should understand, was post-apocalyptic.
That’s what I tell the guys in jail, as a regular chaplain there, when someone pipes up now and then with the Genesis and evolution question.
I back us up, and—depending on how much time we have before the guards come and pop the heavy door open—I teach the guys a Biblical Hebrew phrase: tohu wa-bohu. It’s fun to say. You get men with tattoos on their face all saying “tohu wa-bohu,” starting to laugh, and the dark, often-futile topic already has some light shining in.
Tohu wa-bohu is the description of God’s canvas where he began to create in Genesis 1:2. In the guys’ different American Bibles it’s often translated as “formless and void,” or “without form and empty.” But, I say, lots of scholars insist the best translation would be something like “chaos and destruction.” In the Aramaic Bible—the language Jesus spoke—it’s translated as “the earth had become ruined and uninhabited.”
What? That doesn’t sound right. At the beginning?
The conversation in the jail Bible study—and the entire creation account—shifts here.
Paying attention to the Biblical author’s language, and not to our ideologies we impose on the text, invites a different reading of how and where God is Creator. Does creation happen primarily on a blank canvas, or out of the brokenness?
While all of this is well, good and noble, the next section caught my eye. Rather than the usual stuff we hear from fundamentalists regarding the ‘creation story,’ the author, in my opinion, nails the creation of the Hebrew creation myth.
What caused this “desolate waste” in Genesis 1:2? We can’t help but ask. What came before the mess?
Maybe, some scholars say, the Hebrews were surrounded by the creation myths of the Babylonians, where they were slaves: the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Enuma Elish, where the primordial gods war for power and tear at each other’s throats and create empires from the cadavers of their defeated foes. Maybe the Genesis account is picking up in the waste and devastation left by the old gods, peacefully, generously creating. But the text doesn’t tell us, doesn’t go into any of that primordial backstory.
Many times, neither do the inmates want to go into all the gnarly backstory of what brought them to this place. Genesis begins with what we face now, without speculation and investigation into all the horrors of what’s past. The creation account describes God making a new beginning out of what looked like the ending.
Yes indeed. Their “rubble” had been real and the “nothingness” was what they saw when they returned to Jerusalem-the once great city now looking like Hiroshima.