The school supplies are bought, the ever-growing feet have been measured for new tennis shoes, the alarms have been set, and the first day of school has come and gone for most of us. This time of new beginnings reminds me of our creation stories in the Bible. Especially as I drive through the tense traffic jams at our schools, I think of the “tohu wa bohu” of Genesis 1:2. In fact, I think I’ve muttered that phrase or one similar to it as the honking and minutes ticked on while I and hundreds of other parents try to drop off or pick up a kid.
Tohu wa bohu (תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ) is a Hebrew phrase describing the earth just before God said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). It’s usually translated as “chaos” or “formless void.”
Now that’s something I know about- the laundry at the end of the week is a perfect example of a formless void! Many people think of God creating the world as an artist creates a new painting: a perfectly clean, blank canvas awaits, and the stroke of the artist’s brush is the first mark upon it. But when you read Genesis, well, you get “tohu wa bohu”– there’s stuff, but the stuff isn’t anything specific yet, just chaos!
The Scripture says that God’s Spirit, or Wind, or “ruach” in Hebrew, is sweeping over these tohu wa bohu waters, and then, then!, God commands light, and separates the dark away from the light. Order begins to come, creation begins to happen, God’s design is becoming clearer. God doesn’t create out of nothing, God creates out of mess.
And I think that may be my definition of the gospel. Because it is gospel/good news: God doesn’t create out of nothing, God creates out of mess! As much as I love the beauty of a blank slate, and the promise of a new school year, and the fontanel of a newborn baby, the truth is absolute newness only happens for about 2 seconds. And then, for the rest of our lives, we are working with lots of . . .stuff. And this is ok. In fact, if you keep reading Genesis, God calls it “good.” Because this is what God does . . .creates beauty and order, purpose and design, from whatever we’ve got.
So I have faith that the school traffic will be tamed. And that every child, teacher, staff member, and parent will be brought into divine purpose and beauty. Because God’s Spirit is sweeping over our community, creating us anew.
Ruach, come do your thing. Again and again!