It is interesting that in our passage a similar thing is done. Last week we were able to gaze into the vast depths of the universe, as it were. We considered the fact that God made the heavens and the earth. Our minds were thrown to the outer regions of the universe, and we felt ourselves hurtling through space like the Voyager 1 spacecraft.
Yet, in the verse before us, we turn to focus our attention on our planet. But as we do so, we find it to be anything but a pale blue dot. Our passage presents us not with a spec that is seemingly lost in space. We are given what seems to be an extreme close up on the very heart and focal point of the universe.
At the same time, we do not see an inviting atmosphere of an inhabitable planet. We are made to gaze on the primordial state of our world. It is dark; fluid; a bit amorphous. It kind of has the feeling of something ominous, except for the fact that the lens of Scripture allows us to see something you could not see with the naked eye. It is the breath-taking presence of the Holy Spirit tenderly hovering over it.
The text before us is one that naturally invokes curiosity. Just like every opening line of any good book, you are hooked and you automatically want to read on. However, it is important that we pause here today and consider what it has to say. For this portion of sacred Scripture tells us much about the nature of God’s creation, providence, and redemption.
The first thing we need to do is consider the nature of God’s creation.
I. The nature of God’s creation
What I want you to understand is that verse 2 is describing the state of God’s original creation. You could say that God created the raw materials with which he was going to work.
It is sort of like a potter and his clay. Before a potter begins, he takes a slab of clay and throws it on his spinning wheel. At that point it is lacking the form and fullness of beauty that he will eventually give it.
That, I believe is the image here. This verse is simply describing the state of things before God gave it is full form and beauty.
I mention this because that is not the way a lot of people take the verse. In recent times many people have advanced what is called the “gap theory.” For those of you who do not know, the gap theory says that there is a gap of time that exists between verses 1 and 2. And they read verse 2 slightly different from what I read to you. They would read it like this, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth became formless and void.”
That makes it sound a bit different, doesn’t it? It makes it sound like there was some sort of cataclysmic event that disrupted the creation. It suggests that something caused the creation to go from a state of brilliant glory to this chaotic state. And people who hold to the gap theory place the fall of Satan here. That, they say, is what caused this massive disruption in the creation. Satan led a rebellion against God and he took with him a legion of angels. But God threw him down. And as He did so, the Lord shook the world like a child would shake one of those glass ant farms.
And they would also argue that this would fit well with the findings of contemporary science. Modern science says that the fossil record would support a much older earth. And with the gap theory, you have a way of aligning the bible and modern science.
Now, it should be noted that this verse may permit such a translation. A case can be made so as to support this. And it should be noted that many evangelicals, some of whom I deeply respect, have argued such
However, I would suggest to you that the gap theory is untenable for a couple of reasons. Perhaps the most significant refutation of the position is that this view proposes that there are two different creation stories. There is the creation of Genesis 1:1. Then there is what would amount to be a re-creation in verses 3-25. Do you see what I mean? The gap theory says that God created everything, then there was a fall and disruption, and then there was a re-creation to set it all back in order. This seems to be foreign to the text, no matter how you translate it. The natural reading of the text seems to present us with one unified creation story. It may occurs over several days, certainly. But it is still one unified event.
And that has been the consensus of most of the church throughout her history. Whether it be Jews, Catholics, or Protestants, most have seen this as pertaining to a single creation story.
Moreover, the rest of Scripture seems to speak against a long intermediate period of time. In the fourth commandment we read, “In six days the Lord made heaven and earth and he rested on the seventh.” The fourth commandment seems to point to the original creation, not a secondary one. And it puts some definite parameters on the amount of time for that creation.
There are some other things we could say. For instance, such a view would allow death to occur before the fall. It would also suggest that the creation was subject to pain due to Satan’s fall, rather than Adam’s.
For these reasons, I think it is better to understand verse 2 as describing verse 1. God created the heavens and earth. What was it like? It was formless and void. It did not yet have the shape and fullness that he would bestow upon it.
I take the time to mention this because I believe it is important for understanding what I’m going to say next. We’ve addressed this question people have had regarding the text because I want you to really understand the truth that is asserted within the text.
Now that we understand the nature of God’s creation, we can talk about his Providence!
II. The nature of God’s providence
What I want you to see in the text is the Almighty hand of God. I might better say, the Almighty and active hand of God. This second verse reminds us of God’s providencial dealings with the world. That is to say, God daily acts to sustain his creation.
Verse 1 tells us that the Lord created everything. But verse two tells us that he created it in such a way that it is just a bunch of stuff. And the text says that all the stuff is “without form and empty.” That is to say, you have this mass of stuff that is sort of fluid like.
Think about it this way, “How do you hold something that is formless?” Young people, have you ever tried holding water? What happens? It all runs through your hand, doesn’t it? Why is that? It is because water doesn’t have any shape or form. It naturally runs out because it doesn’t it cannot be held together. The only way to keep it from going every which direction is to put it in a container.
And our passage says that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the deep.” The word hovering there is a word that is used to describe a bird in her nest with her young. She flutters her wings so that she is suspended over the nest. So you have the idea of the Spirit of God being right there. He is acting as that governing force which keeps the chaotic mess from sprawling out.
Listen to what one prominent theologian has said,
[When God created the] world it was an undigested mass; he now teaches that the power of the Spirit was necessary in order to sustain it. For this doubt might occur to the mind, how such a disorderly heap could stand… He therefore asserts that this mass, however confused it might be, was rendered stable… by the secret efficacy of the Spirit. 
The passage reminds us that God is not just the creator of this world, but he is also the sustainer of it. And we are reminded here that we owe all thanks to him for his daily governance of the world.
Many of us have been trained to think that the world holds itself together. Modern science has told us that the world is held together by atoms and protons and the natural powers of molecular physics. But that is not altogether true. It is much more than that. The Apostle Paul says as much in the book of Colossians. Paul said, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
We are to understand from this something of the tender providence of God. We call ourselves Providence Church. By doing so we tell the world that there is a God in the heavens who daily sustains the world. And it by his governance that the subatomic particles remain where they are. Were not the Spirit of God here everything in this world would scatter like a bunch of marbles dumped on the kitchen floor.
It is amazing to think that our God is that great. It is always good to keep in mind that the universe is daily dependent upon Him and that we are in the care of this God at every second of our lives.
And you know, that leads us to the lesson that we glean from the text. We’ve talked about the question that some have posed. And we’ve said that there is no gap or disruption of the universe. Everything was simply created. The stuff was brought into existence. And we just got done talking about the truth that is asserted here—that God, by his all-powerful government, sustains his creation and holds it together.
Now I want you to understand how this passage illumines the redemptive work of God.
III. The nature of God’s redemption
Remember, this was written to give comfort to God’s people. It was written to give them hope and peace of mind. The Israelites had just come out of Egypt. They were a mass of people (perhaps 2-10 million in number) sitting out there in the desert. Really, you couldn’t have a bigger rag tag band of wanderers. In a sense, they were formless and void as a people. They had no real organization. Things were rather chaotic. But there, hovering right over them, was a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day. The Spirit of God was there in their midst.
In hearing what is said here in this passage those Israelites would have understood that God was not only telling them about the original creation. But they would have made a direct application to themselves and their situation. They would have said, “God’s hand is holding us together. And he is about to begin a new creation. He is about to bring order out of our chaos.”
In sum, God was not just telling them about his power to create. He was reminding them of his power to redeem.
You can imagine what good news that would have been to these ex-slaves. That they were under the supreme government of an affectionate God would have been a great comfort.
But you know what? These words should have the same effect for us today. As a matter of fact, they should be even more powerful because of Jesus Christ.
Most of you are familiar with the story of Jesus’ baptism. Just before Jesus started his earthly ministry he went out to the Jordan River. He went to John the Baptist and was baptized. And do you remember what happened as he came up out of the water? The Bible says that the Spirit of God descended upon him like a dove.
I believe that this is an allusion to these opening words of Scripture. It was the Lord’s way of saying, “Here is the man of the new creation.” Here is the man who is able to sustain and give life to sinners whose lives are formless and void.
The people coming out to John to be baptized were confessing that very thing. They recognized that they were sinners. They were confessing that they had made a wreck of their lives, that they were living empty, godless lives. And right there before them they had an affirmation that Jesus is the one who is able to give order to people’s lives. Here before them is the life giver himself.
The Apostle Paul tells us, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, and the new has come.”
And the message that comes to us today is not just that God is the all powerful creator and sustainer of the world. He is also the redeemer of sinners like you and me.
We must remember that we are sinners. And to be a sinner is to be one who has revolted against God’s order. It is to shun the light of God.
Moreover, it is to be under the judgment of God. And in Scripture, the judgment of God is often presented as the revoking of creation’s order. When God judges, he strips away the blessings of creation's fullness and form. Your environment is reduced to the pains of the primoridal world.
For instance, the bible compares hell to the Abyss. It was a watery realm that was full of confusion and disorder. Jesus said that the wicked would be thrown into the outer darkness, a place where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth. That’s an image of having lost the blessings light and life.
But Christ comes as the man of the New Creation. He presents himself as the one who restores the things lost in the fall. He presents himself as the one who revokes the judgment of chaos and darkness.
All who rest in him have the blessing of being a new creation. And in him we look forward to the ultimate restoration. The day when we enter the New Heavens and a New Earth. Not that this world is bad. But it is plagued with disorder and darkness due to sin. And one day Christ will clear all that away. Life will no longer be subject to such things.
 John Calvin
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.