In the public high school that I attended umpteen years (i.e., 5 decades) ago, the principal was a very tall and large framed man—not overweight, just big, and therefore intimidating. Consistent with his size, he had a very deep voice that was so clear and carried in such a way that he really didn’t need a sound system in our assemblies. He was the principal the entire time I was in high school as he was brought in the very year I began. Why? In order to bring order out of chaos. Apparently, the previous principal let the 1800 students run amuck in our overcrowded facilities. Principal Howard—that was his last name; no one, even faculty, ever called him by his first name—was quite the authoritarian and disciplinarian and brought in a whole host of rules from a dress code to when one could be in the hallways and for how long; no immodesty or loitering was allowed.
Every morning we met in our homerooms to begin the school day. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, we stood beside our desks and sang, “O Canada.” Then we were supposed to all recite “The Lord’s Prayer” in unison. (Yes, I did say that I attended a public high school in the first half of the 1970s!) On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we stood beside our desks and we sang, “God Save the Queen”—Canada is part of the British Commonwealth of Nations, after all. After asking God to save our Queen, we sat down and listened to a dramatic reading from the Bible. (Did I say that I attended a public high school?) The narrator/voice actor was none other than Principal Howard. He began my first year of high school with readings from the book of Genesis, and provided different voices for the different characters including Adam, Cain, Abel as well as Eve. But he really got our attention when he did the voice of God. Over the P.A. system, without the benefit of digital voice effects, he boomed in his deepest voice, “Let there be light,” and “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters…”, etc. You get the idea.
Very few of the high schoolers I knew were religiously raised and even fewer were religiously minded. So what was Principal Howard doing? I didn’t realize it until much later in my adult life. He was doing what God did in the beginning—he was creating order out of chaos! Prior to the intervention of Principal Howard, there was disorder and chaos at Lindsay Collegiate and Vocational Institute. On Wednesday September 8, 1970, our first full day of school that year, order began to replace chaos.
In Genesis 1:1–2 we read, “When God began to create the skies and the land, the land was emptiness and void and darkness was on the face of the abyss and the breath of God was hovering on the face of the waters.” The land, the skies and the seas were chaotic. There was no order. So, God began to transform chaos into order. By the time he was done producing order: there was light and darkness, day and night; the land, the skies and the seas were all in their proper places; the land was able to produce fruit bearing plants and trees; all the celestial bodies were in place dividing day from night, marking seasons and the passing of years; the land, the skies and the seas were teeming with all kinds of critters, large and small; and, humanity—made in God’s own image, male and female—began to populate and rule over all the other creatures. “And God saw all that he made and, behold, it was very good” (1:31). Then God provided a rest day—not that God needed it—so that humans could rest from their labours and give honour to their Creator.
Genesis 1–11 is about how the God of the Israelites, and that God alone, brought order and purpose and provision to the universe. But these chapters are also about how and why that order was threatened and by whom and the steps that God took so that the created world did not completely disintegrate into chaos again.
Genesis 1–11 is so cleverly constructed as a foil to all the creation (and flood) stories that already existed and were well-known among the peoples of the ancient Near East, and long before Genesis was written. In those stories, multiple gods existed, often creating as much chaos as they did order. In those stories, before humans were on the scene, both chaos and order always existed. And humanity was created for the distinct purpose of serving the gods, often doing the work that the lesser gods didn’t want to do. What we have in Genesis 1–11 a very different picture is painted using and reframing many of the very same details and events that are in the older stories.
Re-reading Genesis 1–11 now, I come away with the overall picture of a creative God who is “not a God of disorder, but of peace” (1 Cor. 14:33). It tells me that the order that is in the universe is of God and that the chaos that is in the universe results when God’s order is ignored and defied by at least some of God’s created beings, whether celestial or earthly. Order can only be transformed out of chaos when the created beings submit themselves to the Creator’s plan, purpose and trust in his provision for their needs.