The Spirit here is not a “wind from God”, sent out to dry what was created… it is the personal spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity… The word translated by “hovering”… is used elsewhere of a bird that hovers protectively over her young (Deut. 33:11). Already in the first instance where the Holy Spirit is mentioned in Scripture His activity is portrayed for us in an image borrowed from the kingdom of the birds, just as elsewhere he appears as a dove. Here “hovering”, “brooding”, has in view the stirring of live within lifeless material. The brooding of birds brings out very aptly that life originates from outside by fructification. In the world there is at first no life. The Spirit of God must hover above the roaring flood, for its roaring is a dead noise. But the Spirit of God hovers on and above the waters. He does not mingle with them. Even where God’s immanence comes to the fore, God and the world still remain unmixed.
And so here is how God created. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light”, etc., etc. (Genesis 1:1–3, ESV).
A question that we must ask is, why the process of creation? Why didn’t God simply create a fully formed earth in the beginning? Certainly he could have done it! God could have very easily spoken the world in its present form into existence, for we agree with Jeremiah the Prophet when he says, “‘Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17, ESV). Without a doubt God had the power to speak a fully formed and finished universe into existence from the start. Why the process? Why was the earth made formless and void with darkness over the face of the deep? Why the days of creation wherein God did progressively shape the earth into its present form? To put it differently,it did not take God six days to make the world, but God took six days to make it. Why did God take his time? Why the process?
The answer is that the act of creation was itself revelatory. By this I mean that when God made the heavens and the earth in the way that he did he communicated something to his creatures in the process. He revealed something to his creatures when he created as he did. In the act of creation God revealed important things – things concerning himself – things concerning this world in which we live – things concerning ourselves and his purpose for us. And so it is true that God could have made made the world as we know it in an instant. He could of accomplished this without breaking a sweat! And if he did – if God created the world in an instant – then the only thing that could truly be said of creation is what is said in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” But more than that is said. The earth was at first uninhabitable and dark and then God did shape the world into its present form in six days time. It did not take God six days to make the world, but God took six days to make it. This he did in order to reveal truths concerning his person, his work and his purposes to his creatures. Remember that the angels witnessed the formation of the world in six days time. Something was revealed to them in the process. And though man was not there to see it as the angels were, God revealed to man all that he did in creation. Remember that Adam and Eve were to work six days in the garden and rest on the seventh to, among other things, mimic God’s creative activities which had been communicated to them by their Maker.
The act of creation was itself revelatory. God communicated something to his creatures by what he did and how he did it. While it is true that God communicates to us by his word we should remember that he does first communicate to us by his action. God did at first do something – he created the heavens and the earth in a particular way – and then he gave his word to his creatures. His word tells of his action. His word interprets his action. His word applies the implications of his action to the lives of his creatures. The act of creation was itself revelatory. The act itself said something about God, his world and man who was placed in it!
This same principle applies to all of God’s creative or redemptive actions and the word revelation that does proceed from them.
Take for example the Exodus. God delivered his people out bondage to the Egyptians and he brought them safely into the land that was promised to them. But he did not do it in an instant. Instead there was a process. There were tenplagues that were poured out upon the Egyptians, the last one was the death of the first born (those who had the blood of the lamb on their door posts were not effected, but the LORD covered them, as bird shelters her young, so that the destroyer would not destroy them (Exodus 12:23)). And it was only after the tenth plague that the people were set free. Why ten plagues? Why the process? Was God having a hard time with Pharaoh? Did God break a sweat? No, it did not take God ten plagues to deliver Israel from Egypt, but God took ten plagues to accomplish this act of new creation. And we might say the same thing about the process of passing through the sea, the wilderness wanderings, and the eventual conquest. The exodus event was itself revelatory. God’s people learned something about their God and his purposes for them, not by his word alone, but by his act. And once the act of redemption or new creation was finished, then his word was given as a record of the act, an interpretation, and an application of it.
The same can be said concerning the redemption or the new creation that is in Christ Jesus. Did Christ accomplish our redemption? Did he atone for the sins of his people? Did he say, “it is finished?” Did he sit down at the Fathers right hand to enter into his rest having accomplished all that the Father gave him to do? Yes, he did! But he did it in a particular way. There was a process. And the process did also communicate something of the significance of his person and his work. The act of redemption was itself revelatory.
Listen to what Romans 3:23-25 says, for example. The first part is familiar to you: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to showGod’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to showhis righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:23–26, ESV).
The idea here is not complicated. It is that God reveals himself, not just through his word (as if he lowered his Bible down from heaven on a rope one day) but by his activities. His historical acts – the act of creation, and the way in which he choose to accomplish it – revealed something. His acts of redemption are also revelatory. The wayin which God rescued Israel out of Egypt, and the wayin which Christ accomplished our redemption, reveled something concerning our God, this world and ourselves.
What then do we learn from God’s creative act? We learn many things that are foundational.
We learn that there is but one God.
This one God created all things seen and unseen.
We learn that all that is not the Creator is the creation.
We learn that there is plurality in the Godhead. In the beginning it was God who created the heavens and the earth, but he did so by his Word and his Spirit.
We learn that the Triune God, Father, Word and Spirit, created the world to be inhabited. In his goodness he did form and fashion the world to make it a place suitable for man – a temple where man could dwell and enjoy communion with the God who made him.
We learn that the Triune God, Father, Word and Spirit, is able to make something out of nothing, to bring form to that which is empty and void, life out of death, light out of darkness.
This our God did at creation. He formed the earth to be inhabited.
And this our God does in our redemption.
Israel was as good as dead in Egypt, but God gave them life.
Israel was as good as dead in that wilderness place, that wasteland not suitable for human habitation. And Israel complained to Moses, saying, “Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink” (Numbers 20:4–5, ESV). But God gave them water from the rock to drink. He gave them manna to eat. And he brought them safely in to the land that he prepared for them, a land suitable for habitation, a land flowing with milk and honey.
And what shall we say of the redemption that we have in Christ Jesus? “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” (Colossians 2:13–15, ESV)
In Christ, we who were dead, have been made alive. In Christ, we who walked in darkness, have seen the light. In Christ, we who were once without form and void, not suitable for communion of God, have been made into a temple by and of the Holy Spirit. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6, ESV).