Both the Old & New Testament talk about the chaos & disorder of this world with the same language that is used at the start of Genesis 1.

From all the passages in the bible and their meanings in the previous three posts on this topic, two truths present themselves. One is that there were agents of evil on earth before humans ever existed. The second is that whatever order God created on earth did not develop without God having to overcome opposition. These two points are enough to synthesize a thoroughly biblical worldview with biological evolution.

Now we can see that “the bondage of decay [or corruption]” in Romans 8:20-21 as God allowing the earth to suffer under the “subjection” of his enemies; the same enemies who had wreaked havoc in the world before God began to restore order. Why was this the inevitable result? Thinking of “civil war” may be helpful here: To rebel with one side in a war, is to lose our rights with the other, and come under the authority of whoever we’ve joined forces with. Things which we are responsible for, whether it be land, houses, family, will also now be at the disposal of this authority; so it is in the world at large (the bible often uses the word “kingdom” to express this same idea, see for example Colossians 1:13-14).

One final piece of this puzzle is to know the meaning of a specific phrase in Genesis 1:2 and how it confirms this outlook. The phrase traditionally translated “without form and void” (tohu wabohu) in Genesis 1:2 is used only two other times in the whole Bible.[1]

…God will stretch out over Edom the measuring line of chaos [tohu]
and the plumb line of desolation [bohu] Isaiah 34:11b (113)

I looked at the earth, and it was formless [tohu] and empty [bohu],
and I looked at the heavens, and their light was gone –Jeremiah 4:23

These two verses are both in the middle of sections that are talking about God judging a place or people because of their evil. What’s so interesting about the phrase is that the word “bohu” is not even a real word in Hebrew, it was entirely made up in Genesis 1:2 (104). So, these writers are directly borrowing it from there, and implying that “tohu wabohu” is a condition directly connected to the results of God dealing with rebellion.

The word tohu is used in scripture many other times, and means things like: wasteland, worthless, ruined or desolate, vanity or lies, empty (122, 123). With the exception of “empty”, every other possible meaning has a morally negative connotation. The fact that “empty” or “void” has been the most well-known translation has made it more difficult to see the otherwise obvious evil sound of the phrase tohu wabohu in Genesis 1:2. The implication is that there was rebellion in the cosmos prior to the account of Genesis, and the state of the world as “tohu wabohu” was the result of this rebellion (for Christians, this rebellion would be the origin of god’s enemies, specifically satan as chief of this “rebel army”).

So, why does this even matter!?!

I mentioned in the first post about this topic that in conversation with some friends it became obvious that our conception of creation does not just concern how it happened, but the significance of the events. A meticulously literal understanding of Genesis 1 will affect how you interpret the significance of the events. The same goes for a belief that biological evolution was the mechanism God used to create. These things affect how we see the entire Bible, the character of God, the meaning of salvation, human and animal suffering, the list goes on.

The understanding I sketched out is not original, but it is uncommon. That being said, it is incredibly cohesive with the entire storyline of the Old and New Testament.

There is a sense in which the creation of humanity was an act of subversion against God’s enemies. Despite all the opposition which is apparent in biological history, and testified to in the creation accounts of the Bible, God created a being in his image to “fill the earth and subdue it”; to join God in defeating the agents of chaos. Yet, we aligned ourselves with the very enemy of our existence, and find ourselves in spiritual and social chains.

Our decisions to love and follow our creator carry a significance that extends beyond our “private religion”; it impacts the entire created order. God loves this creation to the point of entering its’ suffering alongside it, to again show us the way to join Him. There has been evidence that death will not carry the day; that we can be forgiven for the ways in which we have inflicted pain against our creator, against his creation, against ourselves, or against others. God will one day resurrect the bodies of those who love him to literal, physical, perfect biological life, every relationship healed, and perfection achieved: the evidence was the resurrection of Jesus.

That’s a biblical way of understanding all the death, decay, and suffering that was a reality in the world before humanity, as well as what followers of Jesus hold to as the hope of this past holiday weekend.

[1] I will cite page numbers in parentheses for thoughts and scriptures from the forthcoming book “Chaos is not God’s Will” by Beth Snodderly, which goes into intricate detail on the meaning of “tohu wabohu”