The preconditions for the creation of the world outlined in Genesis supports the doctrine of creatio ex profundis (creation from chaos). The opening lines of the Torah state, “When in the beginning Elohim created heaven and earth, the earth was tohu va bohu (formless and void), darkness was upon the face of tehom (the deep) and the ruach Elohim (spirit of God) was vibrating upon the face of the waters.”
This account of cosmology upholds the existence of a pre-created primal cosmos made up of a dark, deep, watery and chaotic substratum onto which created reality was imposed. The text states that chaos, water and darkness were already in existence at the time God began creating the world. The text does not reveal from where the dark, watery chaos emerged and it is not clear by whom it was created, whether it was created or for how long is has been in existence. It simply states that in the beginning it was there and that God arrived and began to create the ordered life-generating structure of the cosmos upon it.
Whilst every other aspect of God’s creation is listed clearly and attributed to Him in Genesis, darkness, deepness, water and chaos seem to already be there before God begins His creative “vibrations”. It is a mysterious yet undeniable substance onto which God creates reality and therefore is inextricably woven into the fabric of existence.
Once the preconditions of the creation are established, the text goes on to describe the creation events. Light is created in the third verse of Genesis and after being declared “good” it is explained that, “He (God) separated the light from the darkness” (Gen 1:4). In the sixth verse, the vault called “sky” is created to divide the waters above from the waters below and dry land is created in the ninth verse by gathering the waters below into one place so there may be a division between water and land. In this way, the Genesis text depicts a creation via separation and a creation by setting orderly boundaries onto a pre-existing primal chaos.
In the created world, the chaos and darkness described in Genesis 1:2 is never completely banished from existence or overcome. Rather, it is tied up and bound by the restricting boundaries and structures that the created and ordered reality impose upon it. The creator God of Genesis does not obliterate the primal chaos from the cosmos but rather attempts to bind, tame and control it with His ordered and structured reality which He deems as “good”. Nonetheless, it becomes inextricably linked with creation.
There is a term which exists called tehomophobia and has been described as fear of shadow and fluidity, of transgressed boundaries, “of the female thing”. The chaos, a feminine principle is understood to be without boundary or ordered structure and is therefore seen as something to be feared, corrected and mastered.
From the first words in Torah, we find evidence of the intention to limit and control the feminine chaos principle and impose the masculine structured reality onto it in accordance with the actions of separation, boundaries and division. The separating and naming tendency becomes an obsessive compulsion for Adam. Everything must be identified, labelled and put in its place for the right use at the right time – including Eve. It seems he takes great pleasure in this process.
What does this tell us about human nature?
We know from neuroscience that the human brain has a function which enables us to automatically order and categorise information as it comes in. This has a mnemonic basis but also it is so that the brain does not become overwhelmed with detail. There is a sense here that human beings have an inbuilt desire for order, understanding and mastery at the expense of a more chaotic and potentially overwhelming holistic and nuanced perception of reality.
In other words, we can easily become overwhelmed when there are no boundaries or separations in place and therefore we are taught to create them at all costs – even if this means attempting to banish dimensions of truth which may threaten to dismantle the order. However, we can’t obliterate subtle reality any more than we can overcome chaos. It is weaved into the fabric of creation and underlies all of existence.
When we are faced with a situation that is not so easy to label or to categorise, it can be distressing. We have an inbuilt urge to label things and judge them as “good” or “not good”. This simplistic and dualistic way of perceiving reality does not allow for any kind or relationship with the primal chaotic sub-reality that exists beneath the surface.
Whether we choose to look directly at the chaos or not – it continues to exist.
Our level of distress will depend on how much we can surrender to undifferentiated chaos. We learn from Genesis that dark fluid boundarylessness underpins all of existence. If we can find a way to lean into this chaos, weave it into our perceptions of reality rather than dismiss and repress it for the sake of simplicity and order – perhaps we may feel less hollow and disconnected and instead move towards a deeper sense of Oneness.
May we surrender to the chaos that exists and learn to create from the watery depths. Chag Sameach.
 Keller, C, 2003, The Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming, Routledge, London.