This early verse from Genesis chapter 1, should not be interpreted within the framework of our own creativity.
Yes, we as humans are creative, being in the image of our creator God. Yes, we can picture a “formless” lump of clay that a potter carefully and meticulously shapes into a beautiful bowl. Or we might picture a stark and barren moonscape without life. But I don’t believe we can simply apply these images to the “formless void” of the creation account.
God speaks and from nothing, creation takes place.
But pre-creation (pre-time) nothingness, and “step one” unformed earth are concepts that are beyond our understanding.
The human pottery
artist did not begin by making, out of nothing, a formless lump of clay. That
is clearly beyond us as humans. And young, aspiring potters, need to practice
and develop their artistic abilities, to bring out mature works of art from the
formless lumps of clay.
God, on the other hand, did not need to practice his creative abilities. His first and only attempt (and that word “attempt” is clearly irreverent) at creation was perfect and flawless.
The image of a stark, lifeless, cratered moonscape, implies a history to the moon. But this formless void of Genesis 1:2 has no history outside of God's intention of creation. It may be empty at this point of creation, but it is in God's active sphere of creation and therefore not lifeless, as in him is all life.
Some might argue that the fact of the fall of mankind is evidence that creation was flawed.
God saw that creation was “good”.
But I ask you to please continue with my thought process.
If God did not need “practice” in creating, then his first step of earth as a “formless void” should not necessarily be interpreted as a chaotic soup of undifferentiated building blocks, awaiting a master’s touch, or a dusty landscape, long neglected, awaiting the eye of an expert restorer.
Each step of creation was perfect, including the formless void of earth step 1.
The formless void was exactly the step that was required. It was as brilliant and incomparable as every other step of creation. Though formless, it was not purposeless. Though formless, it was not ugly. Though formless, it was not waste matter. It was not an immense piece of ore that required refinement and the discarding of waste in order to purify the golden nugget, so to speak.
If I could compare it to anything, it would be the fertilized human ovum, the single cell with a complete set of chromosomal DNA, and the energy and environment to develop into a perfectly formed human being. The initial cell could be considered the formless void of the developing fetus.
God was not a space traveller who happened upon a formless void and out of it, created the earth and all of creation. Space, stars, sun, moon were created after the formless void of the earth, on day four. Of course, I am speaking from a very literal interpretation of creation. Not everyone will agree with me. I accept this disagreement.
But if we do take a very literal understanding, then the formless void of earth precedes light, and precedes the first day and night. Which may mean that the formless earth preceded the creation of time.
One day we will understand more fully the incomparable glory of our creator God.