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God forms us

Just wrote an essay for my post-ordination training. It was on 'ministerial formation.' Anyway this is a little biblical theology on the concept of formation that didn't make it into the essay...




The Living God is One who forms.  He is the Potter, the yozer,[1] who forms humanity,[2] our hearts,[3] our eyes,[4] our spirit,[5] our days,[6] Israel,[7] light,[8] life,[9] indeed the whole world.[10]  He does so by degrees.  And He does so along a trajectory of death then resurrection.


In the beginning God created (bara) the heavens and the earth.  But, as the very next verse describes, this creation began ‘formless and empty’ (tohu wabohu).  The Spirit, in brooding power, hovers over a scene associated, throughout the Scriptures, with judgement.[11]  Only then, by the power of the Almighty Word is light, life and order brought to the creation.  By the Word the formless and empty world is formed (days 1-3) and filled (days 4-6).  And this occurs in the context of a judging Word – judging in two senses.  First the Word separates – light from darkness, dry land from waters etc.  Second the Word evaluates – ‘It was good.’  In this process the world is brought gradually to shalom and ‘it was very good.’ 


The first creation narrative ends with this purpose clause in the Hebrew:


tAf)[]l; ~yhiÞl{a/ ar"îB'. 


Literally this means ‘God created (bara) in order to make (asah).’  The word bara is used almost exclusively of God’s creative activity.[12]  In the intensive (piel) stem bara conveys the sense of cutting down, clearing a space.[13]  On the other hand asah in the intensive (piel) stem can mean squeeze or caress.[14]  This tells us something of the meaning of these verbs (which are here in the normal qal stem).  Taken together with the purpose clause contruct we see that God’s bara activity prepares the ground for His asah activity.  The LORD begins creation by clearing a space for the purpose of continuing His work upon that creation.  He makes and then moulds.  Again we see that the LORD forms in stages.  First the outline then the filled out reality.


Humanity follows this pattern – first Adam is ‘formed’ from the dust of the earth and the breath of the LORD. (Gen 2:7).  Next Eve is formed from the death-like sleep of the man.  (Gen 2:21-24).  Out of this deep-sleep (tardemah) in which violence is done – his side is pierced – he is raised up to consummation with bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh.  The formation of humanity was a process and one which journeyed through darkness and pain before something better resulted.  It is not too much to say that even in the first two chapters of the bible the process of formation is set before us as one of death and resurrection.


This is the way of the LORD.  His formation begins with raw materials but is perfected in stages and through suffering.  All things in God’s economy are to be formed through death and resurrection.  The people of Israel as the seed of Abraham are filled by Christ, the Seed of Abraham.  The law is the form of the covenant and is filled by the gospel events.  The land (eretz) from (Dead) Sea to (Mediterranean) Sea is filled by the whole earth (eretz!) from Sea to Sea.  Our bodies are seeds to be transformed in death and resurrection to immortal glory (1 Cor 15:44).  Ultimately all this happens through the true Adam – the Last, Heavenly Adam.  He fills full Adam’s Headship over creation, He fills full the land, the people, the law and through death and resurrection brings it all to glory.  Even the Son Himself is made perfect through suffering.  (Heb 5:8-9). 


In all this we see that Eden is not the point.  Adam is not the point.  Adamic humanity is not the point.  Israel and its worship is not the point.  All these things are passed through death and resurrection – from Eden and beyond to the New Jerusalem; from Adam and beyond to the Heavenly Man; through Israel (and its worship) and beyond to the Church of Jesus Christ.  And so the Christian knows two incontrovertible facts: First, all things are forward-looking. The best is yet to come – in the process of formation we are optimists.  Secondly, the path to better things is through suffering.  The road to resurrection blessing always goes through the cross.  In the process of formation we will also be realists.

[1] Isaiah 45:7,9; 64:8; Jer 18:6; Zech 12:1; cf. Rom 9:21

[2] Gen 2:7; Isaiah 43:1

[3] Psalm 33:15

[4] Psalm 94:9

[5] Zech 12:1

[6] Psalm 139:16

[7] Isaiah 43:21

[8] Isaiah 45:7

[9] Gen 2:19

[10] Psalm 95:5

[11] ‘Darkness’, ‘waters’, ‘the deep’ are all symbols of judgement.  So too ‘formless and empty’, cf Jeremiah 4.

[12] Even the exception of Ezekiel 21:19 may be in order to maintain a parallelism with God’s activity in v30

[13] Josh 17:15,18; Ezek 23:47

[14] Ezek 23:3,8

0 thoughts on “God forms us

  1. Dev

    can not bara be interpreted as 'cutting-out' ?

    so the Lord takes out, formless, and comes back into, re-forms?

  2. glenscriv

    yeah something like that. It's quite a violent word really when you do the word study (esp in piel):

    Jos. 17:15, 18; Ezek. 21:24; 23:47

    See esp the last one!

  3. glenscriv

    no i know. i was always caught in a vicious cycle:
    i kept saying to myself 'i'm not a linguist'
    therefore i didn't give it my best shot
    therefore i didn't do brilliantly
    therefore i said to myself 'i'm not a linguist.'

    see how the indicative needs to precede the imperative??!

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