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Bottomless pit

The word in Greek is "Abyss."  Jerome's Vulgate left it untranslated.  John Wycliffe rendered it "the pit of depnesse".  But it's been William Tyndale's turn of phrase that has endured: "bottomless pit"!  Rightly, the KJV decided it could not improve on Tyndale.  The phrase occurs seven times, all in the book of Revelation (where sevens abound!).  Take this representative example:

They had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon. (Revelation 9:11)

The sense of the "bottomless pit" (or "abyss") is an unbounded chaos.  Infinite emptiness. An immeasurable depth.  Limitless nothingness.  This place of destruction and corruption is highlighted at the beginning and end of the Bible.

In the opening verses of Scripture we read about a void opened up in the creation of heaven and earth:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.  (Genesis 1:1-2)

"The deep" is the Abyss.  And its presence is felt in the second verse of the Bible!

God, having created a reality beyond Himself, is faced, not with a mere extension of His divine being, but with something very distinct from Himself.  God is light but here is darkness.  God is full but here is an emptiness. In creation there is something beyond God which needs enlightening and filling full.  This is what the work of creation involves.  Over the six days God forms and then fills the universe, acting redemptively upon what is, by nature, "without form and void".

God separates light from darkness and sea from dry land. He divides and adjudicates - "Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further" (Job 38:11).  God's creative work is all about undoing the abyss. He brings light, fullness and form - bounding the boundless.

Yet somehow there is a sphere that stands against the spreading goodness of God.  There is an abyss.  And it does not stand on an alternative foundation.  The only true  foundation can be the living God.  Whatever stands against God cannot stand on anything substantial.  No, God's enemies have nothing to stand on.  Their realm is groundless - a bottomless pit.

Think about this negative reality.  The realm of evil is not an equal and opposite kingdom.  It is darkness, somehow resisting God's radiant light.  It is a boundless emptiness, somehow resisting God's glory filling the earth.  It is rebellion without a cause.

Sin and evil have no ultimate foundation, no reasons, no footing.  They are madness.  Those swallowed by the bottomless pit can only keep falling.  Think of the tragedy: it's one kind of death to fall far - it's another to fall forever.

What hope is there in the face of this abyss?

Paul writes to the Romans to tell them that we have no hope against the powers of darkness.  None of us can ascend to heaven and none of us can plumb the bottomless pit.  But Christ has come down from the heights.  And He has risen from the abyss:

Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:)  Or, Who shall descend into the deep [the abyss]? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead)  (Romans 10:6-7)

We don't have to climb up to heaven and we don't have to climb out of the bottomless pit.  Christ has done it all.  He is the Radiant Light of the Father.  He is the Spreading Goodness of God.  And He has come to plunder Satan's house (Mark 3:27).  He has entered into our darkness and risen to bring us home.

We cannot reason with evil - it's insanity.  We cannot climb out of the bottomless pit - there is no footing.  But Christ has done it all.  We need only trust Him and He'll turn our pit to paradise:

If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.  (Romans 10:9)

10 thoughts on “Bottomless pit

  1. Howard

    OK, Glen, now I'm confused. Where do we gain the Biblical statement which confirms that the "crude mass" (the waters, the darkness and the deep) of Genesis 1 is the 'bottomless pit' of Revelation? Are we saying that a place of alienation from God was required AT THE BEGINNING of the creation week, prior to any human or angelic fall? Why? If creation is originally something 'very good', indeed, something deemed holy by God inhabiting and refreshing Himself within it (on the 7th day), why is there such a place in the 2nd verse in the Bible? I'd say that the nature of the deep in Genesis is something VERY different!

  2. Glen

    Hi Howard,
    I don't want to make a straight equation between the Abyss of Gen 1:2 and the Abyss of Revelation. It is certainly not the abode of the wicked in Genesis 1. But it is very suggestive that "darkness", "deep" and 'formless and empty' are used. Jer 4:23 puts that language firmly in judgement territory. I agree that the seventh day of rest is "very good" - I'd just say that this is so because God has done a lot of forming and filling in the meantime. After separating and adjudicating His creation, *then* God says "good", and only by day 7 is it very good (and still not perfect).

    I'm not wanting to read Revelation into Genesis 1 - perhaps though we should read Genesis 1 into Revelation. i.e. Judgement is de-creation. I think the linguistic and thematic links are too strong to ignore.

    Why do you say the deep is "VERY different"? What do you think Moses was trying to convey in that second verse because I find virtually every phrase shockingly ominous.

  3. Howard

    Very simply, Glen, because there's more to unpack here. As I recently noted on another blog which was doing a series on theology and light: I've long been of the persuasion, as Luther states in his commentary on the verse in Genesis 1, that 'waters', 'darkness', 'deep' and the like are all references to the fact that what we have here is but the 'crude mass' of the heavens and earth - a work very much in the initial stage before it is shaped and fashioned by Christ through the creation week.

    If you seek to equate this initial mass to the pit of Revelation or just some manifestation of evil in general, then matter becomes even more troubling, especially when you look at a few other references to this 'abyss'. Why, you must wonder, would God seek to give the 'blessings' of such a place to His children if this were something so negative? He clearly does so through Jacob to his sons, for example, in Genesis 49:25, which marries Gods blessing (not cursing) to both the heaven above and the abyss beneath. If Luther is right, then this makes perfect sense, because the verse also speaks of the blessing of breast and womb - nurture and fertility - which clearly is alluded to in the work of God's Spirit "troubling" the abyss as it is about to yield itself to Christ's animating work.

    It's right, of course, to speak of just as Christ brought light from the darkness, He has shone into our hearts, and that God is indeed light, and in Him there is no darkness, but He is also a God who chooses to dwell in darkness - something which can speak so poignantly of His awe and power.

    Darkness was indeed part of the original natural created order - the evening and then the morning - and this domain grants opportunity for the 'lesser lights' to be evidenced before the day when He will indeed be the light of all. I find it fascinating that in Revelation, the woman (the church) is described as clothed with the son and moon (which actually relates back to a Genesis promise to Jacob's son, Joseph) - the sun rules the day, the moon rules the night, and these adorn 'the woman' - the redeemed, which I cannot help feel in some manner here so defines the new earth, the new creation (no wonder Wiccans 'sense' something here), at present "exiled" (in bondage and futility) in the wilderness of this world.

    God's deepest works (of creation and redemption) have been accompanied by darkness, so as much as light, indeed speaks to us, there is equally something to be considered here.

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  6. Glen

    Hi Howard, I don't want to "equate" Genesis 1:2 with hell or evil. I'm not trying to say that matter is bad. And I fully agree that, through the Radiance of God and in concert with it, darkness and the deep become real opportunities for blessing.

    I'm just saying that there's a shape to creation (and salvation) from darkness to light, from the abyss to fullness. Even before the fall there is a journey to be taken and certain forces to overcome. Take the creation of Eve. It requires a death-like sleep and the piercing of Adam's side. Even before the fall there's something "not good" and there's a struggle involved in overcoming it. I don't want to say that there's "evil" there or that there's anything "wrong" about Adam in his single state. But I do want to acknowledge that there's a shape to creation (and salvation) that doesn't *begin* with "very good" but ends there.

    You're right that I need to be careful not to inject "evil" before the fall. I'll try to be more careful in my use of language.

  7. Howard

    Hi Glen - many, many thanks for your reply.

    I found this line of huge interest - "Even before the fall there’s something “not good” and there’s a struggle involved in overcoming it" - especially in relation to your using the example of God's creation of Eve through a 'death-like' experience. As I've noted about this incident on my own blog (also touching upon the natural use of death to create life amidst seed-bearing plants), creation from its very beginning is seeking to mirror something imperative about the nature of the God who made it. John tells us in Revelation that Jesus is the Lamb slain 'from the foundation of the world' - why? Is it because the fall was inevitable, or is it because Father, Son and Spirit are at work within creation to make evident something totally essential to the nature and expression of their nature (sacrificial love) so what they create will reflect, express and delight in that nature? That, I suspect, is very close to the heart of the reason behind why the material realm exists - a living work which God is seeking to envelop and fill with the deep 'romance' at the heart of all things.

    The 'shape' of creation includes a ravishing wildness, touched upon in many moments of poetry in scripture, which I think is very much part of our inheritance, especially in cultural priesthood, but few ever seek to dap a toe in that direction because of the prevalent 'white noise' in theology (darkness is always evil). Redemption is about Christ reconciling 'all things' in Heaven and Earth to Himself, aside from sin, which is dealt with at the Cross. Creation awaits the coming 'glorification' of everything else.

    There are some deep waters here, and I'm as prone to miss-place my footing here as the next person, so I really value the opportunity to share to explore such issues together. Thank you for your constant passion to get into the deep end - it's really appreciated.

  8. PB

    Perhaps evil tends to run into the darkness because it assumes that 'wildness' or 'innovation' or 'new creation' are going to be useful to its own ways... as if evil assumes that the 'new' and the 'wild' will be an overthrowing and total rejection of the 'old' and the 'given'. In reality the resurrection is the fulfilment of the old humanity.

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