I’ve heard people ask the question – where is the bottom? They ask this in relation to things going on in the world. It’s usually a question that is asked after something shocks us and goes beyonds the boundaries of what has been considered normal at the time. There are many things that we could point to in relation to this – senseless violence (When is violence actually sensible anyway?), corruption, boldface lying, destruction of the earth, exploitation, oppression, etc.
So, where is the bottom? My answer is that there isn’t one. And it shouldn’t surprise us. Scripture is actually pretty helpful in this regard. I think it helps to think about all these things happening a bit differently. Thinking there is a bottom is a mistake. Scripture doesn’t talk about it this way.
In Genesis 1:1-2, it states: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while the wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” (NRSV). That translation is ok, but it misses several things, of which I am not going to touch here. The main reason I bring this up is that the word for “the face of the deep” can also be translated as the abyss. Without context, we miss some of the “deeper” meaning of the term, no pun intended.
Here’s something to understand about this term:
“Darkness – in Hebrew chòsheq – is not the light’s absence, as when I’m inside a room and someone turns off the lights before leaving. In the Bible, darkness is a mysteririous presence, a reality and not just a symbol. In fact, darkness doesn’t represent evil, because darkness is evil, being almost its substance.”
The Hebrew word we are talking about is – תְה֑וֹם
Everett Fox, in his work “The Five Books of Moses,” translates verses 1 and 2 as such:
“At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth, when the earth was wild and waste, darkness over the face of Ocean, rushing-spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters…”
Here you get more of the sense of what the darkness, or abyss, or the deep really means. It has to do with chaos. In essence, creation is about bringing order out of chaos. Or, pertinent to our discussion, putting a bottom where none existed before.
The Hebrew word תְה֑וֹם shows up multiple times throughout the Old Testament. Each time it is usually translated as “the deep.” Some examples include Genesis 7:11 and 8:2 (pertaining to the story of the flood in which the fountains of the deep open and cause the flood), Job 28:14 (where the deep declares that wisdom does not originate from itself), and Proverbs 8:28-29 (“when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command…”).
In the Proverbs passage we hear how God creates limits and creates order out of chaos.
As we proceed to the New Testament, the idea of the abyss changes a bit. While I’m not a big fan of Wikipedia, it does offer a nice summary paragraph which I’ll refer to here:
“In a later extended sense in intertestamental Jewish literature, the abyss was the underworld, either the abode of the dead (sheol) or eventually the realm of the rebellious spirits (Hell). In the latter sense, specifically, the abyss was often seen as a prison for demons. This usage was picked up in the New Testament. Jesus sent the Gadarene swine into the abyss (Luke 8:31) and the antichrist will rise out of the abyss (Revelation 11:7). Paul uses the term in Romans 10:7 when quoting Psalm 71:20, referring to the abode of the dead.”
(Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abyss_(religion).). One correction, it is the Gerasene, not Gadarene. Hence, you see why I’m not an overall fan of Wikipedia. However, don’t let that mistake cause you to lose sight of the point.
So what does all this have to do with the question – Where’s the bottom? Quite a bit.
At their core, what are violence, corruption, boldface lying, destruction of the earth, exploitation, oppression, etc.? They are chaos being unleashed in the midst of order. They are out of order, if you will. They are what the abyss, or the deep, are made of. The flood was the opening of the fountains of the deep into the world and unleashing chaos. One could argues that these are further expressions of chaos. They cause the same destruction as the flood. They come from the deep or the abyss. And in the abyss, there is no bottom. To have a bottom means to have order and to have boundaries. Chaos doesn’t have boundaries, which is why it is chaotic. There is no predictability with chaos – that is the essence of chaos.
The entirety of the creation stories is essentially God reigning in chaos within the bounds of order. Revelation is the same story – chaos is on the loose, doing what chaos does – exploit, oppress, kill, and destroy. And by the end of Revelation, God conquers chaos and establishes a new heaven and a new earth – a new order in creation.
Every resurrection story in the New Testament is taking death (chaos) and creating order in its midst. Death unleashes unpredictability, sorrow, brokenness, pain, etc. Resurrection restores order to the world, and to life.
When the abnormal happens, we can recognize that there is no bottom to it. There is no restraint that is self-imposed from chaos. Order and boundaries come from God. Scripture points it out clearly, over and over again. And in the midst of such chaos in our own world and lives, we can rest assure that chaos does not have the final say. It never has. It is too chaotic. It collapses on itself.
Chaos is like cancer. Cancer cells have lost their boundaries. And they grow without order. And they go until they kill the entire organism, which also kills themselves.
Doesn’t sound very hopeful though does it? We don’t want to go to death. We forget what God has promised. Too often, we look at the evil chaos that is happening and think that it reigns supreme and has the final say. But that’s not true. God promises resurrection after death. Story after story in Scripture shows us this. And it is still true for us today.
So there is no bottom for the evil chaos that exists in our world. That’s why it is evil. It will lead to death. And after death comes resurrection. A fresh start. A newness. And God dwelling with creation. Just as God always does. God walked in the garden. God showed up in the wilderness. God became incarnate in Jesus and dwelt with humanity and creation. And God will come down out of heaven to dwell with us again at the end. Thanks be to God for this.
When evil chaos is unleashed on us, be aware – we are ever closer to the death of chaos, to the systems the are in place to support chaos, to the powers that desire chaos. They will end. They will collapse. And resurrection will take place. A new order. God dwelling with us.