The Book of Genesis is peopled with fascinating figures, but no portrayal is more striking or memorable than that of God. Whether the reader sees the Bible as divinely inspired or as the work of human ingenuity (or both), the power of this text is undeniable. The God of Genesis is deeply etched into the culture and history of Europe and the Americas.
Where many creation stories from other cultures show the forces of order and chaos, or good and evil, locked in equal combat, Genesis 1 describes a God whose goodness alone is the source of all life and all form. The abyss – the primal chaos that is “formless and void”—before creation is not depicted as an evil force that must be overcome. Rather, the abyss needs to be ordered to reach its full potential.
Other origin stories tell of many different gods who themselves are created, and who work together or fight against one another, to create out of the remnants of previous creations. In contrast, the first part of Genesis describes one God who is self-sufficient, powerful, and benevolent. The God of Genesis, who needs nothing, chooses to create anyway. God creates not from leftovers but out of that chaos, or as the contemporary scholar Robert Alter translates it, “out of welter and waste.”
The description of God continues to expand throughout the Book of Genesis, gradually revealing a God who loves zealously, who chooses favorites, who inflicts terrible punishments, and shows mercy beyond measure—but who is never distant or detached. Genesis is the account of this very personal God’s powerful relationship with humanity.