As any one of my readers or visitors can tell, I have done a lot less writing than usual over the last few months. Graduate school has a habit of owning every spare moment you have. I am in my last full semester of seminary and I cannot wait to be done. But at the same time, I am realizing what a gift it truly is to have a constant, pressing demand upon one’s mind and spirit.
I recently read a book on cosmology, the study of the origin of the universe, and came across something truly beautiful. The author was discussing how Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 relate to each other, as well as how they relate to other ancient Near Eastern cosmologies. The insights were rich and plentiful, but there was one idea I found most helpful.
A scholar suggested that the six days of creation could be separated into two equal parts of three days each. The first set of three days were used for forming. God pulled and pushed and crafted the world that we now see. The second set of three days were used for filling. This is when God flooded the world with birds and fish and, finally, with humans. God apportioned his time to lay the foundation first so that later he could build upon it. He made it good, so that later he could make it great.
My learning has taken a similar path. Intellectual and spiritual formation is hard work. It requires the death of old ideas and the birth of new understanding. Professors, books, and conversations push and pull at our minds, wrestling them into submission – not to hurt them, but to show our minds that they have been wrong, a very difficult thing to do. However, once this forming has taken place then the glorious stage begins. The filling is a much different experience. The mind does not have to be wrestled anymore, the land is now fertile for life. This is when a rush of information can flood in and make sense. Everything has its proper place: theology, biblical studies, language, spirituality, and so much more.
The filling can never happen successfully without the forming. The hard, painful shaping has to take place first, before the beauty can find its home. Along those lines, we cannot expect those who have not gone through formation to accept the filling. It will always feel like a square peg fitting into a round hole.
Our lives follow the same trajectory. God forms us. He forms us with every difficulty, with every allowance of pain or joy, with every refuted or answered prayer. He takes the time to form us because he wants to fill us. Forming is not the final purpose, a filled life is.
I can smile as I near the finish line of seminary because I know that the forming I have undergone over the last three years will serve my goals and God’s purposes for the rest of my life. We have been prepared for extraordinary things by an extraordinary God, and this is only the beginning.