Last year a friend of mine posted a question on Facebook asking why a loving God would send A flood and commit genocide, Let me be so concerned about people of people that this God cares about abortions ending, comma and then will you teach the story to children. He asked for a response from his friends who worked for Christianity. My response was two-fold some of which was to discuss the role of The Bible in our understanding of history and interpretation and the other answer was that we all really like animals and they’re cute. The story of Noah’s art is very cute if you put it all in pastel color isn’t just a bunch of animals leaning out over the side of the boat as they sail across the waters.
It is horrifying if you take this text literally and imagine everything that is floating in the waters around the ship. The story of Noah and the Ark. And the flood is some horrific combination of Children’s story and an apocalyptic nightmare.
There are some who work really hard to prove this story is true. They do all kinds of math to prove that all of the animals fit, build the boat with the dimensions that were given here. It turns out the one that they made was not sea-worthy and in the midst of floods in Kentucky, the Ark Experience suffered from water damage. It seems that they do all this under the assumption that the event and proving the flood happened just as the Bible says in their Bibles is the important part of the whole story. I disagree.
This story of Noah, and most of Genesis, fall into what is generally understood as prehistory. There isn’t a time frame given, it is just the myths of creation, how and why the world is as it is. Who are the humans living on the earth? It is myth and metaphor and parable. It tells the truth even if it didn’t happen just this way. It tells us something about God (that might feel a little scary) and humanity (that feels all too true) and creation. The story of Noah is a story of recreation.
With word and breath and clay God had made everything and named it as good. God had made humans And they were complicated. From the very beginning that humans wanted things: fruit, knowledge, affirmation.
And we could look at each and every one of those as something mundane, even good. Food for sustenance and survival, knowledge for wisdom and understanding, affirmation because we all need love. But those desires have a downside, a negative extreme. Taking more than one needs, or from someone else, in sustenance that doesn’t value another person. Knowledge that doesn’t come with wisdom but rather the ability to work a system to benefit some and not others. Seeking affirmation and affection in way that diminishing oneself or another, through abuse, assault, and manipulation. There are ways to live these desires well and there are ways to live them in the detriment of another. They can lead to violence, and outrage, they might even look evil.
As humans, we are capable of great good, great beauty, great creativity, great love. But we are also capable of great violence, great offense against each other, great injustice.
God had made this good creation and time had passed; God looked down on the earth and saw the outrage and the violence of humanity, all that had been perfect had multiplied into evil.
I like to think of myself as a creative person. Or I want to be. The problem is, nothing turns out the way I see it in my head. No drawing or craft or writing has ever met my expectations. And while Bob Ross would say that we don’t make mistakes, only happy accidents, they feel like mistakes and my disappointment is real.
And I wonder if that’s what God thought about this work of creation–that it wasn’t quite the way that they had planned. That it wasn’t a happy accident but really there was a mistake. God decides to paint over the canvas or shake the etch-a-sketch.
And it’s wild to think about God having made a mistake, or at least believing they had made a mistake. This is a God who regrets, makes mistakes, starts over…
And the first thing God does is plan to wipe the slate clean–destroy everything. The second thought is the plan to preserve something—people, animals, While God’s first thought goes to destruction, the second and longer thoughts are on how to salvage it.
I imagine God being like parents on a road trip with their kids–2 hours into an eight hour drive–when your first response is to yell to just be quiet for like, 5 minutes! and then remembers their better self–that these children of yours are just children, they are just going to be loud, and full of questions and curiosity.
I imagine when you’re trying to teach children to do something–because they want to be helpful and they need to learn things–and they do it wrong, and you can respond with frustration or grace, because they aren’t going to do it exactly like you would, and that is ok. And if we’re honest, that’s a grace we might need to extend to our partners, spouses, co-workers.
See, when the rain was over, when the raters had returned to where they lived, when Noah, his family, and all the creatures had found their way back to land, God took deep breath, and realized that humans weren’t going to change. God was going to tell Noah’s family to multiply just like they had told humans to earlier, and they were going to multiply evil, just like they did before. There would also be good, but there would be desires that would lead people to evil as well. And, as if God had a good therapist, realizes, “humans aren’t going to change, so I will have to.” God was going to have to take a different approach than one that would see this creation as something that could be observed from a far, to not get so lost in perfection that they miss the good. God realized the such violence doesn’t fix violence, that a second mistake doesn’t fix the first.
God hung their bow in the sky, God’s weapon, God’s first thought of destruction, they hung in the sky as a reminder, not to humans but to God, as a reminder to not start the idea of the world functioning perfectly but start with the relationship. God made a covenant with the whole of creation because God was choosing to work with this world, these people, these creatures, even if they are imperfect, even if they do wrong, even if they choose violence and outrage, this is the world God has chosen.
That is who God became after the flood, the God who would make covenants with all of creation: the people and the animals, the ones that fly and crawl and swim, with every tree and flower. The God we see after the flood is the God who would give guidelines and teach the ways of compassion and justice. The God who sets captives free, gives them enough, heals and forgives. It is the God after the flood who would come to earth in flesh to show us what love looks like.
Who do we become after the flood? The flood is the symbol of one world ending and another one beginning–who do we become when the world has ended?
This could be anything. It could be global and it could be really personal. It’s the end of a relationship and the vision of who you were going to be in the future that was connected to that other person, all the hopes, all the plans, they’re gone, they will never be. That is a world ending.
It could be the loss of a job, or your home, or even a move, an ideology, belief system. An election?
Who do we become when our world ends? Do we turn into ourselves? Do we choose anger? Outrage? Do we settle into regret?
The world is in the midst of physical disasters: draughts, floods, fires. Homes, towns, whole ways of life are being destroyed as islands disappear under water. Who do they become? Who do we become? Do we stand in our place here feeling blessed and separated from those around the world and down the street who are suffering and struggling? Do we respond in grief and anger and live in it? Do we choose violence when our world ends?
21 years ago today, in many ways, the world ended. The end of the Cold War brought the optimism of the 90’s came crashing down in New York City on this day in 2001. And in many ways, who we became when the world ended were people who wanted the good for each other, moved in kindness, and connected. For a brief moment we hung our bows in the sky, promising unity, and then grabbed them back and we have lived for 20 years with the consequences of that action. Not just war, but abuses heaped upon anyone who looked Middle Eastern of any religion.
And we have lived? Are living? Forever living in and with and through a pandemic and the coming together of humanity seemed shorter this time. Seemed the transition to outrage was even shorter.
But we are still figuring out who we will be on this side of the world ending. Who we will become. You and me, and all of us together we are not the same, we can’t go back to who we were 21 years and a day ago and we can’t go back to the way the world was in January 2020. The floods came, the world as it was ended, and we changed too. We are going to multiply something–whether it is community or division, gratitude or greed, generosity or accumulation. The church has a unique place in the world, even if we, the church universal has sometimes failed to live into it, to be a place where all kinds of people come together with a promise that we’re going to choose relationships over perfection, over outrage, over violence. We are going to choose to honor God’s covenant with all of creation instead of manipulation, exploitation, and neglect. We are going to see God as our example, naming our mistakes and making a plan to do better for each other.
Who are we going to be after the world ends? Is there something you need to hang up, to remind yourself to choose the relationship over perfection and anger? Is there community that needs to be cared for? Is there someone who needs community?
That is one reason why we have church, why we gather each week, or as often as we can, to nourish each other, to care for each other, to choose relationship over perfection. We learn and grow and become together. We struggle with ideas but we choose each other. And the reason that we expand, extend, invite, reach out to others isn’t to force them to believe as we do but because we are better in community, we choose good more when we have others who count on us.
Who are we going to be after the flood? After the world ends? May we be a church that community over division, gratitude over greed, generosity over accumulation. May we be people of the God who makes mistakes and learns from them, may that God, our God, be our example to choose relationship, may we live and learn in love.