The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth…and the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart….But Noah found favor in the sight of the LORD…and God said to Noah, "Make yourself an ark.”
—Genesis 6: 5a; 6; 8; 14
In this pathos-filled story of the Flood (Elie Weisel calls it one of the saddest most oppressive stories in Scripture), we read that "God was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth." God is not portrayed as an angry tyrant but as a troubled parent, grieving over the essential fracture of creation from its Creator.
The God of the Book of Genesis is not a remote deity like Zeus, who wantonly destroys those who displease him. God is intimately involved with God’s creation, and ultimately, even though God vows to destroy the world, God will not abandon it entirely. There is one person, Noah, who "walks with God," and God will spare him, along with his family.
Most of us know the rest of the story. Noah obeys God’s detailed instructions to build an ark and fill it, not only with his family, but with animals of every kind. The flood comes and the ark and its inhabitants are the only survivors. Noah finally sends out a dove which returns to the ark with a branch, indicating life on the land, and the ark lands safely on dry ground.
Like most Bible stories, this one leaves us with more questions than answers: Why would a loving God cause such destruction? Why would Noah obey God without so much as a question, or protest?
Yet most of us read this familiar story without a twinge. I even have a small collection of Noahs, arks, and chubby wooden animals. But after a serious study of Genesis, I now look at them differently. Why, I wonder, have we homogenized and commercialized this serious turning point in the Bible?
Interestingly enough, Walter Brueggemann asserts that this is a story about God, not about Noah. The turning point of the story is when God changes God’s mind, resolving never to abandon God’s world again. Though humanity does not change—evil is not eradicated from the earth—our relation to God is now based on unqualified grace.
Those benign little Noah’s arks just don’t do justice to this great and amazing story.
Almighty God, when we are flooded with anxiety and hopelessness, give us grace tostill our thoughts and accept your unqualified grace. Amen.
Copyright © 2010 Margaret Jones.