Noah, the flood & a God who remembers

by susan on September 11, 2018

These are the “words for the journey” that were shared during The Well’s Sunday gathering on 9.9.18. They were based on Genesis 6:11-14, 17-22, 7:19-21, 8:1, 9:8-11 and are part of our series, Disarming the Bible & recapturing the ancient, messy, complex, inspired, still-speaking story of Scripture.

We are told that in the beginning when God created the heavens & the earth, the earth was a formless void, and that darkness covered the face of the deep (Gen. 1:1).

Things were dark & desolate & chaotic until
a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

This is our first introduction to God. God, according to Scripture, is One who creates & God is One who calls what he creates good.

It’s a good start, but things unravel pretty quickly. In fact, throughout the Old Testament, there seems to be an endless cycle of goodness followed by unraveling followed by goodness then more unraveling. And on and on it goes.

My relationship with scripture has involved a similar cycle.

Raised in the church, I was immersed in a culture that convinced me the Bible is the most important book I will ever read. As an avid elementary Sunday school attendee, I not only knew the books of the Bible by heart & in order (probably better than I do now!), I was selected (get ready for this…) as one of the children featured in a Bible drill promotional video created by our denomination. Autographs are available.

A Bible drill, for those who are not familiar, is a competition in which children are judged on their speed & accuracy in locating particular scriptures.

Crazy enough – yet not all that surprising considering my competitive side – I learned to love the Bible. It was an important tool, a weapon if you will, that could help me win at faith and life.

Then in early adulthood, I started learning some things about Scripture that unsettled me. There were inconsistencies, like in the flood narrative we read a portion of – in one place it says the flood lasted 40 days & in another 150 days. Which is it? There were stories I assumed were historical that were more likely myth (which actually made a lot more sense) and that concerned me. Not to mention that the Bible did not fall from the sky (nor was it written by God or Moses or even King James).  In fact, it had over 40 different authors, many of whom are never named in the story. So, what made it trustworthy? And, could I trust myself to read it without misusing it or using it in ways that were not intended? My relationship with the Bible was changing & I treated it with a lot of skepticism.

I’m not sure what shifted, but at some point, my cynicism has been transforming into a new appreciation and love for the Bible, not for what I wanted or needed it to be, but for what it actually is. A lot of friends, spiritual companions & colleagues have been helpful in the process, but I still struggle & hunger for authentic & meaningful ways to engage with scripture. I guess you could say I’m working on our relationship.

What about you? What’s a word you would use to describe your relationship with the Bible?

The flood narrative in Genesis 6-9 has been the source of much Bible angst. On the one hand, all kinds of sweet songs, stuffed animals & artwork have sprung from it. On the other hand, for a favorite children’s storybook story, it sure does contain some troubling imagery.

I heard about a pastor who decided to use this story as the focus of her children’s sermon. She called the children to the front of the sanctuary and asked them to use their imaginations in thinking through the story of Noah & the flood & the ark:

“What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear?”

One child eagerly raised her hand & offered this response:
“I hear the people in the water outside the ark screaming for help.”

Needless to say, this was not the response the pastor was anticipating.

Children come to the Bible with curiosity & questioning. Sadly, our tendency is to silence those questions because they make us uncomfortable. They expose the harsh truth that the Bible does not settle everything for us.

But why would we stifle questions when questions are what formed the stories to begin with?

Ancient stories like this one are responses to the fundamental questions human being have been asking since the beginning of time. Questions like:

How are we going to survive?
Why is this happening?
What do we do now?
Who is in control?

These are the questions that prompted ancient storytelling, particularly the stories found in Genesis, a book whose title means beginnings.

One of the questions I asked as I approached this story is why?
Why would a story like this have been preserved & passed down?
What made it worth remembering?

Like the child hearing this story for the first time, it’s easy to get swept up in the horror of it. The punishment & death & violence are an undeniable part of the story & we have to deal with that, but to the primitive people first hearing it, I doubt that idea would have been surprising at all. The idea that the gods controlled everything, the idea that if there was devastation or difficulty, it was because the people had done something wrong & they needed to make amends was nothing new. This image of an angry god who needed to be appeased already existed. So, this story did not get passed down because people needed to avoid making God angry. They knew that.

No. Like all good stories worth remembering, it survived because of its surprise.

There is a point in the story that we could easily brush right past if we are not paying attention.

God was angry – not surprising.
The floods came & killed people – not surprising.
Noah has been floating around with a boat full of animals for a really long time – strange, but not surprising.

Then in chapter 8, verse 1:

“But God remembered Noah and also all the wild animals and all the domestic animals that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided”.

I can just imagine the reactions of the primitive people first hearing this story for the first time. Huddled together, gathered around a campfire…

Wait. Am I hearing that right? God remembered? That is not what gods do. They are distant & detached. A god who remembers?! That’s crazy!

Imagine the shock at this turning point in the story. Unlike the ancient gods who had no regard for the violence they inflicted, this God is doing things differently.

This God remembers not only Noah, but every living thing. This is a story worth telling, especially to people who feel forgotten or to people who feel they are still stuck in cycles of trying to please angry gods or people who think the only way to be in relationship with God or anyone for that matter is to prove their goodness.

Or people who think violence is the only way to win.

People like us.

God remembers & what is important is not whether the flood historically happened or not, but in the words of Dr. Miguel De La Torre, “in the midst of our own floods, when we are hanging on for dear life, lest we drown, God still remembers. We are never alone. Because God remembers…”.

God remembers & not only that, God makes a covenant, which means God makes a promise, one that is unbreakable.

The promise is this: God will never destroy the earth with a flood again. It’s important to note that God does not make this promise because humanity has changed. We are still going to cause corruption – we will still bring violence upon ourselves. God doesn’t make this promise because we have changed our hearts or our actions, but because this is who God is. God prefers a relationship with us over being right. This God will not have a relationship that is built on punishment, revenge or

And get this. The sign this God makes of this new promise, this new way forward is a bow in the sky. We didn’t get that far in the story. But God uses a weapon, a bow, as a reminder that violence will never again be his means for relating to humanity. God is making a tool of violence into the promise of new creation. We may choose violence & crucifixion & killing, but this God will not.

It’s a radical shift. It’s a new understanding & a new way forward & it will weave itself into the rest of the story that culminates in the life & ministry & death & resurrection of Jesus.

Gods in the ancient world may have been distant & detached. They may have required appeasement. They may have punished people through violence & killing & death.

Why did this story get passed down? Because it’s a new story about a God who does things differently & inviting us into an alternative way of being in the world. This God is the Creator of new life.

When we engage with Scripture, questions are always a good place to begin.

How is God still stirring us through this ancient story?

What questions, challenges, new ideas & new ways of being in the world does it stir up in you?

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