Most people have heard of Noah’s Ark. Some of you probably have memories as a child where you learned about hundreds of cute little animals getting on a boat with a happy family and remember the cute little rainbow that painted the sky after it rained. Some of you may be confused as to why God would allow a worldwide genocide and how the entire earth could be covered in rain and be fine after forty days. I fall into the category of both of these. Maybe, you have a different religion that supports a flood story. That’s totally okay. As for today, I am going to be talking about Noah’s flood from the Judeo-Christian lens, the misconception of it, the theology of it, and how we can learn from this story.
Let’s start off by examining what the story says. For the sake of your time, I will give you where to read and paraphrase the story. If you want to read it, you can find it in Genesis 6:9-9:17.
The biblical narrative describes Noah as a Godly man. It points out that he is the only just and righteous man at the time. God decides to start the world over again through through his own lineage. God tells him to build a massive boat and tells him to gather all of the animals in the entire world, one male, and one female so that the earth could be repopulated. God sent the rain and the entire earth was flooded for forty days and forty nights. Once the rain stopped and the flood water disappears, God places a rainbow in the sky in order to physically promise that He will never flood the earth again.
I want to first start off by saying that there are plenty of scientists who try to defend a worldwide flood, and there are plenty who show that it’s nonsense. Honestly, the text wasn’t meant to be taken literally. Let’s start by looking at the theology of it.
It’s a pretty common thought in the contemporary Christian church that God is eternal and loving. A theme through the whole bible is one of redeeming love. The Bible portrays a God that is loving and unchanging. This is where I have a problem: the God of the Old Testament seems to look a lot different from the New Testament. This God of the Old Testament appears to be very angry and wrathful. There are many ideas or confusion that may arise from seeing the God of the New Testament and seeing how God appears in the Old Testament. Let me ask a question to provoke some thought. How can a loving and compassionate God commit genocide of his own creation that he knew would turn out “sinful”? Theologically, it already doesn’t make sense. If you take a fundamentalist approach to the flood story, you probably already have a million and one answers to explain how and why this happened. You could say it was because there was witchcraft, angels sleeping with men and women, the Nephilim taking over the world, lust, pride, and the list goes on. I don’t think it’s wrong to have some fundamentalist ideas. They have some merit and are a great place to start when thinking about theology. There does become a problem when we don’t take the time to understand history, context, and science as it relates to the Bible.
Noah’s flood. Again, that may bring some already predetermined assumptions from each of us. Let the ideas that you have about the flood sink in. Think and meditate on them for a minute and explore what that story is from within you.
I want you to take everything that you just thought about the flood and imagine that you’re holding all of your thoughts in the palm of your hand. Allow these thoughts to be open to change and easy to fall off of your hand if you see fit. Now imagine that your other hand is open and there is nothing in it. This open hand is for these new thoughts and ideas that I am going to share with you. We are going to be open minded, and not take anything too seriously. We are going to go back in time together and imagine we are in the shoes of civilization 6,000 years ago.
Imagine life 6,000 years ago. Your life and your wealth are surrounded by livestock, farming, and the houses that you build from clay, dirt, and branches. This is your life, and if anything happens, you lose everything. During this time, animals, crops, and your hut are your possessions in order to survive. Now imagine the perspective of the world that you would have. Colonization didn’t happen. We had no globes, world maps, or continental maps. The world and everything you know is exactly what you see. The world is small and flat to you. This is the entire world. Your tribe is your world.
Now imagine what it may have been like during a flash flood. Your crops are destroyed. Your house is destroyed. Your animals could have been harmed. Everything you know crumbles and you have nothing. It flooded. The world flooded. Why would God do this to you?
If you look at the Bible for what it is, a collection of letters, poems, epics, and stories, you may get the answer. Before this was ever written, it must have been spoken orally, right? You would tell great stories of floods that destroyed the world and how the Gods are angry at society. Angry God. Bad Life.
Now imagine a hero being labeled on this story. Let’s think of something catchy and heroic. Let’s name the hero “Noah”. Noah managed to defy the wrath of the God’s. In fact, there was a claim that a one true God of a certain people favored Noah and he was going to save the world. Noah was going to build a boat that could fit EVERY animal in it, one male and one female. Noah would bring his family and they were going to change the world and make it better. This God flooded this earth that you know, and now Noah and every life on his boat are the only source of life that exists. Now imagine that this God does something radical in response to his wrathful anger. He promises to never do it again. This God gives hope and gives a pathway for faith and redemption that no other god at the time promises.
This sounds familiar, doesn’t it? This epic is the same as the Greek Odysseus. There are things that we can learn from it. Did it actually happen in this way? No. Was the whole earth flooded? Yes. The earth that the human mind could comprehend at the time was, and this epic was created to deal with the trauma of losing everything. In every epic and fable, there is a lesson to be learned. What is the lesson of this story? This God wants to save humanity from itself and love.
There are many faults in reading the Bible literally. It shouldn’t always be taken in a literal context. Though there are cases in the Bible that should be taken in a literal context, the text can lose its value if we aren’t careful on what we take literally. When figuring this out, we have to look at the text at face value and ask ourselves what kind of literature this is and how it relates to the world it was written in. We must evaluate who the author was, who it was written to, and what kind of text this is (letter, poem, epic, etc.). Would we ever have put ourselves in the shoes of the people? Would we ever have seen the story from a different lens if we didn’t let go of that literalism? The story has value and it’s lost when we focus on it in a literal way. Noah’s flood was real. It happened countless amount of times just like floods invade our personal world all of the time. Was it a literal global flood? No. The science doesn’t add up. However, the story is true in spirit and holds value.
Noah’s flood was real, and the bible has a value that we never could imagine if we would let go of literal and fundamentalist ideas for many of the stories, letters, and poems. May this open handed article help and shape you to view the bible and the loving God of the Bible in a different way.