This Sunday we visited the familiar passage of the biblical flood. When this story is brought up in Sunday School, a sermon, or even in passing conversation, what are the pictures that first come to mind?
Perhaps of Noah, with wood and tools spread around him, or with scaffolding reaching up a half-finished boat?
Perhaps of a long, winding line of animals in their two-by-two arrangement, quite ready to enter the ark as storm clouds billow in the distant sky?
Perhaps of flood waters rising, of a dove flying with an olive branch in its beak?
Or perhaps of that final landing, where the ark rests on dry ground, and God's rainbow arches across the sky: the promise, that He will never bring a flood like this one against the earth again?
These are the first pictures that came to my mind when I sat down and began roughing out the direction that this week's illustration would take. But as I re-read the narrative of Genesis 6-9 and prayerfully engaged with the text, I found my creative thoughts taking a different turn, to focus instead on seeking to convey God's purpose in sending a flood at all. The author of Genesis 6:11-13 writes,
"Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. Then God said to Noah, 'The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth.'"
Perhaps it is in our comfort-seeking nature to soften the edges of this story of judgment with pictures of rolling waters and fuzzy animals. Yet this narrative forces us to wrestle with the evil in our hearts, and to engage with the question of the consequence of our disobedience to God and the extent of His just punishment against the evil acts we do and the evil things we think. The waters of the flood were not merely filled with creatures spilling over from the sea; they were filled with the remnants of human life, of settlements and people and everyday things.
The flood is a solemn part of the biblical narrative. But ever true to His nature, God still extends His loving kindness and great mercy to humanity.
Noah is called a righteous man, blameless before God in his generation, and one who chose to walk with God contrary to the people around him. As a descendant of Adam, he is still a sinner, and because of his sin-nature, God would have had every right to wipe him out with the rest of humanity. But instead, God see Noah’s faith, and chooses to look upon him with favour. He provides him a way to save not only himself, but his family also. The plans for the ark are laid out for him; Noah must trust and have the faith to obey.
Jesus says in Matthew 17,
“Just as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the days of the Son of Man: People went on eating, drinking, marrying and giving in marriage until the day Noah boarded the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. ... It will be like that on the day the Son of Man is revealed."
While God will not destroy the earth by another flood, there is a day when God’s patience will come to an end, and He will bring a final judgment against the earth and against the wicked ways of humanity’s hearts. Like the people in Noah’s day, we do not know when this day will come. But like Noah, God has provided us a way be saved from His just and righteous punishment against our wickedness, in sending His Son Jesus to take that punishment upon Himself on the cross, and by giving us His righteousness in place of our sin when we respond to this act of loving-kindness by believing that He has the authority to save all who put their faith in Him and turn from their wicked ways.