This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high. Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.”
Noah did everything just as God commanded him. The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth. Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.”
And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.
Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah. And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth.
Here is a grand myth, shared between tribes and peoples of faith in Mesopotamia. Woven together from two threads, there are inconsistencies for the fact conscious amongst us. How many animals? Were they clean, unclean, or a mixture of both? Does it matter? Not really, especially as the story has fuelled so many plays, books, songs and toys, dear to the hearts of many.
Some see this myth is a reversal of the creation myths. Instead of bringing life from the waters of the earth, the earth is to be returned to those very waters, drowned in its own birth fluids. Yet, this myth doesn’t end with complete creation reversal. Noah, his family and some animals are set aside to be saved. The murderer Cain has built a violent society which God declares corrupt. Noah, descended from Seth, is seen to be righteous. This isn’t a flood story. It’s an ancient tale of humanity’s usual battle: Good v Evil. What shocks me is that the tale is woven to suggest that our God is a God of vengeance, willing to kill a significant majority of those God created and loved – to prove a point. God prefers good to evil. Well yes, so do we. Yet, God shown to us in Jesus is not that God of vengeance. God who Jesus called Father didn’t destroy all those who sent Jesus to his death. God shown to us in Holy Spirit, giving people a passion for justice, is not a God who would, with great detailed plans and forethought, destroy one set of people in favour of another.
We are often tempted to imagine (and use) God as the angry One. Jesus shows us that no matter how much we want that God to be true, we have made an idol. God is love, utterly, for the evil and the good.
Oh God, forgive us. We often make you into what we hope or want you to be. Then we confuse one another with difficult images and stories. The hardest news for us to bear is that you love without stop. Give us deep grace to accept your love for us. Give us even deeper grace and immense courage to love those who we think (surely) you would never love. Amen
Elizabeth Gray-King, Education & Learning Programme Officer, member St Columba’s URC Oxford