The Grief of God
Noah and the Flood – Genesis 6 and 7
We have now come to the center of the Genesis Pre-History (Chapters 1 through 11): The story of Noah and the Flood – contained in Chapters 6,7,8 and 9. There are perhaps few stories in the bible that are as well known as this story; there are also few stories in the bible that are as misunderstood and misinterpreted as this story. Some have expended much money and energy to search for the leftovers of the Ark on Mount Ararat. None of these “expeditions” have been successful and several have proved to be frauds. They have missed the point of the story.
More common however are those who see in this story an angry and vengeful God ready to annihilate any who do break the rules. This view is unfortunately very common and can be found in a variety of situations, including the pronouncements of those who see in natural disasters such as tornados or floods evidence of God’s vengeful anger: The Haitian earthquake; Hurricane Katrina; various accidents, and even (most despicably) the death of service personnel are misinterpreted by some as the workings of a wrathful and angry God who exacts vengeance on the guilty and the innocent alike. If questioned the fingers start pointing towards the Flood story. Such interpretations and pronouncements have caused so much pain and suffering for so many.
But they have missed the point and have not even read the text. Consider verse 6 in chapter 6: And the Lord was very sorry… and it grieved Him to his heart. There is no vengeful God in this story. The destruction of the flood is not initiated as punishment or revenge or wrath. This story is about the grief of God. In chapter two God created a world in perfect balance – God/Creation/Humanity – all in balance; God created Shalom. But in Chapter 3 the humans stage an attempted coup d’état. They attempt to put themselves in the place of God and as a consequence Shalom is broken and they are driven from the place of Shalom – the Garden. In the Flood story God is attempting once more to restore the balance; to restore the Shalom of creation. And so the grief of God permeates this story. God grieves that the humans that he loves have turned their back on Him; God grieves that the gift of Shalom is broken and cannot be easily restored. And God grieves that he must undo the act of creation and start again – this time pinning his hopes on Noah. (Note that as the description of the flood begins the acts of creation are undone – the firmament is withdrawn and the waters of chaos overwhelm creation [7:11 – compare with 1:6-8] and all is destroyed - 7:21 – compare with 1:24.)
But it doesn’t work. Shalom is not restored in this attempted restoration and God recognizes this and commits to never, NEVER do this again. God is still committed to restoring the Shalom of creation, but now God will find a new way. And this new way will be the way of love and grace; this new way will be the way of Jesus! It does not resolve the grief of God, in fact it only intensifies God’s grief as self-centered humans continue to place themselves in the center of their universe and do things to hurt creation and each other and God. Jesus is crucified. But God has the last word through the resurrection. Shalom is restored through Jesus; the Kingdom of God is restored not fully but in part and we can experience God’s Shalom in many and various ways through the sacramental experiences of our lives.
Ultimately this story is about God’s incredible love and grace shown to God’s created children. Like in so many other stories in the bible the story of Noah and the Flood turns our expectations and experiences upside down and replaces anger, wrath and vengeance with forgiveness, love and grace. Thanks be to God!
Next week – Chapters 8 and 9 – “And God remembers….. and the Rainbow Covenant!