Genesis 6-9: The Flood

Other than the Christmas and Easter stories, there is no other that rivals in popularity than good ‘ole Noah and his ark. God tells Noah to build an ark for himself and his family, and to bring into it, every kind of animal. God then causes the heavens to rain for 40 days and nights. In our culture, this has become a children's adventure tale. Happy, smiling animals with depictions of doves and bright rainbows are displayed on nursery walls and Sunday school classrooms.

That’s also preach-able. Bible studies, sermon, theological reflections tend to be pretty rainbow heavy in mainline Protestant congregations. Talk about the building of the ark, the gathering of the animals, and the rains that came pouring down as a fascinating plot line, but let’s move on to the rainbow. The covenant. The promise that God makes with Noah and the generations of people to follow never to do that again.

And I’m thinking, “that’s great God, but why did you send the flood in the first place?”

What our imaginations and Sunday school books leave out are the multitudes of people gasping for breath as the relentless rising waters force them desperately to seek rooftops or high ground, and then ultimately die. They also don’t show the pain and suffering Noah and his family must have gone through watching as their friends die. Not to mention what it would’ve been like on that ark for 40 days. There are a lot of animals on that boat, and I bet they didn’t stop… well… being animals.

That's not a very pretty picture for a children's story, and we collectively avert our mind's eye from those particular images.

We skip over our struggles and questions we have with this text so our eyes can focus on the hope and promises that God has made to creation. We are ready to embrace the promise that God will never abandon or destroy us, holding in tension the mystery around what was in God’s heart as all of this is happening.

I find all of this particularly relevant today as we are horrified by the images coming out of Haiti following the devastating earthquake.

Our hearts heart and we ask “How could God let this happen?”A few minority Christian voices will even go so far to say this is punishment from God because the Haitian people made a pact with the devil.

Sounds eerily familiar and equally bizarre as when it was said that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment on America for involvement in foreign governments, allowing abortions to be legal, and promoting the “homosexual agenda” by allowing Ellen DeGeneres to host the Emmy Awards.

Most of us wouldn’t make these kinds of theological jumps (that’s saying it nicely) but there remains quite a bit of acceptance in religious communities that natural disasters are caused by a vengeful God or some other divine being as punishment for human evil.

We aren’t the only ones. Judeo- Christian tradition and our telling of Noah’s Ark isn’t unique in trying to explaining the connection between God and some major flooding event that happened centuries ago.

Some of the stories almost mirror exactly our Judeo-Christian understanding of how and why the flood happened. Take the Roman god Jupiter. He sent a flood because he too, was angry at the people for their evil ways.

One of many creation stories from China tells how he Supreme Sovereign ordered the water god Gong Gong to create a flood as punishment and warning for human misbehavior. Gong Gong extended the flood for 22 years. The supernatural hero Gun stole Growing Soil from heaven to dam the waters, but he was executed for his theft before he finished. However, his body didn't decay, and when it was cut apart three years later, his son Yu emerged in the form of a horned dragon. Yu drove away Gong Gong and finished damming the floodwaters.

And long before Christianity came to this country the Navajo people believe that for their sins, the gods expelled the Insect People from the first world by sending a wall of water from all directions. The Insect People flew up into the second world. Later, in the fourth world, descendants of these people were likewise punished. They escaped the floodwaters by climbing into a fast-growing reed. Cicada dug an entrance into the fifth world, where people live today.

And from South America the Quechua people believed the world wanted to come to an end. A llama, knowing this, was depressed. When its human owner complained that it wouldn't eat, the llama told him of the imminent flood and suggested they go to Villca Coto mountain. They arrived there to find the peak already filled with all kinds of animals. The flood came as soon as they arrived and lasted five days. Afterwards, the man began to multiply once more.

These and other stories related to flood myths can be found at:

The details and facts surrounding any number of these stories, including the one our faith tradition identified with in Genesis, are fairly impossible to prove. Regardless of proof, why do we flip so quickly from the vengeful God of the covenant without attention to what is happening in God’s heart as all of this is happening?

Genesis Chapter 6 verses 5 through 7 says (TNIV):
“The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.”

God takes the hurt of the world into God’s heart.

God weeps with creation.

God grieved at what God saw.

We learned last week as we explored the stories of creation that God delights in the goodness present from the beginning of creation, and mourns at the ways we have turned away.

Hear the pain, the anguish, the longing from a God who wants nothing more than to be in relationship with that which is made in the very image of the Divine Creator.

Hold that with the actions of judgment and covenant of grace God makes with the people, and the flood narrative reveals a testament to the tension and struggle concerning the character of God and many of the questions in our everyday lives.

Are my pain and the pain of the world God’s judgment?

Is God suffering with me?

Can I partner with God in bringing about hope in the world?

These questions are real and I’m not going to dismiss them or explain them away. I’ll admit that I wanted to explain away the judgment part of this text as some contextual detail. Like the Israelite people didn’t have any other way of explaining the flood, so like other cultures they took the easy way out and just blame God. That would be my “easy way out.” And I would be ignoring that God takes a stand against evil in the world, and without that action God would appear to remain complicit to it.

So I can’t explain it away, no matter how horrendous it feels in my heart to my understanding of God. That would be the easy way. Disregarding part of this text and not living with the tension.

We enter into this story and all the stories of the Bible with the tensions of not having all the answers about God and how God acts in the world then and now.
That God will not be complicit in the evil in this world.

That it hurts God’s heart to see how we turn away from the image in which God created us to be.

And whether I want to deal with it or not, God has the power to do something about it and God does come to terms with what that means for God and creation.

As God comes to terms with God’s actions, God did not say that God would continue judgment on God’s people by causing natural disasters. God’s promise is to redeem and restore creation. To be committed to a new creation which we see enacted through later covenants with Abraham, Israel and brought to fullness in God’s work in Jesus Christ.

There is a lot of tension in this story that makes us uncomfortable, no matter what perspective we come at it from. When we don’t take the easy way out it forces us to ask questions and go deeper in our relationship with God. The process of transformation of being a new creation isn’t as easy as the cute Noah’s Ark pictures make it out to be. It is a very messy picture as we are called to partner with God to not remain complicit in the face of injustice, hurt with those who are hurting and act with grace and love. May our ears, eyes, and hearts be open to God and one another.


  1. I find the previous comment difficult to find fault with.


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