Well, this is another one of the big ones. Man, it’s hard to even boil down all the things I heard about this story growing up. This is one of the ones they start teaching you when you’re tiny because it’s fun to play with pairs of animals. You can teach children counting with a story of genocide. It’s a weird thing, religion.
Look, I heard a lot of things about this story. Noah was a righteous man. Apparently he was the only one God liked or the only one God chose for whatever reason. Again, this was a story about mercy. This was a story about God reaching down and trying to give us a chance but goshdarnit, those crazy humans. You know, we just don’t listen. God gave them like a hundred years of listening to Noah preach to them to change and they didn’t listen so eventually he had to murder them all. Shrug. Things happen.
You should probably not get too caught up on the size of the Ark vs the number of animals. See, a lot of animals might have… come from other animals? But not in a Big E Evolution kind-of way. More like how dalmations came from wolves eventually. Also the dinosaurs probably died out in the flood, of course. There are really awesome theories about that.
You see, some people believe that before the flood humanity was super technologically advanced (I feel like maybe they should have been able to build a more complex sounding boat in that case but whatever), like to the point of cell phones or even way beyond what we have now and God wiped all that out. I discovered from David that there are some Adventists who believe that dinosaurs were actually genetically engineered by humans and that’s why they didn’t get on the Ark. How great a story is that? Sadly I didn’t get anything that cool growing up. It was all kind of vague. Probably they died in the flood. Maybe some of them went on the boat. Maybe… well… who knows.
Also yes, all of humanity once again came from Noah and his family. Apparently the genes were still good enough way back when that it was okay to inbreed.
So I’m going to be doing this a little differently this time because it’s a really long story and I don’t think you want to read that long of a block of text. I’ll be putting in the story and I’m going to comment as we go. Let me know if this is preferable, if I should go back to the old way, whatever. I’ll do the weird postscript next week because this is already super long. 😛
When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them,2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. 3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with[a] humans forever, for they are mortal[b]; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”
4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.
Interjection: I just wanted to include this because it’s weird and there. This is not a part we talked about very much. It inspired a lot of imagination. Madeleine L’Engle did a bit on the Nephilim that was cool, although maybe heretical or something. Mostly though, this really sounds like a myth, right? Like oh… well…. we don’t actually live 900 years anymore. God must have gotten sick of us!
5 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. 6 The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 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.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.
I can’t help but note that it really doesn’t say how Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. Like in many other stories so far, God’s favoritism and will seems confusing and not for us to fully understand. That seems kind-of scary given how prone to violence he clearly is.
Also, what would this even look like? There was a lot of talk about this when I was growing up, man at his (always man at his, never women) absolute worst, sin has taken over, whatever. But it’s so vague, what does it even mean? I mean, God didn’t make us that long ago, maybe his tolerance is really low right now.
9 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. 10 Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth.
11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 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. 14 So make yourself an ark of cypress[c] wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. 15 This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high.[d] 16 Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit[e] high all around.[f] Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. 17 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. 18 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. 19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20 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. 21 You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.”
22 Noah did everything just as God commanded him.
I’d like to take a moment to note an important thing that God did not command him. God did not command him to preach to the people. God did not command him to warn the people. In fact, there is no indication whatsoever in this story that there was ever a chance for anyone but Noah to be saved. Or in fact that God ever cared or was interested in anyone else being saved. Obviously Noah did everything God commanded him, wouldn’t you? But did Noah tell anyone? Would it have mattered? Who’s to say? But I was told my whole life he preached for a hundred years (I’d like to note my brother does not remember this so it’s not necessarily universal) and that makes sense. It makes sense we want to think that because the idea that God would unilaterally decide to murder thousands? Millions? of people and call it a day, start a clean slate, we rebel against that. We are horrified by that. Assuming we take the time to actually think about it. But most of us don’t, so instead we come up with stories to try and make it better. “Well, he warned them. God tried so hard to warn them and they just wouldn’t listen. He wanted to save them.” Did he?
The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. 2 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, 3 and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth. 4 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.”
5 And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.
6 Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. 7 And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. 8 Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, 9 male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah. 10 And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth.
11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. 12 And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.
13 On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark. 14 They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings. 15 Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark. 16 The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah. Then the Lord shut him in.
David remembers being told an Angel shut the door of the Ark, in an example of more mythology. I don’t really remember that. I do feel like looking at this… here’s the thing with teaching children genocide and murder before they’re old enough to even comprehend those concepts – I think it’s dangerous. I think it strips something. Because I could hear this story and I was an adult before I started looking back and imagining this story. Noah got a lot of play in the last few years because of Darren Aronofsky’s movie. The movie had some flaws (mainly that it should have been 20 minutes shorter) but it got many things right and one thing was this. Because see? Right here? It’s just a sentence. The Lord shut him in. As what? As people were drowning and dying and screaming outside? Men, women, children, babies? The Lord who was so disgusted by the violence on the earth was murdering people and there were Noah and his family in a boat, listening to the screams until it finally went quiet. A clean slate covered in corpses. He is God, he could have blinked and made them vanish, had them drop dead in a moment. But instead he chose to drown them. It wouldn’t be quick, not for many of them. And, as we know, he didn’t see any reason to even tell them why. This is mercy.
People get hung up on the specifics. No, I don’t think it’s possible, not physically possible. I don’t believe it happened. But there are people who still do and I am troubled that they don’t now and I didn’t then get hung up on the cruelty, on the hardness of the story. If you are going to have this as one of your scriptures, you should at least face what it is.
But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. 2 Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. 3 The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down,4 and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.5 The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.
6 After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark 7 and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. 8 Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. 9 But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. 10 He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. 12 He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.
13 By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. 14 By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.
15 Then God said to Noah, 16 “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives.17 Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.”
18 So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. 19 All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on land—came out of the ark, one kind after another.
20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21 The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though[a] every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.
22 “As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.”
Hooray? In spite of the fact that every single inclination of our hearts from our childhoods is evil God will never do this again. It must have been a good cut of meat. Look, this is one of my most despised teachings of Christianity. In talking with Julie she referred to it as “spiritual gaslighting” and I think she was really on point. Everything you do, every desire of your heart is wicked, is wrong. If it goes against the Bible, it’s wrong. It doesn’t matter how you feel about it, it doesn’t matter what you see in your reality that seems provable and correct, you are wrong. This is right and you are wrong. You cannot trust yourself, you must not trust yourself because that is pride and that is wrong. You are evil, you are naturally evil and only God can save you. Your only hope is to trust this and ignore your instincts, what you see and feel. I honestly cannot express how damaging I think this teaching has been in my life.
Here’s the thing, I don’t believe we’re evil. And as insane as it makes me to see some of the clear places where we have just made things up and taught them as fact, I think that actually goes to my point. Because we desperately need to mitigate this idea. Because the idea of murdering so many people is morally incomprehensible to us, so we skirt it. The idea of doing it without even giving them a chance to change their ways, a chance to save themselves, this is unthinkable to us. The God we believe in could not do that. Because that would be unjust. That would be unloving. That would be unmerciful. And you know what? We know what those things are. We know those things in our very marrow. And so we try to save God from himself. We try to explain how what he did was actually kind, was actually merciful, was actually loving. Because we desperately need a God who manifests the characteristics we have at least as much as we have them. That is a good minimum requirement for a God. The problem is that it’s just not in the text.