The story of Noah and the Ark is not just a story of divine vengeance, but a picture of God's plan to destroy violence and restore all creation.
We often say that you are only as healthy as your image of God is healthy. For example, if you believe in the idea of divine vengeance - an angry, violent, vindictive god - that will create enormous problems for your mind and your heart. On the other hand, if you don't believe in divine judgment whatsoever that may create even bigger problems.
Genesis 6 tells us the thing that evokes divine judgment is human violence (v.11). The Hebrew word for violence is Chamas. Chamas is cold-blooded and unscrupulous infringement of the personal rights of others, motivated by greed and hate and often making use of physical violence and brutality.
The only way to deal with the poison of human violence is through divine judgement.
For example, without divine judgement you will not be able to explain violence. Without God there are no such things as human rights. There are only conventions we agree to abide by. But there is no scientific basis whatsoever for thinking we are better than all the rest of nature, which is dog eat dog, survival of the fittest, natural selection. Violence is natural to nature.
Secondly, without divine judgment you will not to be able to stop violence. You won't be able to forgive. You will have to retaliate. Violence will just beget more violence. You will pick up the sword unless you believe deep down inside there is a God who can and will do it for you.
According to this text the violence of men is destroying creation. But notice how God reacts when he sees what needs to be done. We’re told “his heart was deeply troubled” (v.6). While many non-biblical flood stories interpret the flood to be a divine judgment, the demeanor of the god(s) who sent it is almost always depicted as pure anger, usually for rather petty reasons. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, for example, Enlil sent a flood because he was irritated by how noisy humans had become.The biblical account stands alone in ascribing pain to God as he contemplates the hopeless state of humanity.
So God says, “I am going to destroy the destruction of the earth.” Brian Zahnd points out that while we debate the historicity of a global flood and the scientific possibility of housing two of every creature on Noah’s Ark, we miss the point of what the story is actually about. “The flood is the inevitable catastrophe that results from an unchecked escalation of violence.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, in judgment all that God does is allow himself to be pushed away. Sin is inherently destructive to human society and to the whole creation. Humanity had grown desperately wicked and violent. God has to do something about it. So he allows evil to destroy evil. Violence to destroy violence. God needs to do nothing more than stop preventing the destructive natural consequences of sin from having their full affect.
Norbert Lohfink writes that “the flood represents what violence, the essence of all sins, does to the world.” Just as Paul describes in Romans, God “gave them over” to the godless way of life they had chosen to the destructive consequences that were intrinsic to that way of life (Rom 1v24). As a result creation itself begins to unravel.
The flood narrative parallels, in reverse order, the Genesis 1 creation account. However, God in his grace, returns again (8:1). He regathers the waters, brings up the dry ground again, houses birds in the sky, and calls mankind again to bear His image and to fill the earth with God’s glory (8:15).
Noah points towards an even greater man
In the middle of it all, God chooses one man, Noah, for his mission to rescue creation. We’re told Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord (6:8). The technical term there is “grace.” Favor or grace is a positive, accepting, generous attitude that someone shows towards us even when we don't deserve it.
Later God would choose another man to save humanity.
Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God (v9). But this man wasn’t just good, he was completely righteous. He didn’t just have a good record, he was utterly blameless; perfect. And he didn’t just walk with God, He was God!
In Jesus Christ, God became man.
He entered into the violence.
He took the violence upon himself.
God said to Noah, “In order to save humanity you must build an ark.”
God says to Jesus, “In order to save humanity you must be destroyed on the cross”
Noah’s salvation is local, temporary.
Jesus’ salvation is cosmic, eternal.
Noah climbs into the ark and brings his family and two of every living creature into the ark in order to save them from death, temporarily. Jesus climbs up on the cross in order to bring all of humanity, all of creation, into eternal salvation and restoration.
Noah was in the Ark and it rained for 40 days, and when he came out God promised to never again destroy creation. Jesus was in the tomb for 3 days, but when he came out God promised to restore creation completely.
The flood was the day when old creation died and out of it was born a new world.
The crucifixion was the day when Jesus died and out of his resurrection a new world is being born.
The beginning of the new beginning
I love the end of the story when Noah sets a dove loose. When it returns it carries a branch, signifying that the flood is over and dry land has reappeared. They didn't see it yet. They would still have to wait. But it was there.
Paul tells us that Jesus’ resurrection was like the dove. It was the “first fruits” of God’s promise to raise all believers back to new life. Old creation is gone. New creation has come.
Live as if the flood is over.
Live as if the judgment is over.
Because if you’re a Christian, it is!
"There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom 8v1)
Unless you believe that, when people criticize you, you will lash out in violence. When you experience personal failure, you will lash inward in violence. But if Christ is risen from the dead, then the flood is over and the violence can finally stop.