For those who want a change from the Gospel
Easter 4 – Genesis 7
Genesis chapter 7 forms the heart of the Flood narrative which extends from chapters 6 to 9. It’s clearly a compilation from two different sources, hence the differences in the numbers of animals who are to go into the ark (v.2, cf. v.8-9 and 15-16), and the number of times Noah and his family actually climb into the ark! But behind these details are bigger questions, about the nature of God himself.
I recently heard one preacher say, quite provocatively, that the Church has been preaching the love of God for the last hundred years, and it has been the death of us. It goes without saying that we take absolutely for granted that God is first and foremost a God of love, that his love is unconditional, and so wherever we find him being a bit, to our minds … well, nasty … we react against it and feel the need to explain it away. The first person to do this was a 2nd century heretic called Marcion who decided that the God of the Old Testament and the God of Jesus were two completely different beings, and so he took his Stanley knife to the Scriptures and cut out pretty much everything which in any way related to the OT. Marcion was condemned and the Bible was put back together again, but his heresy is alive and well in the Church today.
But the flood story, the very idea that God could regret making the human race in the first place (6:6), and his determination to wipe everything out and start again, goes deeply against the grain, and along with the ‘ethnic cleansing’ stories of the book of Joshua, forms perhaps the greatest challenge to faith today. What can be said in defence of this story, and what uncomfortable truths might it tell us about our God?
God’s anger is about the things which make us angry (6:5, 11-12)
When we think about the anger, or ‘wrath’ of God, we can easily thing of him as a grumpy old man, which is certainly not the kind of God we want to worship and live for. But in fact this narrative shows him as God with very human feelings. Don’t you get upset at corruption? Don’t you get angry about fat cat bankers and their bonuses, companies which avoid paying their taxes, paedophiles, vandalism and mugging on our streets, key workers who are forced to go into our hospitals and care homes without the right PPE, and so many other issues which blight our world today? What kind of a God wouldn’t want to do something about human evil and wickedness?
God’s anger is not indiscriminate (6:9, 18, 22)
We all know the kind of people who are pretty much angry about everyone and everything, but God isn’t like that. He knows righteousness when he sees it, and no way is he going to punish those who are not a part of the violence and corruption. It’s just that he doesn’t see that many of those kinds of people. A later passage is going to show us God being willing to save a city from destruction if only he could find ten good people in it (Gen 18). But sadly he couldn’t even find that many. Noah is the hero here because unlike everyone else he is blameless before God, and so God puts into place elaborate plans to save him and his family.
God’s anger is purposeful (8:21)
Why did God destroy his beautiful creation? There are two ways of looking at it. Negatively, he did it to destroy evil and wickedness, and that’s not a bad thing to do. But positively, he did it to cleanse and save his world from evil and wickedness, so that its future would be better and safer. He wants the best of his creation to continue, so he saves his non-human creatures too, even if we’re not sure quite how many of them! When Mr Hendy, my surgeon, hacked my face open and carved out a lump of cancerous tissue and bone, he didn’t do it just to get rid of the cancer because he doesn’t like it: he did it so that from then on my life would be saved, safer and more comfortable. He operated with a purpose for the future, with plans for me which were good and hopeful (and, so far, successful). Of course sin, like cancer, can easily come back, and so the Flood story looks forward to the final judgement, when evil, defeated by Jesus on the cross, will be destroyed once and for all, so that it can’t blight our eternal enjoyment of God in the new creation.
Put like that, can’t you kind of see God’s point? And aren’t you at least a bit thankful that he has acted against all that is sinful and corrupt, that through his Church he still is acting against all that ruins the life of humans, and that one day he will act decisively and deal once and for all with wickedness? Aren’t you glad that the God of love loves us so much that he won’t rest until righteousness fills who whole universe?