After a long summer break, Darkwood Brew is back and ready to take on the Narrative Lectionary. The first story is the flood narrative.
I haven’t seen the new Noah movie, but I do know that it stirred up a good deal of controversy. No doubt, it was because it didn’t fit the mold of what most of us thought we knew about the story. Even without fresh interpretation, it is a great story to cause debate. We could debate whether God saw a mistake and corrected it, a sort of Creation 2.0. We could debate whether there is any historical validity to a world-wide flood or the feasibility of collecting a pair of every living creature, or the science of repopulating the planet from single pairs of animals. This sort of mythological tale forces us to face the way we read scripture, and in that it may have its greatest value for us today.
It is somewhat safe to assume that the Hebrew people who told this tale around campfires and in homes with their families to pass the long, dark hours at the end of the day were telling the history of a cataclysm that had visited their ancestors. There is evidence that civilization in that region had met with a disastrous flood at the end of that last ice age. Part of the evidence is the fact that other cultures in the area also tell of a universal flood destroying the entire world, or at least the whole of the world as they knew it. The importance for us lies not in the similarity of the tales, but in the singular way in which the Hebrews told the ending. In the other cultures, the destruction comes from an angry god who never promises to stop. In their version, humanity is lucky to survive and continues to live under threat if the god is not appeased.
The Hebrews looked at the evidence that humanity (well, as much of it as they were aware of) very nearly vanished off the planet, so they faced the obvious question of why did they survive? They concluded that since they were just as likely as the pre-flood people to fill the earth with corruption that whomever God chose to spare from the flood must not have been super-human or perfect. So the hero of the tale, Noah, is shown to have feet of clay, gallivanting about drunk and naked shortly after the flood waters subside. This is the new Adam, the one from whom all people are descended. They also concluded that God had not given up on humanity, nor would God try to use this method of correction again. When the story eventually made it to written form, one word (lost in translation in our Bibles) makes that important point.
The one word is the Hebrew word shachath, which translates in Genesis 6:11 & 12 as corrupt. God looks down at the earth and sees complete corruption. So what does God choose to do? God chooses to destroy it all. Well, the word that we read as destroy in verse 13 is shachath. So God is doing nothing more than what many a parent has done in letting a child learn a lesson by giving them exactly what they ask for even when it is not the best for them. We may complain that God should have never let us get so close to the fire that we got burnt, but we can’t say that we weren’t responsible for the fire in the first place. The remarkable piece of the tale is that it ends with God’s promise not to try to teach us that lesson in that way again. God seems committed to save us from ourselves. We sure can use that good news today as we seem bent on either destroying ourselves by fighting over beliefs or slowing drowning ourselves in a truly universal flood if we can’t change our carbon-spewing ways.
I’m not suggesting that we rely on the promise of an ancient myth as a get out of jail free card. Rather, we need to remember the truth in the tale that God would have us learn the lessons that natural consequences teach. That is the “Noah Way.”
Ian Lynch is pastor of Old South UCC in Kirtland, Ohio, where he integrates Darkwood Brew as tool for ministry as a church beyond walls. Each week, he offers a Bible Byte, a short video commentary on the scripture lesson for the week.