Noah’s Ark and the Heart of God

Genesis 6:9b-22; 7:23-24; 8:13-22/February 21, 2016
SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT
Susan Boyer

 

When my children were born, wonderful saints filled my children’s bedrooms with baby blankets, wall hangings and toys that depicted Noah’s ark filled with pairs of animals and a beautiful rainbow across the top. Someone even gave me a Noah’s Ark cookie jar to fill with treats.  These generous saints wanted to fill my children’s lives with this story of covenant.  The story of Noah’s ark enters our children’s lives with the same sweetness of Winnie the Pooh, Mother Goose and Curious George.  When I sent my children off to church camp they returned singing the song, “The Lord said to Noah, there’s going to be a floody, floody….get those children out of the muddy, muddy.”

But I have to admit, I always worried a bit about what would happen when my children actually got older and read the story of Noah’s ark attached to its biblical moorings. I worried what they think when they learned that you can’t tame the word flood by simply adding a “y” to the end of it.

Think about it, when we decide what Bible stories we think are most important to saturate our children’s lives with, we choose the story of God deciding to blot out creation by drowning everything in it but one family and a pair of each animal. This story tells of a God who decides to destroy creation and start over again.  It clashes with our childhood memories of two giraffes, a pair of rhinos and a couple of zebras walking up the boat’s ramp while a kindly gentleman with a long beard ushers them to their place on the boat.

When we read this story or fill our children’s bedrooms with depictions of the ark, we focus on Noah….righteous, blameless Noah who walked with God. We focus on the gopher barky, barky and the animals that came on two by two.  But today, I want us to look specifically at this story by focusing on God….God who created the heavens and the earth….God who formed Adam out of the dust of the earth and breathed life into him….God who ushered Adam and Eve out of the garden when they acted with disobedience….God who made them clothes to hide their nakedness.  God who saw Cain kill Abel and watched as humankind set their hearts towards evil.

When you look at this story by focusing on God you see how devastated God was.   Humankind, created in the image of God, had chosen violence, corruption and wickedness and when you look at the heart of God you see that God was sorry he created humans.

You know, when my children were young they sometimes did the exact thing I told them not to do. Or they would get into fights and pummel each other until one of them was crying.  Or sometimes they would look me right in the eye and say something deliberately mean….these two beautiful creatures that I had worked so hard to bring into the world didn’t always match my hopes for them. It was in those painful moments when I would think, “I wanted these guys?”

That is the emotion God is experiencing here. God looks over humankind and what he sees leaves him deeply grieved in his heart.  He wanted these children and they were doing all the things he told them not to do.  The story of Noah and the ark gives us a glimpse into the heart of God.  Many people will tell you it is a heart of judgment but I think that is a misinterpretation.  This is a God who is hurt by a wayward creation and his heart is filled with grief.

So God decides that he needs to hit the restart button with creation. It isn’t working properly and so he decides to wipe it out and start over.   This time God isn’t creating out of nothingness.  This time God will do it by preserving only that which is good.  God finds Noah, a person who is blameless, righteous and walks with God.

God goes to Noah and tells him what he has planned and asks Noah to do the work of preserving life. He gives Noah explicit instructions on how to build an ark that will house the remnant.   Noah isn’t to build a clipper ship that will sail the high seas.  God wants a ship that looks more like a giant bathtub, the length of one and a half football fields.  Try explaining to your neighbors why you are building a boat like that.

Noah’s response to all of this is what fascinates me most. Noah is a completely undeveloped character.  Noah never speaks.  Noah doesn’t have conversations with God like Moses did.  He doesn’t argue with God like Abraham, trying to save his neighbors.   Noah doesn’t stowaway any of his neighbors.  Several times throughout this story it simply says, “And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.”  God picks out the one person who he considers worth saving and it is a person without an argument.  He appears to be an unquestioning follower of God’s commands.

So you know the middle of this story, the part we tell. Noah loads his wife, children and their spouses onto the boat.  He loads the right number of clean and unclean animals.  He leaves his home, his neighbors and a whole lot of duplicate animals behind to drown in the waters of the floody, floody.

After over a year of living on an ark together, there was finally enough dry land for all the animals and Noah’s family to disembark the ark. The first thing that Noah did when his feet hit dry land was to build an altar and worship God.  God’s response is an immediate speech from the heart but it is not for Noah’s ears.  This is a soliloquy.  God talks from his heart for no one’s ears but his own.  “I don’t ever want to do this again.  Humankind carries in its heart an inclination towards evil.  I am never going to wipe them out again.”  God sees that nothing has changed as far as humans are concerned. As Walter Brueggemann, well-respected Old Testament scholar says, “The flood has effected no change in humankind.  But it has effected an irreversible change in God.”[1]

Rarely in the Bible are we given a glimpse of God’s heart. This is a rare occasion and so we should pay special attention. God speaks in his heart about the heart of humankind.  “I can continue to follow this path of strict justice and wipe out creation over and over again based on the inclination of the human heart towards evil or I can decide in my heart to act with love and grace.  I choose love and grace.”

God then speaks to Noah and his children, “I am establishing a covenant between you and your descendants and every living creature on earth.” This is the only time in the Bible that God makes a covenant with every living creature.  God says, “Never again will I bring a flood to wipe you out.  I promise, and as a sign of my promise I will put my bow in the sky as a reminder to myself what I have promised you.”  Some scholars believe that the symbol of the bow is an undrawn weapon. I have never looked at a rainbow with that understanding but I always will now.

There were many flood tales throughout the ancient Near East but the Hebrews told a flood story that laid claim to the central nature of their God. God, in the end, is a God of grace.  The God of Israel is one whose actions are creative not destructive; merciful not vengeful; hopeful not hopeless.

We know this God because many years after the flood, God looked down upon the earth and saw violence, corruption and wickedness and this time instead of a flood, God came to us. God made the journey to us arriving by way of a manger…born to working class parents who were told there was no room for them.  This time God chose incarnation.

God continually reaches out towards us with an eye on covenant, including us in a circle of grace. How blessed we are that God loves us so much to make a covenant of grace with us.  How blessed we are that in spite of ourselves from our beginning to our ending God calls us “Beloved.”  Amen.

 

[1] Walter Brueggemann, Genesis: Interpretation Commentary, (John Knox Press, Atlanta, 1982), p. 81