Last year my church began reevaluating the images we used to decorate the children’s department. I remember specifically debating whether illustrations of Noah’s Ark should remain on the walls. It’s an easy Bible story to use as decoration — there’s a boat, water, and animals — all very fun images for children’s ministry.
Reading the actual text of The Flood narrative caused us all to pause. We even asked at what age we found it appropriate to teach children the story of Noah’s Ark.
There’s no denying that The Flood narrative is a violent story — just look at Genesis 7:21-23: “And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth.”
So God sweeps the earth of all of its inhabitants, leaving only Noah, his family, and a few of each of the animals. The root question here is “Why?”
I have heard a number of pastors use this particular text to describe the anger of God. They claim that the world had fallen so far away from what God originally envisioned that God essentially entered into a rage and destroyed the world. Not only that, but some religious leaders even associate floods that happen today with God’s judgment and wrath.
Here are two of the biggest issues with reading The Flood narrative in that particular way:
- God never expresses anger during The Flood — He expresses heartbreak. Before the Flood ever takes place, we know that God “regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved (atsav) him to his heart” (v. 6). God isn’t angry; He feels betrayed and abandoned. And the flood follows out of those feelings of hurt and sadness.
- It’s easy to impose anger as an attribute of God in this text, because one of the most prominent heresies still in the Christian waters is that the God of the Old Testament is wrathful and violent, while the Jesus of the New Testament is peaceful and loving. In a subtle effort to maintain this binary, we read over the verses describing how God was in a state of grief before the flood ever happened (Gen. 6:6), and that afterward He promised to never flood the earth again (Gen. 8:20-22). Those statements don’t override the harsh realities detailed in chapter 7; rather, they give us a fuller picture of the complex God we worship.
Painting God as an angry monster who is out to get the world isn’t a helpful way of conceptualizing this text, nor is it biblically accurate. What we actually have is a God who created us in His image, breathed His spirit into our nostrils, created a perfect partner for us so we would never be alone, and then felt the hurt of us betraying the one command in the garden.
So God attempts to reconcile us again to Himself outside of Eden, and shortly thereafter Cain kills his brother Abel. God sends Cain out of his presence and blesses Eve with another son, Seth. And God continues this cycle of striving over and over again to live in close, intimate relationship with us, while we continue to counter His efforts. We arrive at chapter 6 in Genesis, and God feels such grief and exasperation that He decides to press “restart” on the world, except for the one family who had remained faithful. And afterward God realizes the damage He’s done, and promises never to do that again.
The biblical text continues on with this trend of God craving closer relationship, us betraying Him, and God then trying to work out a new system to reconcile us together again. And each time we leave, God expresses strong emotion, but rarely is it anger — He feels exasperated, even shocked, and ultimately heartbroken and grieved.
So may we reconsider today the ways we envision God. May we contemplate the ways we feel heartbroken, and perhaps the ways that God feels heartbroken as well. And may we draw closer to the One who loves us so deeply, and craves our devotion and love in return.