This morning I chose to use a coffee mug that a church gifted me a few months back. The side of the mug displays the words of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” It’s a powerful verse, and because of that, it’s everywhere: on billboards, commercials, tracks, promotions, even my coffee mug. Christians have used that particular verse for a variety of means.
I similarly realized that the verses for today have gotten a weighty amount of traction among a variety of Christian communities. They’ve become highly politicized, and their messages have led to vastly dissimilar ends.
We read in Genesis 9:1-3, “God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘Be fertile, multiply, and fill the earth. All of the animals on the earth will fear you and dread you—all the birds in the skies, everything crawling on the ground, and all of the sea’s fish. They are in your power. Everything that lives and moves will be your food. Just as I gave you the green grasses, I now give you everything.'”
Do you remember when we discussed the idea that Noah was supposed to function as a New Adam? We see this happening here as well. Just after God creates the man and the woman in His image in Genesis 1, this is what the text says:
“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.’ Then God said, ‘I now give to you all the plants on the earth that yield seeds and all the trees whose fruit produces its seeds within it. These will be your food. To all wildlife, to all the birds in the sky, and to everything crawling on the ground—to everything that breathes—I give all the green grasses for food.’ And that’s what happened. God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good.” — Gen. 1:28-31
The text confirms for us that God reset the earth with Noah, and needed Noah to do the work that Adam had originally done by being fertile, multiplying, and filling the earth (peru urevu umelu).
Rather than accepting Genesis 9:1-3 as a continued plot point in the story of God’s continued efforts toward reconciliation with humanity, a number of Christians use these verses instead as imperatives for us to follow. And when they take a descriptive story and make it a prescription for us to follow, some stark polarizations arise. Here are just a few:
In 2007, Ann Coulter published her take on the Genesis texts in her book If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans, arguing, “God gave us the earth. We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the trees. God said, ‘Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It’s yours. — Hannity & Colmes, 6-20-01.‘” For Coulter, these verses demonstrate God encouraging us to violently debase and abuse the creation.
In contrast, Huffington Post published a blog by Rabbi Shoshanna Meira Friedman in 2014 entitled, “‘We Are All Noah Now’ (Noah, Genesis 6:9-11:32).” Friedman claims, “To live in Noah times means practicing radical hope amidst the burden of consequences. It means building the largest possible ark of disaster readiness. It means remembering that the rainbow, dove, and olive branch – these now-universal symbols of hope – come to us from the story of the near-destruction of all life on earth… To live in Noah times, then, means to be awake to the great calling of our own generation, to respond with radical hope and collective action to the crisis of climate change.”
Coulter and Friedman use the same text to make vastly contrasting arguments: that we should rape and exploit the earth on the one hand, and that we must reverse the damage of climate change on the other. My point here is not to argue for one position or another: it’s to show how a prescriptive reading of the text can lead to such extreme and opposed consequences.
We have to be careful with this sacred text. The moment we begin using it to make claims about current affairs and hot-button issues, we should step back and really examine whether the text bears out our claims. And if we decide that it does, we then need to look at the practical consequences of what we’re saying.
If we read the Bible for what it actually tells us, we see in these verses God giving Noah the freedom that God once gave the first man and woman. God tells Noah and his sons to make themselves at home. To have children, to eat, and to live in the creation that God has given them. For some, that interpretation falls flat: it’s not exciting or controversial.
I disagree, though: the Bible tells us in these verses that we have a God who, after enduring heartbreak by humanity, goes to great lengths to find a way to reconcile us to Himself. He changes the state of the entire world, with the hope that the one family who had showed him faithfulness before the flood would remain faithful to Him afterward as well. This is a God who trusts, who perseveres, who forgives, and who loves us beyond what we could ever imagine. And that means far more for us today and for always than any politicized stance ever will.