Wednesday, July 14, 2010
I’ve always had a kind of love-hate relationship with the story of Noah’s Ark. It’s a great story, no doubt, and entices people at a very early age. It is a favorite to teach children in Sunday School classes. My kids have a wall hanging showing animals coming off the ark hanging in their bedroom and they have numerous ark-related toys.
But at the same time it is a terrible story that I think puts God in a bad light. Other than being told that wickedness had spread across the world, we don’t really get what God was so upset about. What evil things did the people do to merit such harsh punishment? The Bible does not say. And why wipe out all the animals and birds too? Talk about overkill!
How are we supposed to know how to behave ourselves if we don’t know what the people did wrong? And what did Noah do that was so right? So far, obeying God seems to be the only thing on which to base personal ethics. Do what God wants - shower him with praise and appropriate sacrifices - and you might be OK. Don’t do what God wants and prepare to be harshly punished. And determining what God wanted you to do must have been difficult since at this point we have not yet had the Ten Commandments or any of the prophets.
Up to this point and immediately afterward, I find it difficult to “like” God in these stories. God comes across much of the time as being very vane, petty, egotistical, vindictive, cruel and callous. No doubt he shared many of the same characteristics of people back then as well as today.
I used to wonder about the term “God-fearing”, but it seems clear in the Old Testament days that “fear” was a big part of the reason why people chose to worship God in the first place. Not so much because they loved God, but because they were afraid of what would happen if they did not.
And while Noah and the Ark is a great story, it does not make a lot of sense in the context of what we have just read. If it took God only six days to create the earth, why is it going to take him 180 days to wipe it all out? And why go through this elaborate ordeal of building a huge boat and collecting two of every animal if God can simply create all the animals in one fell swoop all in one day like he did in Chapter 1?
Young Earth Creationists have latched on to the story of the great flood to help prop up their belief in a planet that is only 6,000 years old. By their reasoning, if one can call it that, the flood waters somehow altered things in such a way as to only make it look as if the world is billions of years old rather than just a few thousand. Nevermind that the ancient Egyptians living at the same time as when the flood was supposed to have taken place appear to have been unaffected and have no record of it. However, it is entirely reasonable to believe that there was some kind of regional flooding event upon which the Noah story is based. But whether the story of Noah was a historical reality or an entertaining parable should not be the deciding factor in one’s religious faith.
I personally believe that much if not all of the Genesis stories were just that - stories, parables and myths that taught important lessons and gave people a sense of their relationship with God. In those early days, I think people still had a very child-like perception of God that will become more mature by the time we get to the New Testament.