When I turned to Hebrews 11:7, which is right in the middle of the Faith Hall of Fame chapter, I wondered why Lisa Nichols Hickman chose to focus on this verse within this amazing passage as a point of reflection for asking the question: “God, what are you preparing me for?”
It’s sort of a horrible thought:
By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
I asked myself the question: Would I be able to condemn the world to save my household? All I could think was: “It was good that I was not the person entrusted with this mission.” I would have said to the wild boar, “Sorry that this may mean your extinction, but I have to make room for my neighbors.” God is obviously not preparing me to be the next Noah!
Then I thought, maybe I’m reading this wrong, so I read Genesis 6-9 several times through, asking myself the question: Did Noah condemn the world through his actions? That’s the only question I hoped to answer from my reading of the text. Quite honestly, I am more familiar with the children’s Bible version of “Noah and the Flood” than I am with the Biblical version, and I had trouble following and understanding these chapters in the Bible. Then I learned (or was reminded) that there are two versions of the ancient story woven together into one story. After struggling, I decided that it’s easier to read the stories one at a time and sort of fun to reflect on their differences. I found the two versions helpfully broken down by verse here and retold each story in simple words for myself in the Excel spreadsheet below:
I was curious to see how God and Noah worked together to accomplish God’s purpose in the story of the great flood, but I still think it seems a little harsh of Paul to suggest that by constructing the ark, Noah condemned the world; to me he seems more like a passive, necessary, obedient participant in God’s plan to start over. He doesn’t ask a whole lot of questions—he just does as God commands. It seems to me that Noah trusted God, probably like no other, through unimaginably difficult times. The whole experience must have been excruciatingly hard on him and his family. Just the thought of living in an ark while it storms for 40 days horrifies me; and the 150 days of waiting for the earth to dry doesn’t sound much better. Reading between the lines: the revelation that God let “fear and dread” of humans fall on the animals after the journey suggests Noah had enough togetherness with the animal kingdom. It’s also telling me that God granted Noah permission to eat animals—No doubt that Noah suffered hunger and resisted eating the animals during the flood. And after the whole ordeal, Noah just wanted some wine. Who can blame him? (I am getting this picture in my mind of a saintly yet rugged family man, a careful and good builder, not that intellectually curious, who might enjoy a simple, casual family barbecue party with beer if he were alive today, basically a good guy.)
I feel like we learn far more about God from the story than Noah. As a life-long Presbyterian familiar with the Westminster Catechism, I know God as “Spirit, infinite, eternal, unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” The whole flood narrative challenges my perception of God, starting with the following verses:
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
It’s like God conducted an experiment that failed; as if God wanted to make a being that could love, but it did not work out as God hoped. Love, of course has this strange nature: although it is written into the law as a command, love cannot be forced; it can only be freely given. Humans are given the freedom not to love God, which also means freedom not to love one another. This freedom can have disastrous consequences. When we freely love God and one another it pleases God. When we do evil, however, God grieves. As humans we are given power to co-create our world and it can be a world of love and kindness or one of evil. It’s our choice. We learn that God set this world in motion and knows what may or can come to be, but God is not the author of sin. And in a stunning and unusual twist, its God who seems changed by the story—at the end it is God who says, “Never again will I do that.”
After reflecting on the story of Noah and the Flood, I try once again to answer the question “God, what are you preparing me for?” The answer I receive this time is simply: “Trust me.”
[I’ve been wanting to play with background color. I tried painting on gesso, using gelatos, and a Faber-Castell Pitt artist brush pen. First effort? I can always cover it up by pasting a bookmark sized paper over it.]