Scripture: Genesis 7:11-24; 8:13-21
When Johnny Carson retired from his legendary run on the Tonight Show it set off the Late Night Wars as his successor Jay Leno and his protégé David Letterman were soon competing on rival networks. Personally, of the two I was always more of a Letterman fan, but Leno did have one bit that I especially liked. Semi-regularly he would do a segment called headlines where he pointed out funny headlines. Sometimes it was an error or bad wording that created the headline and other times the headline was funny because the situation being written about was full of irony and absurdity. While Leno was off the air at the time I remember a headline from a few years ago, that made me think it would have worked well on his segment. The headline read, “Noah’s Ark Damaged by Heavy Rain.” As far as headlines go, it is a funny one because it immediately presents a situation that is flooded with irony. Of course the headline ended up being a little deceiving. The incident being referred to was related to the Noah’s Ark Experience attraction in Kentucky. If you have not been there it is a museum housed in a replica of Noah’s Ark. In 2018 heavy rain caused a landside which damaged an entrance road into the attraction-which is not quite the same thing as the headline implied.
Despite the misleading headline, it and several articles like it made the social media rounds. In part this is because the Noah’s Ark Experience is controversial. It promotes an understanding of natural history and science that seeks to validate scripture as scientifically accurate and in doing so rejects large portions of what is accepted and taught by leading scientists in a wide variety of disciplines. Central to the disagreement between these two viewpoints is the story featured in this morning’s scripture, the story of Noah’s Ark. This is probably why the organization Answers in Genesis chose the Ark to be their featured attraction when they built their park dedicated to creation science. If you have happened to visit the Ark or the Creation Museum that came first, then you have seen firsthand how they do a compelling job at making their case for the historical veracity of this morning’s scripture. On the flipside those who are highly critical of that viewpoint will use the story of Noah’s Ark as a way to tear down the whole of the bible because there are several elements of the story that do not hold up well to modern, observable science. Noah’s Ark is one of the best known stories in all of the bible, but before we can really understand it we have to acknowledge it is a story that has a level of controversy around it, and it is a story with a level of disagreement around it. Because if I am sure if we surveyed the room we would find that there are some here who absolutely believe in the historical accuracy of the biblical flood and there are certainly others who have some very real and critical questions about that accuracy.
If at some point you want to have a conversation about the finer details and points of creation science and evolutionary science, I am more than willing to sit down and have that conversation with you. However, as we consider this story today, I think getting lost in those details is a distraction. Because it does not matter if you view this morning’s scripture as literal historical fact or as a mythological story the truth it contains about who God is does not change. And regardless of our understanding how this story can shape our actions today is the same.
One of the things I have always found ironic about the story of Noah’s Ark is how regularly we tell this story to children. There are thousands of children book adaptations of this story. We tell this story to children because it has animals in it, and often these children adaptations have a smiling Noah in the boat surrounded by a zoo’s worth of different animals. It is ironic we are so quick to share this story with children because by pure body count, this is arguably the most violent story in the entirety of the bible. It is sometimes lost in the fun-loving depiction of animals in the ark, but honestly this is a bit of a dark story. Our particular scripture reading this morning hit some of the high points of the story, but it begins in Genesis 6. Genesis 6:5-6: “The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth and his heart was deeply troubled.”
This is an extremely ominous beginning to the story, and it is a story where God hits the reset button on creation. This is a story of God’s judgement. This fits with the image of God that we get elsewhere in scripture. For instance, Psalm 98:9 declares, “ For He is coming to judge the earth. With righteousness He shall judge the world, And the peoples with equity. One of the consistent messages we get from scripture is that God is holy, God is perfect, and God is just. So in Genesis 6 when God saw how far humanity had fallen, and how evil the world had become the most righteous and just action was to destroy it. Yes, that can seem harsh. The magnitude that God takes in reaction to evil and sin is striking and it is what makes this story a little dark. Yet, God’s righteous judgement is not the only aspect of God’s character present in this story. We also see that God is merciful and grace, because while the world was consumed by evil not every single person was completely wicked. Noah found favor in God’s eyes. God saved Noah and through Noah God saved more of creation.
Yet that is not the only way that God’s mercy is shown in the story of Noah Ark. At the end of the story in Genesis 8:21 God’s thoughts are recorded: “The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done.” Given the complete over-run of evil mentioned in Genesis 6, the destruction caused by the flood was arguably the most just thing to do, yet after doing it God declared “never again.” Despite the wretchedness of a fallen humanity, God stated “never again”. Between the choices of judgement and mercy, God chose mercy when God decided “never again.” God continued to choose mercy, because the human heart has not changed all that much. We are still from childhood, inclined to sin. We are inclined to pride and selfishness, but God does not destroy the world anymore because he pledged never again. Instead of punishing all of humanity for our wrongdoing, God’s judgement instead rested upon his own son. God is still a God of justice but God is still a God of mercy, which is why it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him.” In the story of Noah’s Ark God punished sin by destroying it, and then because God is a God of great mercy God declared “never again” and instead offered grace and forgiveness as the divine response to human sin. Even though this morning’s story begins as a story of judgement it ends by revealing to us God’s mercy.
As we think of this story in light of how it shows God’s just nature and merciful nature I think we can pull out a couple of viewpoints that can impact our behavior and outlook today. I think the first viewpoint should really impact our outlook. I do not know about your experience, but there seems to be a lot of pessimism in the world today. It seems that the only thing that people from different viewpoints have in common is the agreement that the world is getting worse. While people may disagree about what wickedness is causing the deteriorating situation, there seems to be a consensus that evil is winning. Yet, I think it is worth remembering that when God chose to reset the world with the flood because of human evil, God already knew what the world would be like today. Since God knows all things, it could be argued that God chose to judge the world with a flood when human wickedness was at its worst. Since the story remembers that after that judgement God declared “never again”, then it stands to reason that there is some good in the world today that God is not willing to destroy. It is so easy to focus on the evil we see today, but this morning’s scripture reminds us that it could be worse. This morning’s scripture sheds light on the fact that there is good in this world and the good is worth fighting for. I think this scripture can help us evaluate our outlook. Are we focusing on the negative or the positive in the world?
If we focus just on the negative then our view of the world is going to become increasingly pessimistic, cynical, and judgmental. If we primarily focus on the negative then we will the world and the people in it as mostly evil, wicked, and not worth saving. However, if instead of only seeing the negative we make an effort to find, celebrate, and cherish the good the opposite will happen. We will become increasingly gracious, accepting, and forgiving. We will become more likely to build bigger tables instead of bigger walls. If we seek to focus on the good then we will become more merciful in how we treat and view others. We can do this and we can still acknowledge that there are real problems and that there is real evil in the world today But we can decide where we focus our attention. Do we use our voice to amplify and condemn what we view as negative or do we use our voice to lift up and advocate for what is good? Our outlook should be focused on the good, on sharing grace and mercy. Sometimes the good in the world can be hard to find. After all, in this morning’s story in the entire earth God only found Noah, but we should still be willing to look for it because focusing our outlook on the good and not the evil is how we can become more gracious and merciful people.
The second viewpoint we can pull from this story should impact our actions. In the story of Noah’s Ark we see both God’s nature as a righteous judge and as a merciful creator. The overall story of scripture is one that bends towards mercy. While God is still a righteous judge, through Jesus God has led with mercy and grace. If God is willing to lead with mercy and grace in how God has treated each and every one of us, then we should do the same. We should be slow to judge and quick to welcome. We should be slow to condemn and quick to include. We should do more than just have an outlook on life that focuses on grace and mercy, our actions towards others should also be full of grace and mercy. After the flood God declared “never again.” In the biblical narrative this sets the path for mercy, and the reality is today our action go a long way to convincing those outside the church if God is primarily a destroyer or savior. So may we choose to treat all others in a way that points to saving grace.
This morning’s scripture comes from a story that is extremely well known. It is a story that I think any honest reading of invites questions, and it is also a story that courts a fair share of controversy. As someone who really enjoys bible study I totally get the appeal of exploring those questions and diving into the controversy, but when we do so we end up focusing on the wrong details of the story. Because more than anything this story is a story of God’s relationship with humanity. It is a story that shows us more of who God is, and it ends with a promise that God is a God who values mercy. So as God’s people may we take that message to heart. May we also be a people who value mercy. May our attitude and outlook be one that amplifies goodness. In how we treat others may we lead with forgiveness and love. As you likely know the story of Noah’s Ark ends with a rainbow as a sign of God’s everlasting mercy. We might not be as colorful as a rainbow, but may we also be a sign to the world that points others to saving grace.