Do you recall reading the tale of Noah and the flood as a child? Did it bother you? How could the God we worship destroy virtually all life on the earth? And, given all the destruction that has befallen the world since, what are we to make of God’s promise that He would never do such a thing again?
These questions are so vexing that they may contribute to driving some folks away from faith altogether. But should they? In the spirit of seeking understanding in lieu of giving up, let’s wrestle with the text and see what we find.
First, pay attention to the description of the world that Noah faced; it was “corrupt and filled with violence.” “All creatures behaved corruptly on the earth.” It’s hard to imagine that all creatures in the world have ever been corrupt and violent at any particular time.
Why are we being told this improbable tale? Is this simply about a transition from a primordial world to our own?
Or, in a preview of Abraham, is this about Noah showing the saving power of righteousness? Judgment will never again be made against a whole world. The responsibility for living righteously will forever fall to each of us.
It may also be that we’re now being taught that we each play a part in assuring that violence and corruption never become pervasive. And God wants to help us in that work.
Look precisely at what God says after the flood. “I will no longer curse the earth because of man, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from youth, and I will no longer smite all living things as I have done.”
What does man’s imagination to evil have to do with anything? God presumably has always known about this inclination. After all, we were created with it. Is it possible that dealing with this reality, which is the most worrisome feature of our nature, is the core enduring issue?
God had taught Adam and Eve that actions have consequences. God had taught Cain that we must resist sin and take responsibility for our brother.
Perhaps, in the new world, we learn that our primary preoccupation from childhood must be to correct our heart from following the imaginations of evil. The teachings of all the rest of Torah are to be guidance for this work.
God begins by helping Noah right away. We’re instructed never to shed the blood of man, “for in the image of God He made man.” In other words, God is now guiding us in ways to live to prevent the conditions that lead the world to become corrupt and violent.
These expectations are featured in a new covenant God makes with Noah, which holds with all who follow him. We now have personal and communal duties to God and others.
Accountability will be for each of us. “But your blood, of your souls, I will demand [an account]; from the hand of every beast I will demand it, and from the hand of man, from the hand of each man, his brother, I will demand the soul of man.”
The text from the Prophets that is paired with Noah helps our understanding tremendously. Isaiah is consoling those who have experienced the pain and punishment of exile. They suffered greatly, but the world was not destroyed; nor were they. Indeed they are given great hope, even to be glad and to flourish.
Crucially, this is hope grounded in covenant, with Divine expectations. “All your children will be students of God, and your children’s peace will be abundant.” Further, they are to establish themselves through righteousness and distance themselves from oppression.
The God Who promised never to smite all the living and destroy the world says through Isaiah, oppression and devastation “may indeed gather together, but it is without My consent.” God will not destroy the world or us, and though there are awful perils in the world, they operate without God’s consent, and, in time, will fail.
“This is the heritage of God’s servants, and their righteousness from Me.” This is the world after the flood – God guides, supports, and holds us accountable. With God, through righteousness, loving kindness, and mercy, we can help redeem the world.