This morning’s reading in the The Bible in One Year was the bulk of the flood story from Genesis. It’s been a long time since I began with Genesis and started reading through it (at least since my last Disciple Bible Study Course in 2007). I remember thinking then (and previous Disciple courses) what I do now as I read through it, and there are a couple of things I still don’t know what to do with.
- Historicity: This isn’t a big concern for me as much any more, but was in the past. I grew up believing that Genesis happened as it says in the book. 7-day creation, Adam & Eve, and of course Noah. I have changed, and can see the first few chapters as much more poetic. Noah would be slightly different. I do believe something happened, as there are so many similar stories from the Ancient Near East. I think the conflict comes in when reading the story now is still read against the backdrop of 20+ years of thinking about this story and is still swirling around in my mind. I have a little bit of, ‘OK, what do I do with this story?’ as I read. Actually, the historicity doesn’t particularly bother me, but it has led me to think about the next point.
- Violence: In particular, God’s. Genesis 6:6 says, ‘And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.’ So in his grief, God chooses to wipe out every living thing. He regretted making them and after the flood, in the covenant with Noah, he seems to have regretted doing that, too, and promises that he won’t do that again. In my daughter’s children’s books that have the Noah story in them, these parts are generally left out. Perhaps where the historicity of the account bothers me is what if it did happen this way, what does it say about God? I generally don’t want to think through this, so I think about something else. This morning, I skipped on with relief to the New Testament reading – which was Satan’s temptation of Jesus!
Walter Brueggemann’s answer to point two (and much of the other violence in the Old Testament) was to say that God is a recovering practitioner of violence (he said this in a talk at the 2004 Emergent Theological Conversation). That answer doesn’t sit well with me because of my belief (desire to believe?) in a God who has not changed and is the God of peace that we read in Jesus. Of course there are those who say God isn’t recovering and have no problem with the violence and will accept this story for what it is. Often, these are people who have no problem with military means of solving problems (here, I am not talking about those who believe war may be necessary and have no reflection on the atrocities of it – or second thoughts). So, I can’t take either of these.
Where I have been going lately (and this may change over time) is that this story is told from the perspective of people who themselves may be practitioners of violence, so when the story of the flood is told this is the lens through which they saw God work. The flood waters rose and people died. Hearing this story, the people reflected on their own sin and saw in it a God who needed to cleanse the world. Looking at the story differently, I’m trying to reach in and use Jesus’ interpretation of the people killed in the fall of the tower of Siloam (Luke 13:1-9). Jesus tells them that it wasn’t because of their sin that they died, but it still was a call to remember how death can come at any moment, so we must be prepared by repenting. The people who heard the Genesis story did see reprimand of their own sin, but perhaps through a still violent lens that saw God as violent as well.
I recognise the weaknesses of my interpretation, not least that Genesis says that God regretted making humans and was ready to clear the board and start over. I’m still thinking this through.