outside view

Humanity’s Rescue

Humanity’s Rescue:  Creation 4.
Genesis 6: 5 – 8, 11 – 14a, 7: 1 – 5, 8: 1 – 12, 20 -22, 9: 8 – 17
This world needs people of faith to save it from self-harm.
The story of Noah and the great Flood is not a unique story. We have learnt that there is a common story about a great flood that happened long, long ago in many people’s mythologies. There is also geological evidence of a great flood or floods around the world. Ancient peoples tried to make sense of the Flood and interpreted the events through the lens of their belief system.
When the Hebrew people were taken to Babylon in 586 BC they were confronted by stories of a great Flood and the Babylonian interpretation of that Flood. Whether the Hebrew people already had their account of the great Flood or not they reacted to what they heard. Scholars believe that the current Biblical account of the Flood and Ark are a result of Hebrew theologians responding to a wider set of questions about the violent degeneration of humankind. This violence did not correspond to their belief that God had created a good world. Their response is unique and in accordance with their belief and experience in one God the Creator. Today I wish to show how this story of a cataclysmic flood addresses the human condition of sin and God’s response.
The story of Noah and the Flood goes like this. God decided to punish the earth with a great flood because people were so wicked. But there was one person God trusted. So God told that person to build a large boat and that he and his family plus two of each kind of creature were to get on the boat when it started to rain. When the flood subsided all in the boat were saved and life began again. But after the flood humanity’s relationship with God and all creatures was different.
Of course we love to tell this story to children as it provides such a visual picture. There’s Noah, the huge wooden ark and all the animals. Finally there is the rainbow showing that God was working with us again.   The unavoidable process of telling this story to children reduces it to a simplistic and an absurd story leaving more questions than answers.
The main themes of the story in Genesis 6 through to 9 are the depth of humanity’s wickedness, God’s resulting anger and resolve to destroy everything, followed finally with God’s change of mind and new implications for creation.
Humanity’s Wickedness. After the last sermon someone said to me that I had painted a picture of all humanity being sinful. Yes I had. The rebellion or disobedience represented by the man and the woman in the Garden of Eden leaves us in no doubt that all of us are sinners. By that I mean we have broken our connection with God and creation by asserting our own will. The letter to the Romans makes it quite clear that we have all fallen short of the glory of God [Rom 3: 23]. This means that we need God to rescue us from our self-wills and destructive ways that cause so much sadness and strife in the world. It means that we can never take our eyes off Christ Jesus, the one who is the true image of God; otherwise we slip into our destructive human ways. This is a profound truth we ignore at our peril.
My reading of history tells me that there are times when humans fall into a way of being that hideously violates and destroys others.  What is strange in such histories is that a few lead the way and the rest of the group or nation quietly let it happen. Some even pretend that they don’t know that it happened. History shows that a cultured, intelligent and educated people have the capacity to be entirely evil.
I recall listening to one of our past prime ministers telling us how he and a friend were reminiscing about their fathers. The story went that one of the fathers had got up from Sunday lunch on the farm and said to the other, ‘Let’s go hunting.’  Hunting they went and at the end of the day they returned saying they had got one or two.  They weren’t talking about kangaroos or birds. They were talking about black fellas! These men were pillars of the community. They produced fine sons.  At least one of the sons was outstanding. Let us not pretend that that was not part of the Australian scene. The reality is that our silence on evil is tantamount to agreement with it. Having spent much of the day walking around Buchenwald concentration camp near the town of Weimar, Germany, I recall the black and white film of the allied forces liberation of Buchenwald.  Buchenwald was a Nazi concentration camp for murderers, communists, gypsies, homosexuals and Jews. It was not too bad a place. That’s if you measure badness on the number of deaths in that camp.  Only 80,000 inmates were murdered and burnt there from 1936 – 45. Interesting to note that 58,000 were killed in the last 12 months of the war. You don’t have to dig deep to see that in this beautiful German forest was a hideous place of fear, hatred and death. It was conducted by a highly intelligent and deeply cultured people. The liberating commander witnessed the horrific sight of the surviving inmates of Buchenwald and immediately sent soldiers to fetch the town folk of Weimar. They were shown the camp and its horrors. Many Weimar citizens pretended they did not know about it. But how could they not know? Weimar was so close to Buchenwald camp that the stench of burning flesh could not be mistaken.
Our greatest sin may not be what we have done, but what we have failed to do. That is why we need to live in humility and with forgiveness. Without humility and forgiveness, which forms the beginning of transformation, our lives will be part of the wickedness of humanity.
God’s Anger.  Genesis 6 tells us that when God saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.  7 So the LORD said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” [Gen 6: 5-7] So God resolved to flood the earth and destroy what God had created, except he made an exception with Noah and the Ark.
Now we find it hard to stomach the notion of an angry God.  Our Sunday diet is about God’s love, forgiveness and grace. Let’s ask ourselves a question. If I had created this world as a good place for all and I looked on the world today, what would I feel? What would you feel? How many of you would feel happy or content with what you had made?  How many of you would be angry?  I must confess that I look at this world and I know I did not make it, and I am saddened and angry.  I am angry at our stupidness and wilfulness. The people who make a difference encourage me, but I am angry at the level of hurt, brokenness, and exploitation. So why shouldn’t God be angry with us? Unlike us, God made a good thing – a truly good world. So why would we be surprised to read of God’s anger?
What this story tells us is that God is angry at our behaviour – really angry. But what God does with his (sic) anger is uniquely God-like. Human anger leads to punitive and retributive justice: God’s anger leads to regenerative justice.
The Flood story shows the depth of God’s anger at our sinful selfish behaviour. God was prepared to destroy the whole of creation. Has not many an artist looked at their work and decided it is not good enough and destroyed it. It is perfectly reasonable to think the Supreme Artist would think the same. Now God’s anger is important, because it tells us that God has standards and will not compromise them. God’s anger tells us that God cares about this world. One is not angry because they don’t care. It is because God cares that God is angry. What is important is what God does with the anger. In the end, and every time in the Bible we read of God’s anger, God does something that is gracious. God acts to forgive and rescue the situation. God acts to right the wrong. No clearer example of God acting to right the wrong is the Cross of Christ Jesus. This is why we can talk about Grace.  Grace is the undeserved love of God extended to us for our redemption and transformation. This is the first implication of the story of the Flood. There is the possibility of rescue and restoration presented to humanity.
Secondly, the story of the Flood marks the end of the harmony between humans and God and the whole of creation.  Whereas in Genesis 1: 27-29 the animals and humans share the same table of food – the plant life – and live in harmony now it is all changed. Humans have destroyed that harmony.  Animals now live in fear of humans, because humans have become meat eaters [Gen 9: 2].  Now God allows humans to eat the flesh but not the blood. Blood represented life for the ancient Hebrew. God is the life-giver, so the blood belongs to God. Though humans may now eat flesh they are still accountable to God about how they do so. This is another implication of the story – the harmony between the creature and the human is broken, but humans are still accountable for how we treat animals.
Thirdly, God’s graciousness is expressed in the promise of keeping the seasons until the end of time. The seasons and the productive nature of earth is God’s gift to us in God’s forbearance and love.  This is the third implication.
The final one I will mention this morning is that humankind’s relationship with God has changed. We are now in need of restoration. So rituals of forgiveness and renewal remind us of our need to remain humble and thankful to God.  It is through humility that we open ourselves to the transforming love of God in Christ Jesus. It is through thankfulness with the help of the Holy Spirit that we maintain our relationship with God. Worship in song and prayer are essential to our well-being as God’s creatures.  This world needs people of faith to save it from self-harm.
Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC:  25/09/2016
 / www.leighmoorunitingchurch.org.au