Genesis 7:1-5; Genesis 9:8-17; I Peter 3:18-22
I have found Noah’s Ark. Strangely it’s in Williamstown, Kentucky. I’m sure this is a surprise to Noah and to you. Who knew that Noah’s Ark had come to rest in Williamstown Kentucky? You know, of course, that I’m pulling your leg, and I am referring to the replica of the ark built by the folks down the road at the Creation Museum. This $150 million museum, along with its bookend partner, The Creation Museum is intended to promote a kind of biblical literalism that insists that God deliberately drowned almost four billion people in the flood. Sue and Bill Trollinger, authors of Righting America at the Creation Museum have visited the ark. They remind us that Jesus Christ gets very little attention at the Ark Encounter and at the Creation Museum. He appears as a savior to be sacrificed rather than a teacher to be followed. “It is perhaps understandable that the man who overturned cultural boundaries, embraced the poor and outcast, and called his followers to love their enemies doesn’t get much play in an institution devoted to waging a culture war” (Emily Hunter McGowin).
Also missing from the Ark Encounter are the Jews – God’s chosen people. Emily Hunter McGowin says that the Ark’s version of the biblical story goes straight from Genesis 10 (the Tower of Babel story) to Matthew 1 (Christ). They leave out the story of God’s people, Israel, and their relationship to God. For an organization dedicated to the Bible’s veracity and trustworthiness, it is strange that the story of God’s relationship with Israel, to which the majority of the Bible is devoted, is largely ignored. says “In the museum … Jews have been consigned to playing the minor roles in a drama scripted by Christians” (46).
In addition to ignoring the Old Testament people of God, “Answers in Genesis” is also not much interested in the church, the New Testament people of God. Only by leaving out Israel and the Church are these devoted literalists able to avoid the centuries of interpretative history in Jewish and Christian scholarship. It would be impossible to be any more ahistorical. Dr. McGowin pointedly says, “Rather than the Creation Museum, it would be more accurate to call it the Museum of a Modern American Fundamentalist Interpretation of the Bible.”
If you believe in a literal flood story, you need to know what you have signed up to believe. The point of the Ark Encounter is hell. “Believe in Noah’s Ark and the global flood and – especially – the drowning of billions of human beings, and you will have no trouble believing in the idea that billions of human beings are going to be damned to the eternal, conscious torment of hell. Doubt the drowning of billions, and you might doubt the burning of billions. For creationists in general the global flood prefigures the hell to come. Damnation and hell are not peripheral aspects of their worldview; damnation and hell are central to their worldview” (Sue and Bill Trollinger). And then they say, “The museum’s and ark’s controlling and repetitive narratives of disobedience and punishment, especially with their emphasis on the global flood and Noah’s Ark, make it clear that judgment . . . for all humanity is forthcoming, and with it the rescue of a faithful remnant and eternal damnation for the rest of humanity. That is to say, for many (perhaps most) human beings the future means hell” (Righting America, 224). In the end, this is what building a life-size ark was all about. Indeed, in the world of literalism, this is what Christianity is all about. Beliefs have consequences. Literalism commits you to billions of people drowning in the flood and billions more burning in hell for eternity.
You should also know that scholars believe that the population of the earth at the time of the flood story was about 170 million. Biblical literalists, however, say there were as many as four billion people on earth at the time of the flood. So believing this scenario means accepting that God deliberately destroyed all but 8 of 4,000,000,000 people. Then the literalists insist that about 5 billion people will be consigned to hell for eternity. So this is what you get: 4 billion drown in a primordial flood; 5 billion are sent to hell. That’s 9 billion people destroyed by the hand of God. And believers in the literal flood never say a word about the children destroyed in their story. Not caring about the children is more than I can take. I simply can’t accept this reading of God’s Word.
There is another way to read the stories of Genesis 1-11. These are primordial, archetypal stories of the ancient Hebrew culture. These are the stories that bind a people to one another. These are known as apocryphal stories. They are true but didn’t actually happen. God seems a bit out of focus, out of kilter in these stories. Humans, as we tend to do, blame God for the flood. People are wicked therefore they must be punished. God is seen as the stern parent who loves you but has to now drown almost everyone to make a point. There’s nothing about this story that makes sense theologically. Blaming God for a natural disaster and saying that it is judgment doesn’t cut it with me. I’ve been listening to Pat Robertson makes these kinds of accusations for more than 3 decades and they don’t ring true – not in Noah’s time and not in ours. When Disneyworld announced “Gay Days,” Pat rolled out one of his top ten stupid sayings: “I would warn Orlando that you’re right in the way of some serious hurricanes, and I don’t think I’d be waving those flags in God’s face if I were you. This is not a message of hate — this is a message of redemption. But a condition like this will bring about the destruction of your nation. It’ll bring about terrorist bombs; it’ll bring earthquakes, tornadoes, and possibly a meteor.” Pat blamed Katrina on God’s wrath. He has plenty of company. Atheists routinely roll out the “blame God” argument because while atheists, in good times, don’t believe in God, as soon as a natural disaster hits, they blame the God in whom they don’t believe for causing it.
So there was an ancient flood. It covered all the land as far as people could see. People drowned in the flood, but it was not God’s doing. Look, when your city, your community floods, to you it’s a world-wide flood.
Why people obsess over God causing disasters is a mystery to me. Why can’t we concentrate on God’s mercy, patience, and goodness? In the story of Noah we learn that divine patience was stronger than human sin. And if the purpose of the flood was to wipe out human sin, what’s the deal with Noah right after he got off that ark and put his feet on solid ground again? Well, Noah got drunk – an understandable reaction to all that time on a boat with all those animals and his family. Then the story gets stranger when one of Noah’s boys, Canaan sees his drunken father naked. When Noah sobered up, he cursed Canaan with perpetual slavery.
Getting drunk and getting naked sounds like the human story? Hank Williams, Jr. sings in theological terms: “Hank, why do you drink? Hank, why do you roll smoke? Why must you live out the songs that you wrote? So if I get stoned, I’m just carrying on an old family tradition.” That’s the flood story – our story, an old family tradition. It’s about us and it’s about every generation drowning in darkness and despair.
Do you know that Southern preachers used this text to prove that God approved of slavery? That’s right, they read this story and said that Canaan, Noah’s son, the one who saw his drunk daddy naked, was a black man and that God ordained that the descendants of Canaan would be slaves forever. How a bunch of tee-total Baptist preachers got slavery out of that text instead of another proof text to hammer down on drinking escapes my imagination.
Listen we can trust God. We can trust the mercy of God. We can depend upon the providence of God – maximum support, minimum protection. God is not the architect of evil; God is the conqueror of hell and has condemned evil and death by the power of the cross; God is light and life and love and the divine path opened to all humanity by way of the resurrection.
The story of the flood goes deep in our memory. We still have the mud from the primordial sea between our toes and a watermark on our bodies. Listen to our conversational water metaphors: “I’m up to my neck in trouble.” “I’m in over my head.” “It’s getting deep in here.” “That’s over my head.” We came from the waters as part of our evolution that finally led to two-legged humans like us walking on dry land.
Floods are common to river people. When I lived in Dayton, a hundred years after the Great Flood, it was still a topic of regular conversation. Books were written about it. A play was produced. There were markers on lamp posts and buildings showing how high the water was. The First Baptist Church is designed to look like a ship turned upside down. Upon my arrival, I announced that if the flood came again, we would flip the building and sail to safety. In the 1913 flood, the entire city was under water. And as people went to the top floors of high rise buildings downtown, a fire broke out and people were crossing roof tops trying to get away from flood and fire. Who would have guessed that the Dayton flood could be an analogy for the theology of the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter? And then the rain turned to snow. Now, that’s a disaster. Roz Young wrote, “In the minds of old Daytonians, Noah’s flood was small potatoes compared with The Flood.” In the 1993 flood of the Mississippi River, a bumper sticker read, “St Louis: A river runs through it, around it, and over it.” We should not be surprised that there’s a flood story in our most ancient accounts of human existence. Everybody’s got flood stories. Flooding on the Illinois River is a fact of life.
Read Noah’s flood story any way that floats your boat, but the tension in the story is God’s patience and human rebellion. After the flood, God slung his bow into the sky as a sign that he would never again act in this way against earth. Scholars tell us that the rainbow was actually God’s war bow and that’s it’s a sign of peace. What an odd relationship we have with rainbows. We gasp when we see them in the sky. The Irish tell us that there’s a leprechaun with a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The Gay Pride movement flies a rainbow flag. I have a rainbow stole.
The fundamentalists are not really fond of the rainbow in the air and they still are working out their residual resentment over God having a rainbow in their persistent and pernicious attacks on gays and lesbians. God having a rainbow doesn’t appeal to them. If you tell a fundamentalist that God promised never to destroy the world again, they will tell you, “God promised never to destroy the world with a flood again. Next time, fire.” How angry do you have to be to swallow that kind of theology?
The world has never indicated that it wishes to be saved from destruction and violence. Our constant wars are testimony to human sin. God put away his war bow, but not us. We keep building bigger arsenals and fighting more wars. We are exhausting the resources of an entire generation in war today. When we are confronted by the ongoing violence of school shootings, we indicate that we have no intention of doing anything to save our children from these traumatic events. We care more about guns than we care about children. When a culture is willing to expose children to danger, it’s sunk as deep into degradation as possible. When are we going to hang our war bow in the sky as a sign to our children that we will not study war or violence anymore? When are we going to live under the sign of the rainbow?
When are Christians going to make like the prophet Habakkuk and cry out in the streets: O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous—therefore judgement comes forth perverted.
The good news: Jesus is God’s rainbow in person, God saying, “You’ll never again have any grounds for thinking I’m out to get you. I will follow you to the depths of hell to love you to life.” God has no secret, selfish agenda. We can trust in God Almighty. God’s agenda is peace and love. The universe is stitched together with unbreakable love. God is love! This is the voice of Almighty God crying, “Never again” to the destruction of dreams, the loss of loves, the murdering of hopes, and the elimination of heavens.
Please note that God’s war bow is pointed away from earth, away from us, and if any arrows were shot from the rainbow, they would all go into outer space. If heaven’s army has rich military targets, earth is not one of them.
The story of the flood is with us always. It was still unfinished business for the writer of I Peter. Peter has Jesus, during the time after his death and before his resurrection, preaching to the spirits in prison from the time of Noah. This is where the Apostle’s Creed got that amazing statement: “He descended into hell.” Jesus broke open the gates of hell and set the prisoners free. He put the prison industry of eternity out of business.
What then do the stories mean? Our God says, “Never again will I destroy you. COME UNTO ME. YOU ARE FORGIVEN. COME ON IN THE WATERS OF BAPTISM ARE FINE. TAKE THIS BREAD; TAKE THIS CUP. LIVE UNDER THE RAINBOW!