Jesus said, “When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day” (Matthew 24:37, NLT). Considering the direction our world is headed, an impending flood-like crisis doesn’t sound far-fetched. How can we escape the coming catastrophe? When will God finally act? What hope do we have?
I am most interested in what the flood narrative has to say about God and the world: “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).
If you expect God to burst with anger, this would be the time, yet the flood story does not reveal an angry God but a deeply grieved God. Behind the flood is a God filled with sorrow at what humanity has become (Genesis 6:6). God is so heartbroken that He regrets creating humans. God had wanted His precious creation to turn out better. Is He a weak, pansy, marshmallow God, or does judgment proceed from such a grieving heart?
The generation of the flood was judged for its sin. The story candidly conveys God’s destruction of those who rebelled against Him, but notice God’s observation: “The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence” (Geneses 6:13, ASV). Was God revealing what was about to happen and describing humankind’s capacity to destroy itself? The earth at that time was infused with a sense of ending. People had “ruined” themselves and the earth, and God responded accordingly (Genesis 6:11, NET). God’s Spirit was no longer willing to “strive” with them to protect them (Genesis 6:3), and the chaos erupting from the sin of violence was unleashed. It was a violent judgment, no doubt, but not by a violent God.
The opposite of being lawless and violent is being just and blameless. God called Noah a just man, perfect and blameless in His generation (Genesis 5:24, 6:9). Was Noah actually perfect or merely better than the wickedness around him? Did his righteous character need no improvement? The story tells us that Noah found grace in God’s sight (Genesis 6:8). Now that’s an interesting concept. I don’t think this was the unmerited favor that some religious people talk about when they define grace because it was not randomly granted. Noah obeyed God’s commands (Genesis 6:22) and was a person of integrity who was precious in God’s sight. Noah “walked with God” (Genesis 6:9). Walking with God means aligning ourselves with Him and coming to know Him better, and this is not an unattainable goal. Noah found favor by following and receiving God’s grace. Noah inspires me to seek such grace in my life.
The ark itself represents God’s rescue of a ruined world on the verge of self-destruction. Noah avoided the violence that was ruining the earth and built an ark as God commanded. We too can build something positive rather than contributing to our world’s cycle of violence and lost virtue. Theologian Stephen H. Webb describes Noah’s ark as the greatest symbol of humans’ constructive role in assisting God (On God and Dogs, p. 21). How I treat others, how I treat animals, and how I tend to God’s creation really do matter.
Noah’s story reveals the one who brings us rest and comfort, but Jesus’s story goes much further and has a different ending (Genesis 5:29). When Jesus comes, grace is amplified as God pours a flood of healing grace upon the world. However, one could argue that at this time, the earth suffered as much wickedness and violence as in Noah’s day and was once more on the brink of destruction. God could have destroyed the earth again, but He did not (John 3:6-17). God could have sent Jesus to condemn every sinner, but He sent Him to save—and not just eight people. He saved the world. Jesus spared sinners, giving His life in the deluge of evil and violence. He was slain with violence, the raging flood waters of evil crashing against Him and unleashing their violence as the forces of chaos burst forth against the cross. I stand breathless, staring in speechless wonder at the very thought of such underserving favor. Through the faithfulness of Jesus we are given access “into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2, ESV).
Jesus became the ark for all humanity and all creation. Through Him, God offered to safely carry us from a world that will end to a new world filled with hope.
Yet, why was God’s response to wickedness in Jesus’s day so different than His response in Noah’s?
Many today have a “flood mindset,” calling for God to blast evil from this world. The solution, however, is not a flood but the grace of God raining on us. Force does not work; one can’t drown out evil. And what could Noah have done better? Jewish commentators note that the legacy of Noah is less righteous than that of Abraham, who argued with God about the justice of annihilation. What if Noah had asked God for another chance to save one more person? Abraham pleaded with God, begging Him not to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, but Noah made no such plea. Though Jesus wept over the fate of His nation, Noah did not seem heartbroken over the wickedness of his generation. With His assurance to Noah that “never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Genesis 9:11), God makes a promise of grace:
“This is like the days of Noah to me:
as I swore that the waters of Noah
should no more go over the earth,
so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you,
and will not rebuke you.
For the mountains may depart
and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,”
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”Isaiah 54:9–10, ESV
This world may tend toward destruction, but this is not where God is leading us. The flood story is not about God lashing out at sinful humans. It should encourage us to expect compassion from Him, for it shows us God’s commitment to mercy and grace. Contemplate the love of Christ displayed on the cross and ask how it makes a difference in our lives. Might the last generation of faithful “Noahs” be more willing to put their lives on the line for others? Noah was obedient and righteous, but might he have missed an opportunity? We are right to express concern at the loss of human virtue, but we must remember God’s steadfast love and not abuse it. We must use our voices to promote God’s loving warning and His benevolent character. Perhaps none will respond, and judgment may be certain, but the proper message is God’s self-sacrificing love and His marvelous abounding grace. We must break from the violence and evil in our world and join God in His act of rescue.
Craig Ashton Jr.