What is the Bible? Part 2: Flood
Part 2: Flood
Let’s talk about floods. Because the ancients did. The Sumerians told flood stories, the Mesopotamians told flood stories, the Babylonians told flood stories-stories about water and its destructive power to wipe out towns, cities, civilizations, and people were not unusual in the ancient world.
There were even stories about people building boats to survive these floods.
In these flood stories, all that water coming to destroy humanity was understood to be divine judgment for all of the ways people had made a mess of things. The gods are angry, it was believed, and a flood was their way of clearing the deck to start over.
For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth…[Genesis 7]
So when we come to a story about a flood in the book of Genesis, it’s not that unusual. This flood story is like the other flood stories because this god is like the other gods-fed up with the depravity of humanity, unleashing divine wrath in the form of a flood.
But then this story does something strange. It ends with the divine insistence that’s never going to happen again.
And then this God brings a rainbow and a promise and a covenant.
A covenant. A covenant is an agreement, an oath, a relational bond between two beings who belong to each other.
This was not how the other flood stories ended. In those stories, the gods are angry and everybody dies and the gods are satisfied. End of story.
But this god is different. This god commits to living with people in a new way, a way in which life is preserved and respected.
So why was this particular story told?
Why did this story matter?
Why did it endure?
First, imagine if you had no pictures of earth from outer space, no weather reports, no Google images, no airplanes-imagine if you’d never been more than a few miles from where you were born. And then imagine water-massive, undulating, swirling, terrifying water-coming at you out of nowhere and wiping your entire life away.
Imagine what that would do to your psyche.
You would do what we do whenever we suffer-you’d look for causes. And in the ancient world, it was generally agreed upon that the forces that caused these kind of things were the gods who had had it up to here with humans and all their backstabbing, depraved ways and had decided to unleash their wrath.
That’s how people saw the world.
But then there’s a twist: this story starts in a familiar way, a way that people would have heard before, but then it heads in a different direction. A very different direction, a direction involving rainbows and oaths and covenants.
This was not how people talked about the gods.
The gods are pissed off-that’s how people understood the gods.
But this story, this story is about a God who wants to relate-
A God who wants to save-
A God who wants to live in covenant…
This story is about a new view of God.
Not a God who wants to wipe people out,
but a God who wants to live in relationship.
So yes, it’s a primitive story.
Of course it is.
It’s a really, really old story.
It reflects how people saw the word and explained what was happening around them.
But to dismiss this story as ancient and primitive is to miss that at the time this story was first told it was a mind blowing new conception of a better, kinder, more peaceful God who’s greatest intention for humanity is not violence but love.
It’s primitive, but it’s also really, really progressive.
One more thought, this one about unicorns.
(How great was that sentence?)
You’ll often hear people talk about stories from the Bible such as this one with a certain rolling of the eyes, as in can you believe people still believe this stuff?
Much of this cynicism is due to the way stories like these have been told-often by well meaning religious people trying to prove that there actually were two animals at a time that went in to an ark and
Yes, the boat really was big enough
Of course God had a plan for where to put the elephant poo.
That sort of thing. What this stilted literalism does, in its efforts to take the story seriously, is often miss the point of the story. This story was a major leap forward in human consciousness, a breakthrough in how people conceived of the divine, another step toward a less violent, more relational understanding of the divine.
It starts like the other flood stories started,
but then it goes somewhere different.
Now from floods, let’s talk about fish.
Specifically, fish that swallow people for three days and then vomit them up.
Next - What is the Bible? Part 3: Fish
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