The Collapse of Creation

The Great Flood

Objective

To describe how the sacred author resolved the dilemma he faced in explaining how God, who is merciful, could have caused a universal disaster.

Background

Legends of a primeval universal flood exist among ancient peoples throughout the world, from the Semites of the Middle East to the native peoples of North America. Often full of mythology and differing greatly from each other in details, all these legends seem to testify to some catastrophic disaster in very ancient times.

The Author

The inspired writer, however, does not include this legend for mere historical purposes. Rather, in the face of the common belief by just about everyone in a universal flood, he is faced with a serious pastoral problem. He has consistently maintained and he truly believes that God does not kill sinners. Even when confronted by hardness and abusive behaviour on the part of men, God remains full of love and mercy. The dilemma, which the sacred author faces then, is to explain how God, who is merciful, could have caused a universal disaster, and would God do such a thing again? Keep in mind that these verses were written some 3,000 years ago.

The author’s way of speaking of God might not be our way. He (J) has a very simple and human way of speaking of God; he has God walking in the garden, putting a sign on Cain’s forehead, having supper with Abraham, wrestling with Jacob.

Exegesis

The author interprets the flood in the introductory and concluding section

Gen 6:5-8 (introduction)

In the flood narrative, God, merciful and tolerant as he is, comes to an end of his patience with sinful mankind. Sin had become a universal fact; men had refused to accept their creaturehood, had abused God’s mercy, and had presumed to claim divine ancestry. The author describes God as being heavy with grief and disappointment when he decides to bring about the destructive flood. The flood is not an act of vengeance, lightly and quickly brought about. God, however, cannot destroy completely; he finds a man who will be the beginning of a new start

Gen 8:20-22 (conclusion to the flood)

At the end of the flood God resolves never to bring about such a disaster on account of the sinfulness of mankind. He promises to give it seasons and stability in spite of sin. God had good reasons for bringing about the flood, but he will never do it again. In his very human way of speaking about God, the sacred author has God first regretting that he had made man, then regretting having brought about such destruction and promising never to act that way again. It is as though the author were saying that God had learned to contend with the sinful situation of mankind and was now determined to make the best of it

Re-creation

Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord, for he was a righteous man, blameless in his generation” (vv. 8-9).

Chosen by the Father to embody and deliver the remnant of the human race, Noah was called to refound God’s family, like a new Adam. Interestingly, the description of God’s flood judgment is notably similar to the pattern of divine Creation in the opening chapters of Genesis. In both cases, a new world would emerge from the chaotic waters of “the deep” (Gen 1:2; 7:11).

The number “seven” also stands out prominently in both accounts. As the sign of God’s “rest” at Creation, it is closely linked to Noah (whose name means “rest” or “relief,” Gen 5:29). Likewise, Noah was ordered to take seven pairs of clean animals into the ark (Gen 7:2), which he did, before closing the door: “After seven days the waters of the flood came upon the earth” (Gen 7:10). And in the seventh month, the ark came to “rest” upon Mount Ararat (Gen 8:4). After a long wait, Noah sent out a dove every seven days (Gen 8:10-12), until his family was finally able to disembark.

After disembarking, Adam’s divine commission was repeated for Noah: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen 9:1). God also restored Noah to Adam’s former position of dominion over the beasts (Gen 9:2). Finally, the Father renewed the creation covenant with Noah (Gen 9:9), revealing to him the sign of the new covenant: “I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth” (Gen 9:13)

Clearly the flood account is presented as a re-creation event. And not only the flood but perhaps also the Fall, in view of other parallels between Adam and Noah: Both find themselves in a garden or vineyard (Gen 2:15; 9:20), where they consume a fruit that exposes their sin and nakedness (Gen 3:6-7; 9:21) and elicits a curse (Gen 3:14-19; 9:25), which redounds to future progeny (Cain and Canaan).

Kindly keep me in your prayers.

In Christ,

Steven Pais