April 21, 2014


Author's note: I started writing this about a day after the whole "controversy" started over the movie that was just released. After a lot of thought, I didn't post it immediately so I could be more thoughtful about my words. I'm glad I waited; the words have evolved a lot, and while it seems no longer "relevant" in terms of timeliness, I hope they are still edifying.

When Liz and I were first married, she somehow convinced me to volunteer in the children's wing with her for a month. We were assigned to the 3's and 4's class. I was not yet a parent, had very little experience with children, and so I wasn't really sure how she'd roped me into this (Liz had been a children's director and had loads of babysitting and nannying experience, so at least the kids had that going for them). And while I did ok, I learned that I would never be a successful children's pastor. I'm ok with that.

But I'll never forget the Sunday we taught the kids the story of Noah's Ark.

We started with some ark-related activities - a water tub with some boats they could drive around, animal coloring sheets, that sort of thing. Finally, it was time for the story. We had done pretty well - most of the kids were sitting on their carpet circles and were listening intently. But as Liz got to the part where the sky opens up and the rain starts to fall - I kid you not - there was a huge boom of thunder outside and it started to pour rain.

You can't plan that kind of awesome.

While I was a rookie with kids, even I knew enough to keep my mouth shut from pointing outside and saying "hey, kinda like that guys!" I really wanted to, but I didn't. Of course, we hadn't finished the story yet, and evidently most of the kids hadn't heard this one before, because their imaginations kicked into high gear. They kept asking if we were all going to die, if they could see their parents one last time, and why God was angry. And of course there was




Somehow, Liz got their attention and finished the story as quickly as she could, to get to the rainbow and the promise at the end, and after that I think we were ok. But it was a sobering reminder to me of why the story of Noah is not to be trifled with. Why we teach this story to little kids, I'll never know. It's a very dark story, full of evil, death, and tragedy. It's not a story that allows us to maintain our innocence of the hard things of the world. But I suppose it has some (potentially cute) animals and a boat. See, the kids understood - they hadn't been spoiled by the way their parents and grandparents would downplay the death of the world and instead focus on the cute animals. They hadn't yet learned that the story of Noah doesn't happen anymore, that epic floods and giants and miracles and tragic heroes just don't really happen in our world because the Bible is really just a collection of moral stories that help us learn to be good entitled pain-free american citizens ... 

... right?

Despite what we say so vehemently to the contrary, we western evangelical adults often behave as if the story of Noah was just a myth, a legend, a fable.

I'm not going to comment about the Aronofsky film that just came out, because despite that I've read interviews with the director and I've talked with trusted friends who have seen it, I myself have not. What I do know is that the Biblical text is written as a midrash and is thus fairly sparse in detail (what did they actually talk about for a year in the ark? or before that, for that matter). I do know that the flavor of the story of Noah is meant to be dark, sinister, conflicted, hard. Yet I've read versions of this story that leave out the death of the world entirely, that talk about the rain coming and the family surviving as if they're the only family around. The story of Noah is not cute, it's not funny, and it's not even really that exciting; it's a tragedy. It's depressing. For most of it, it should make us wonder about the character of the God we follow.

It's a story that should bring us to tears.

But when we get to the end, God laments the death, laments the return of chaos, and promises that this will not happen again. At the end, we see that the heart of God burns for ALL of His creation, that God Himself weeps for those who have perished, and so in the midst of death and chaos, God restores all things again; the waters recede, the chaos is once again pulled back, and life is restored to the land. His passion for Justice does not have the final word; His heart for mercy does. The human race is spared, despite that Babel and Exile and Calvary are still yet to come.

Because then comes Abram and Sarai. Then comes Isaac and Jacob and Joseph. Then comes Moses and Joshua and Rahab. Then there's Deborah and Samuel and David and Solomon and Micah and Esther and Isaiah and Nehemiah and so many others. And of course, then came the ultimate example of this, a life lived so fully in the character of God that He couldn't even remain dead.

Then came Jesus.

It's a story of a God who won't simply let His creation die, though that might by itself be a Just thing. No, at His very core, God is one who redeems, restores, re-creates, rebuilds. God is the One who pulls back the waters of chaos time and time again so that His creation may have life.

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