These are the descendants of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God. And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth. And God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth. Make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above; and put the door of the ark in its side; make it with lower, second, and third decks. For my part, I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every kind shall come in to you, to keep them alive. Also take with you every kind of food that is eaten, and store it up; and it shall serve as food for you and for them.’ Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him. -- Genesis 6:9-22 (NRSV)
I can't remember a time in my life when I didn't know the story of Noah and the ark. Illustrations in Sunday School book showed animals in a curved line, marching two by two up a ramp and into a boat that didn't look a thing like any boat I'd ever seen. Still, that must have been how it looked or the Sunday School book wouldn't have shown it that way, would it? Somehow the animals moving into the ark made more of an impression than the reason they were going into the ark -- God's cold anger at the way creation had gone since its beginning when everything was "Good". Oh, knowledge of the anger was there, but to a child, animals marching in perfect lines was much more visibly interesting (not to mention wondering how all of them got there, including elephants, giraffes and bears).
Thinking about this passage this morning, I realized that I characterized God's anger as cold, something I certainly had never given any thought to before when studying this story. I usually think of anger as a hot something, a flash like the striking of a match that causes repercussions that can burn down a house or destroy a life or relationship. But when I read words ascribed to God, "I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth," I hear words about a decision that has been thought out, planned and is now ready for execution. Somehow that kind of anger is, to me, worse than the flash, as disastrous as even that can be. It was this cold anger that was going to end the world and the lives of all that existed, including those who surely should have been considered innocent -- like deer and kittens and infants. This was deliberation and somehow it is more frightening than the flash that can come and go so quickly. Hot anger strikes, cold anger plans and refines a plan of action with equally deadly results. There is no doubt, that the flood was deadly.
But then I thought of floods and what they meant, besides natural forces that disrupt and destroy lives and property. There's the kind often called a "flood of emotions" that make a person feel totally overwhelmed and awash as if they were figuratively drowning in an interior torrent of feelings and thoughts, whether good or bad. Then there are floods of tears, sometimes as a result of the emotional deluge, sometimes as a result of outside events that hit somewhere in the neighborhood of heart -- or perhaps the conscience. Guilt, remorse, fear, grief, pain, even anger (hot or cold) can produce them, and the result is usually a release of tension and anxiety as well as the emotion that initially produced the flood.
The odd thing is that both these related floods are, in a sense, like Noah's flood. His flood was physically catastrophic but also cleansing to the earth of what was considered unclean, unrighteous or corrupt, erasing that which was wrong and leaving a place where the earth could heal itself and where Noah and his passengers could re-create a second Eden. The flood of emotion and/or tears often signals a release of feelings and sometimes internal dis-ease, but also provides a space for cleansing and healing, giving space for new growth to take place.
I still have a lot of thoughts and questions about Noah, the flood and God's place in all of it. I'd still like to know how every animal got in there and still had room for enough food to keep them alive for the duration. I'd like to know how the bears, elephants and the giraffes got to where Noah was building the ark. Did God send two mosquitoes along on the trip or just creeping bugs? Mostly, though, I think I need to consider the real stories: the story of wrongdoing, the story of anger, and the story of cleansing and healing, with or without imported elephants and bugs. I have to consider where sin, repentance, judgment, and redemption play their parts in the floods of my life and the life of the world around me. Where is God in the story, and where are the plans for the boat? Those things bear consideration because they are universal, as are literal floods and their aftermaths.
I still wonder about the mosquitoes, though.
Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, January 14, 2012.