This reflection is based on Genesis 7:1-24. Bible stories are all about how they are read. In the story of the exodus, we have Moses leading the people out of Egypt and into a new land. We forget about the people who were already in the land to which Moses led the people. When we read about the Babylonian exile we tend to think about the people being taken and forget that it was only the elite who were taken. Most were left behind.
In this story, we have Noah and his family and at least one pair of every animal being saved from the flood and we don’t dwell too much on what happens to the people and creatures left behind in the rain. The stories are easier to read if we focus on God saving the people. They are more comfortable and reassuring. This story reassures us that we are never separated from God, that God is in control of the world and that we can rely on God to save us…If we happen to be Noah.
But what happens if we are not Noah?
What would the story sound like if it were written by someone left behind?
It might sound something like this:
“Do you see that silly guy down the street building a boat in the middle of the desert? He says he’s got orders from God. Why would anyone build a boat in the middle of the desert? It seems like a waste of time to me when survival takes so much energy and focus.
I spend my life hunting and gathering food. I cook the food but first I have to gather the wood for a fire. Whatever we don’t eat right away has to be dried. And then there’s keeping the marauders away, protecting the children and making sure they survive to adulthood so they can provide for me. There are hides to be tanned, tools to make and repair, shelter to maintain. That’s my life. I can’t be bothered thinking about boats or even about God because if I stop, for even a moment, death might catch me or my family.
Now, he’s filling the boat with animals. Again he says, “Orders from God.” There’s a storm brewing and I can see the sky darkening. It’s going to be a bad one. Noah says that this will be the flood to wipe us all out. He believes in God but why is he chosen to build the ark and save the animals from the flood? Why not me? Why not someone else?
If we’re all going to die in this rainstorm, does that mean God doesn’t care about us? Does that mean I’ve done something wrong? Is it wrong just to want to survive? What’s so special about Noah? Aren’t I created in God’s image? That’s what the stories say. Why is Noah’s image more worth saving than mine?
It’s starting to rain. There’s thunder and lightning all around. The low parts of the path will be underwater soon and I won’t be able to get home to my family. I need to go now and make sure they’re OK.
Why God? Why are you doing this? If you are God why don’t you stop this now? If you are God, why will you destroy the creatures you made in your image? Either you can’t save me or you won’t save me? Maybe you don’t exist at all? Which is it God?”
Our stories about God, our scriptures almost always show God in a positive light as the one who saves, the one who creates. There might be a reason for that. Most of us have heard the saying that history is written by the victors. This also applies to scripture: It is written by the people who have survived and the people who perceive God as being on their side.
If we follow what the story tells us, God sent the flood. All we hear about the other people is that they were evil and they were destroyed. But, they weren’t around to tell their side of the story. If we view the story from the perspective of the creatures and people who were destroyed they would not perceive God as the savior but as the destroyer. They would have some questions for God about why they were not saved along with those on the ark.
When we read stories like this, we often place ourselves into the role of the ones that God saves. But if we are faced with destruction like this in our own world, how can we trust God to save us particularly. In this story, God only saves Noah, his family and a select group of animals. Why would we be special enough to warrant special treatment?
The people being destroyed were not necessarily evil but it is much easier to justify destruction when viewed in this light. The writers, in their own way, were trying to make sense of why so many were destroyed. The idea that God was wiping out evil allows us to perceive God as being in control. It also means that the events had a purpose and were not just random. It is very comforting if you are Noah or one of his descendants. Not so comforting if you are one of the ones left behind in the midst of disaster.
Going back to last week’s conversation again, we need to question God’s motives in this story. We need to question how this story unfolds. We need to question the motives of the people who wrote it. But the story should also lead us to a deeper sense of compassion for the world. The people being destroyed could be us. We won’t necessarily be cast in the role of Noah.
The story should draw us into a recognition that people who get caught in natural disasters and other horrific events are often just like us…human. It should lead us to have compassion for the creatures and plant life that were destroyed. They are a part of us.
There is another saying, whose source is uncertain, that says’ “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” We could easily find ourselves as the ones being destroyed. Will someone recognize our common humanity and respond with compassion? Will someone recognize our common humanity and respond with love?
Will we recognize our connections with other people and creation and respond with love and compassion.