We’re coming to the end of the Noah’s ark story. The first couple weeks may have been really challenging and uncomfortable. Thanks for hanging in there.
We’re getting to the good news of the story.
In this week’s instalment, all the animals have been safely loaded into the ark. It has been well provisioned with whatever food the creatures will need. Now the rain comes, and it pours down. As the story continues, everyone waits in the ark for the ground to dry.
Throughout this story, we hear echoes of the creation story: In the creation story we hear that “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” (Gen 1:2) Here, “a wind blows over the earth and the water subside; the fountains of the deep ….were closed.” Deep is often translated as the depths, the waters, the flood. As the world is being created, God blows over the waters to create the earth. In this story, God blows over the water so that the water dries up. In both stories it is the breath from God that changes the environment.
Like the creation story, there is a sense of anticipation, of waiting for God to act. The creatures in the boat can do nothing. In the tabloid Bible, you see this excerpt from an article:
“Navel experts were skeptical of the ark’s design. ‘This is not a boat, it’s a box,’ said a source at the navy. ‘He won’t be able to steer it and there isn’t even a sail.’ But Noah refused to give in. ‘What do I want to steer it for. There won’t be anywhere to steer it to. All it has to do is ride out the flood.”
Noah and the animals can’t do anything but wait. They have no control over how long it will rain, how long it will take for the ground to dry up, how long it will take for anything new to grow. They just have to sit in the ark and wait. Sometimes waiting can be one of the most difficult things to do.
I want to know how things are going to work out. I want all the various problems of the world fixed yesterday. I don’t want to wait until things are different or until God can act. But the creatures in ark don’t have anything to do and can’t make the water dry up faster. Eventually, Noah had to do something so he opens the window and sends a raven out. The raven flies back and forth, back and forth—kind of a look out. It isn’t clear what happens to the raven.
Imagine what Noah and his family might see when they open the widows of the ark. It has quit raining but there is still water everywhere. There might be a tree or a rock poking up somewhere but nothing else and certainly nothing alive. Imagine the devastation they would see. The world as they know it has been destroyed. There is nothing left. And this is the world into which they will move.
But they still have to wait. Then Noah sends out a dove but it comes back. The next time he sends out the dove it comes back with a leaf. Finally, the dove goes out and doesn’t come back. These are signs that a new time is approaching. A new world is growing out there, beyond the water, beyond the destruction, something new is occurring. And Noah and his family still have to wait months before they experience this new world.
We need to remember that particularly in Genesis, we find stories that are, just that—stories. This story was not intended as fact in either of its forms. It was intended to help people understand and make sense of events that they saw or experienced. While Noah and his family witness the destruction and wait for the water to dry up they have time to think. It is an opportunity for them to reflect on what happens when they leave the ark. Will humans carry on as they have or will they head in a different direction? Will they focus their lives on the goodness of creation or allow the hurt, hate and violence of the world to intrude and become a normal part of life?
This is a turning point in the story. Here is an opportunity to recreate the world with a clean slate. Any time that we are required to wait is an opportunity to think about the kind of world we want to create around us.
And the first words God speaks to them as they leave the ark take us back to the creation story. “Be fruitful and multiply.” (Gen 1:28) The God of the story is remembering the creation and reminding the people of that creation. If we remember the creation story, we know that God created and saw that it was good. We also remember that we are created in God’s image. So in returning to the creation story, this God is helping the people to refocus on goodness and on the goodness that is in God’s image.
Anytime we have to wait, it is a time for us to make that same intention in our own focus. It is easy to get caught up in living our lives, just doing the things we need to do to survive—like I talked about last week. But the pauses, the waiting remind us to stop and think about what we do and why. Sometimes we can intentionally build pauses into our lives through prayer and meditation. Sometimes, like in this story, the waiting is forced upon us.
The question might not be “are we there yet?” but “what will we do when we get wherever it is we are going?” But most of the time we don’t know where we are going except that it will be different than where we are now. Noah didn’t know where they were going to land or what it would be like but he was given an opportunity for something different.
For those of you connected with St. Andrew’s, you know that the congregation is in the midst of some transition right now as well. We don’t know where we are going or what the future will look like, except that it will be different from what we know. This is an opportunity to reflect on what type of a world we want to create when we get of the boat in a new place. Next week there is a congregational meeting after worship. At that time, we will be continuing to ponder what type of faith community we are creating and how this community of faith will shape and interact with the community around us.
I invite you to take time to wait and to pause. In those moments consider what kind of world you want to live in and how your church can help create the world you want to live in.
. Nick Page, The Tabloid Bible (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), 14.