The Noah story is weird. It’s somehow become a children’s story because the fun, furry animals make nice nursery decorations and great illustrations but, the fact is, it’s a weird story for us to celebrate. It depicts an angry and vengeful god who is able to destroy everything that has been created. I’ll admit that I have trouble worshiping a god like that. I have trouble believing in a god that wants us to do the right thing just out of fear of god’s wrath. I believe in a god of love who calls us as co-creators.
I’ll also admit that I don’t think the Noah story is real. I don’t think was ever meant to be taken literally. Our ancestors of faith knew the power of a good story and this one has all the compelling components to get an audience interested: a harrowing tale of a family struggling to survive; drama and tension; a noble hero who wins out in the end.
Whether or not the Noah story ever really happened, it reflects some basic truths about humanity. At first, God looks around and is disgusted by the world: wickedness and evil are everywhere. Who hasn’t been there? I’m sure that we’ve all found ourselves disgusted by the world at times. If we pay any attention to the news and see a world where our fellow children of God are struggling to survive in the face of war and poverty and oppression, can we fault God for being angry?
As a reaction to a broken world, God lashes out. Floods the Earth and kills everything and everyone except Noah and his family and some animals.
As I’ve mentioned before, I volunteer once a week at the medium security prison in Concord. At the prison, I work with a class of inmates learning about emotional awareness. A big part of the course is discovering how to recognize situations that trigger your anger and how to avoid letting your anger get out of control. One of the basic techniques we talk about is called “break, breathe and choose.” When you feel yourself getting angry, stop what’s going on – take a break, if possible, leave the room – get control by taking deep, calming breaths; then choose a reasonable response to the situation. Break, breathe, and choose.
In the Noah’s story, it would have been helpful if God knew about “break, breathe, and choose.”
Let’s be honest: God’s reaction was unreasonable. Even God recognizes that. Once the flood waters subside, God promises Noah that this will never happen again. God will never destroy all of creation again.
The Noah story says so much about humanity and about our evolving understanding of God. In God, we see ourselves. We recognize the times that anger gets the better of us and we see that we need to change how we react.
But change is so hard. The writers of Genesis recognized a world full of imperfect people who needed to change. Now, thousands of years later, we still see a world full of violence and inequality.
The Noah story shows us how difficult change can be and it reminds us that sometimes things get worse before they get better. Noah’s family – faced with fear and uncertainty – struggle through building the ark and gathering the animals and surviving on the boat for 40 days and nights before their lives start to get better.
When we suffer a physical injury, the healing process of our bodies often works the same way. Ugly bruises form, cuts scab over, we struggle through therapy to help us regain us of muscle and limb. Pain increases before it goes away.
Sometimes it gets worse before it gets better. But until the scab forms or the boat is built, we can’t be fully healed.
The Noah story is a story of hope. Hope in the resiliency of humans. Hope in the ability that we have to move forward and to heal.
When the story begins, God’s covenant is made only with Noah and his family. If they promise to listen to God, God promises to protect them.
After the flood, God’s covenant changes; it extends to all living creatures of the Earth. In the beginning, the job of following God and making things better falls to Noah. In the end, we are all called to make God’s world a better place.
God’s promise of the rainbow – God’s “break, breathe, and choose” – is not only a promise that our god is not vengeful and angry. The rainbow is a promise of hope, God’s message to us that we are called together – with God and each other – as partners; walking in all of God’s ways, serving humanity, living out the good news that the kingdom of God is at hand if we have the strength to reach out and grab it; if we have the courage to do the hard work of changing ourselves and our world.
Sometimes, things get worse before they get better. But our faith shows us that a flood can turn into a rainbow. Our faith tells us that crucifixion becomes resurrection.
What does the promise of the rainbow mean to you? Is there something you are struggling with that may take some hard work and courage? How will you be healed through the hard work of change?
As we begin our new church year together, we will almost certainly encounter struggles ahead. I pray that we will be open to God’s covenant with us and with all of Creation. Together, we can support each other through the difficult times. Together we will sail the floods of change. Together, we will bask in the glory of God’s rainbow of hope. Can I get an “amen?”