I grew up hearing a pretty clear-cut and clean retelling of the story of Noah’s ark. It was a pretty cute story with all sorts of fun flannel-graph characters and animals on an ark. I mean, it’s pretty easy to cutsey up a story that features all the world’s animals and a small family on a boat. However, I’ve recently been devouring the Bible Study and the Christian Life podcast, and by devouring I mean listening to multiple episodes a day because it’s pretty awesome. They did a series on the Noah/Flood story in Genesis that opened up a flood of new perspective on this story for me (see what I did there?). Today I want to explore one of the thoughts I had while listening to the podcast
The Flood story in Genesis tells us that both “clean” and “unclean” animals were welcomed aboard the ark and into the “new” creation after the flood. God says, “I will wipe off of the land the human race that I’ve created: from human beings to livestock to the crawling things to the birds in the skies, because I regret I ever made them” (Genesis 6:7 CEB). God states that the plan is to wipe out everything from the human race all the way down to the creepy crawly things. Yet, God still chooses Noah and his family (who are all humans) and lets both clean and unclean animals join them on the Ark.
Why does God seem to not stay true to his word and wipe out *everything* like he initially stated?
If there was something unnatural, unacceptable or abominable about the “unclean” animals shouldn’t God have let them be wiped out in the flood as he initially stated?
Or, is there an image here of the extensiveness of God’s grace and mercy that we miss in the cutesy, “flannel-graph” story we might be more familiar with?
Let’s even fast forward to the end of the story. Humanity doesn’t change a lick EVEN after everything has been wiped out. Noah gets drunk and goes off cursing his grandson and things continue to spiral downward from there (much as they did before the Flood). It is actually God who decides to never use a flood to wipe out mankind and chooses to work with them even through their shortsightedness. The story tells us that God thinks to himself, “I will not curse the fertile land anymore because of human beings since the ideas of the human mind are evil from their youth. I will never again destroy every living thing as I have done” (Genesis 8:21 CEB). God also sets the rainbow as a reminder to himself, not humanity, that he has chosen not to destroy humanity because of their wickedness.
I have placed my bow in the clouds; it will be the symbol of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow appears in the clouds, I will remember the covenant between me and you and every living being among all the creatures. Floodwaters will never again destroy all creatures. The bow will be in the clouds, and upon seeing it I will remember the enduring covenant between God and every living being of all the earth’s creatures.”
Genesis 9:13-16 (CEB)
There’s not even a contingency in this covenant. Man has to do nothing and God will refrain from destroying the earth in a flood. There’s no quid pro quo in this covenant…God agrees on his own good nature to not destroy the creation again. There is nothing humanity can do, it seems, to break that covenant.
So, what is this all supposed to mean? One of the things that was pointed out in the podcast was that it is God doing most of the acting, talking and working in the story. Noah and his family are almost silent bystanders (until the drinking and cursing, Married with Children style, later in the story.) God says he’s going to destroy everything, yet he brings both clean and unclean animals into the ark. God says he’s going to wipe mankind off the face of the earth, yet he brings Noah and his family into the ark. God puts a rainbow in the sky as a reminder to himself of the covenant he made with humanity, and sets practically no restrictions on humanity to keep that covenant.
If you haven’t guessed from the title of this post already, it seems like we are not the gatekeepers on the Ark.
God decides who gets in, even after saying nobody will be saved.
God decides what animals will be saved, even after saying everything is going to be wiped out.
God lets clean and unclean onto the ark, even when he regrets making everything.
God decides to never send a flood again, regardless of the actions/wickedness of humanity.
Who are we to decide who is worthy of God’s salvation? If God leads someone to the doors of the Ark, we shouldn’t be checking for tickets. If God brings both clean and “unclean” animals to the ramp, it’s not our responsibility separate the sheep from the pigs. If a natural disaster wrecks havoc and destroys lives, who are we to say that it is God’s judgment because of someone’s wickedness?
What makes us think we can do the same at the doors of our churches? God can lead all sorts of people to the doors or our churches and many are turned away because they don’t look, feel, smell, believe or talk the same as we might. Maybe we don’t dismiss them outright, but holding back a handshake or not making eye contact speaks volumes.
If we believe the Church helps people find the way to salvation as we follow Jesus, our doors and arms should be wide open.
Ultimately it is God’s choice whether the doors remain open or not. And for the time being, it seems, our doors should remain open and our lights on.