So my friend Josh Graves posted this on his blog recently. It’s a quote from Fredrich Buechner on why the Flood is so wildly popular with Children. It’s a disturbing quote, here’s what Buechner says:
Not, I suspect, because children particularly want to read it, but more because their elders particularly do not want to read it, or at least do not want to read it for what it actually says and so make it instead a fairy tale, which no one has to take seriously—just the way we make black jokes about disease and death so that we can laugh instead of weep at them; just the way we translate murder and lust into sixth-rate television melodramas, which is to reduce them to a size that anybody can cope with; just the way we take the nightmares of our age, the sinister, brutal forces that dwell in the human heart threatening always to overwhelm us and present them as the Addams family or monster dolls, which we give, again, to children . . . Noah’s ark is to something-or-other else, so it becomes a toy with a roof that comes off so you can take the little animals out. This is one way of dealing with the harsher realities of our existence, and since the alternative is, by facing them head on, to risk adding more to our burden of anxiety than we are able to bear, it may not be such a bad way at that. But for all our stratagems . . . it is perhaps more dangerous to evade then to comfort.
The Children’s minister at Highland was talking a few weeks ago about her observations on the way we teach kids to read Scripture. She observed that we like to moralize the Bible for kids. That is we tell them that these stories are really about nuggets of nicety. Don’t lie, don’t hit your siblings, be kind to new people that you meet. And while I’m not against my kids doing those things, I doubt those are the primary objectives of these stories.
Instead, she said, these are ways of producing really nice grown-ups, with a really domesticated view of what God is actually up too.
N.T. Wright says that we think the story of the Flood is Child-friendly because it sounds like a floating Zoo, but have you ever considered what this story really is about? The closest word that you could find to describe it would be Genocide.
But that fails to understand a deeper bit of this story. Because Hebrews were scared to death of the sea. A lot of Hebrew people didn’t even know how to swim. The Ocean was a place of mystery and power, it was chaos and untamable. (Which leads us to consider again how much faith it took for the Israelites to walk through the Sea that God had parted in Exodus.)
I don’t know about you but the Flood is hard for me to wrap my mind around. I mean, everything is the Gospels make me think that God isn’t like this. And so it’s hard for me to grasp this story. And maybe that’s a good thing. I don’t think God likes us thinking we’ve got every part of Him figured out.
But what if this story isn’t about God just destroying the entire world’s population? If the sea is evil, and if God is the one who holds the Sea back (think about what God tells Job) what if Genesis 6 is really a story of God just giving people their wish. Genesis tells us that they thought of nothing but evil all the time, so what if this is God allowing the Hell that life is descending into to fully come, if only for 40 days and 40 nights.
Genesis opens with the Spirit of God hovering over the waters, that God is sovereign over the waters. And Revelation ends with the New Heaven and New Earth, a New Creation in which there is no more sea.
And it all hinges around Noah.
It’s not just a story of kids, in fact, it probably shouldn’t be. Maybe it should be like the Song of Solomon,( a book that Orthodox Jews made people wait till they were 30 to read.) Because Noah’s story has got a lot of hope, but it’s also got a dark side. It’s a story about the human condition and a wounded God. It’s simultaneously about a Creation that is good and a world that is broken.
It’s about a God who gives second chances but takes his world very seriously. Ultimately, serious enough to enter it.
Which is a bit more than a boat with a zoo.