Many nurseries, including the one in our church, are decorated with images of a large boat filled with animals and presided over by a smiling, Santa-like figure. Noah and the ark. And many of us have had the experience of bright children asking some really hard questions about this story … because it’s not an easy story to tell to children! This is a story of God almost entirely wiping out all creation.
Because of human actions, God uncreates the world by returning it to the watery mess that it was in Genesis 1:1 before the Spirit of God came to brood over the waters, like a mother bird brooding over her nest, ready to birth a new creation. On the surface, it’s a hard story in what it says about people and about God.
And yet, upon a careful reading, this flood story contains some lessons that I really do want my son to learn. The first is that the actions of humans have consequences for all of creation. Some Christian traditions recognize Sept. 1 to Oct. 4 as the Season of Creation during which we are to be especially aware of the the web of life that binds together all creation. This season prompts us to think theologically about how our actions affect the animals, plants, land and water. In the flood story, humans are the ones who are practicing evil, corruption, and violence, and all the earth is affected. The land, the animals, and the plants all suffer because of human choices. May we teach our kids their responsibility to the rest of creation.
The second lesson kids can learn from the flood story is that God is not mad at us. The beginning of the story says that the evil, corruption, and violence that the humans were doing caused God regret and that “God’s heart was deeply troubled.” Like the excellent parent that God is, our worst actions don’t make God angry but sad. And God’s response to human corruption and violence is not punishment but discipline, actions taken in hope of change and not just for retribution. When humans are scared, the learning center in our brain shuts down. This story shows that God’s intention is not to scare us but to direct us how to live better. Granted, in this story, it’s a pretty nuclear option. But it’s still one intended to make things better. May we teach our kids that God is not angry.
The last lesson I want to lift up for kids from the flood story is that you can’t stop violence with violence. (Here’s where it gets a little nerdy, but worth it.) The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew and sometimes things get lost in translation. The word in Hebrew for what the humans were doing and what God did is actually the same word. The humans were doing shachath (translated: corruption) and so God chose to do shachath (translated: destruction). God used what humans were doing to try to stop what humans were doing. And the big lesson is – it didn’t work!
Before the flood, the Bible says that “every inclination of the human heart was only evil all the time.” After the flood, the Bible says that “the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth.” Maybe that’s exaggeration or maybe it’s how you feel every time you watch the news. At any rate, the description of human inclination is the same before and after the flood. In this story, God shows us that doing unto someone what they did unto you doesn’t actually make anything better. Violence never fixes violence. Not even God could make that work! May we teach our kids the rule of Jesus: the only way to change the world is to do unto others what you want them to do unto you (not what they already have done unto you).
Rev. Beth Gedert is the pastor of Zion United Church of Christ, an LGBTQ-affirming congregation committed to doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. You can reach her by email at [email protected]