We all know the story of Noah’s Ark. Humankind had become so naughty—evil is what the story says—that God’s mercy, which endures forever, hit a brick wall. God was angry, and the people had to be punished, wiped out, drowned to death. But God’s mercy, which endures forever, which had hit a brick wall, found a soft spot in the wall. A male and female of every kind of animal would be saved. Noah’s family would be saved. We got a second chance. God told Noah to build an ark, a really big boat, load it with animals of every kind, male and female, clean and unclean, crawling and flying. It seems that the swimming creatures had a good chance of surviving. He was to load his family and apparently lots of food. We are not told that mana fell daily from the ceilings. Forty days later all the people and animals outside the ark were dead, and God’s wrath was assuaged. God hung a rainbow in the sky as a promise never to do that again.
This is not the simple and easy story that many of us grew up with. It is difficult to contemplate the God we love, the God who loves us, being so angry with us that he would kill most of us. This is the same God who killed his own son so that he would not have to kill us off again. But, of course, he does kill us again, in eternal flames, if we don’t conform exactly to his demands. This is our example of parenthood and caring for and loving our fellow humans. If we learn nothing from this story, we do get a big dose of paradox. Apparently exclusive truths can both be true. The Story of Noah’s Ark might be a teacher as we face challenging questions and paradox in our times.
God told Noah to lead the animals onto the ark. Then God shut the door. Noah, his family, and the animals were shut in together on the ark. It began to rain. It rained for forty days and forty nights. Noah found grace in God’s eyes, but was his whole family innocent? Shut up in that boat with the dark storm raging, were they all sweet, kind, and polite to each other during that forty-day cruise? I would guess there were some stressful, testy moments. And there was no early disembarkation at an alternative port.
It may feel like we, currently, are sailing in a dark, windy, rainy storm. God has closed the door, and we are shut up together. We are not sinless. We are not always sweet, kind, and polite to each other. We struggle with how to sail this ship and survive the storm. The story does not provide us with secrets and clues of living together. But we need the willingness to seek answers. It is still ours to figure out. We are in this together and are not deboarding until the storm is over and the door is opened.
Lest we on the ark become too self-focused, we might consider those sinners who were not allowed on the ark, but were left out in the rain to drown, the castaways. Were the children really more sinful than all of Noah’s family? Were they really excluded from the ark because they didn’t meet God’s criteria? It feels familiar in these times when those who don’t meet expectations are excluded, when children, whom we often call “the innocents”, are disallowed food, shelter, education, medical care, and a safe haven from storms because we only take care of our own and those whom we deem worthy. They must, in their rebuff, feel akin to those poor souls who were shut out of the ark and left to drown.
If we are willing, we might just see the dark side of God in ourselves—the vengeful, the vindictive. Is this all there is to see? It feels like living with no answers, with paradox. In our deepest hearts we don’t want to believe that this is all there is. The unknown, the unreconciled, is not satisfying. Rilke suggested that we “live the questions”, and that is what we must do. Noah’s story and our story may for a long time be only partly resolved. Living with this plight can restrict our consciousness and our souls or it can expand our consciousness and our souls. We might also consider what Jung/Edinger said about Job’s testing: God wanted Job to see God. How can we see God or seek God in the midst of current events?
There is more to the story. God put a rainbow in the sky as a promise that he would not destroy humankind again. Did God have regrets? This may have been an evolutionary moment in the development of God. Jesus was another moment in the evolution of God. He brought a new message. No longer would the undesirable be excluded.
I read recently of six times that Jesus contradicted the Old Testament. For example, Deuteronomy 19:21 says “Show no pity: life shall be for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth…” Jesus rebutted this directive by saying, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ But I say unto you, ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, and do good to them that hate you…’”
In the midst of raging storms of our times, we may sense an evolutionary moment on the horizon. People are rising up to disavow vindictive exclusion, violence, and injustice. The rainbow was a promise of a new day. Maybe we need a new symbol to replace the rainbow, to express a new way of being in the world. One that would embrace the stranger and alien, the poor, children and elderly, the sick and imprisoned; that would protect diversity and dignity; that would be spacious enough to allow the whole of humanity and all that is onto the ark.
M. Sarle 03/18