Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.

                        Genesis 6.9

Sin City

We imagine Noah as the Old Testament’s Disney hero, a sweet old guy who built a floating menagerie that saved all God’s creatures to live happily ever after. Sunday-school cartoons and movies like The Bible feed this fairy tale by depicting Noah’s world as a pastoral place—if not Eden, fairly close to it. In these laundered versions, he’s an eccentric whose neighbors get their kicks watching him construct the ark. But nothing in Scripture suggests Noah inhabited a sunny, G-rated world; everything places him in a filthy, faithless Sin City.

According to Genesis 6.11, “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.” A few verses above, it says wickedness was so widespread and God’s pain so intense He regretted creating us. Jesus describes Noah’s era as one of debauchery, when people grew so indifferent toward how their self-gratification angered God “they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away.” (Matthew 24.39) 2 Peter 2.6 lumps them with the exiled angels—Lucifer’s crowd—and Sodom and Gomorrah’s would-be rapists. So if we’re at all interested in understanding Noah, we should erase our image of him as a lovable kook to see him as the Bible does: a tough-minded individual untainted by corruption and unmoved by popular mindsets—a righteous man.

Blinded by Knowledge

One might think a flood sparing only eight survivors (Mr. and Ms. Noah, their three sons, and their wives) would sober humanity forever. Suppose we even concede to scientific and secular literalism, granting The Flood never happened and Noah’s story is a fable. Still, it’s a cautionary fable born of very real need to deliver an urgent message. Its prominence—in the Judaic, Christian, and Islamic accounts of Noah, as well as similar tales in polytheist writings and legends—informs us the warning is universal. The narratives differ, but the moral remains the same: a society’s obliviousness to spiritual principles inevitably ends in its complete oblivion. Given this deeply imbedded awareness in the collective unconscious, questioning The Flood’s factuality becomes ridiculously obtuse. The bigger question is when will we learn?

Better still, can we learn? Apparently not. After Noah, we’ve seen countless cultures wiped out by corruption and violence, always paying the ultimate price for their greed—more land, more wealth, more pleasure, more status, more, more, more. Not for nothing did Paul write, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Timothy 6.10) Yet it seems one bite from the forbidden tree left us forever blinded by knowledge. We look at Noah and other stories of social destruction, and instead of seeing their wisdom, we envision ourselves as smarter, further advanced than the reckless sods who drowned in seas of self-indulgence. We ignore why Noah’s character and obedience lifted him above The Flood, thinking we know how to stave off consequences of our greed. Rather than conform to our Maker’s standards, we fabricate levees of ethical rules and regulations to withstand devastation unleashed by our insatiable cravings. We never learn the levees always break. Like Noah’s neighbors, blindness to what’s coming results in getting swept away by a deluge we brought on ourselves.

Rise with the Tide

You don’t have to be a global leader or socioeconomic genius to realize our levees are failing once again. They’re riddled with cracks and groaning with pressures we can’t alleviate. While politicians and experts at London’s G20 meeting sweat out an intervention strategy, the truly smart thing to do is to remember Noah. Genesis 6.9 sums him up in two phrases. He was blameless among the people and walked with God. The Bible offers no better definition of righteousness, the sole survival criterion when and if the levees give. At this stage, no one person or group possesses enough wisdom to contain the ever-widening sweep headed our way. Yet we each hold the key to rising above it. As Proverbs 11.23 says, “The desire of the righteous ends only in good, but the hope of the wicked only in wrath.”

Answers won’t surface at the G20. Solutions to terrorism, financial ruin, and social decay won’t land on negotiating tables, spreadsheets, or city streets. All we’re scrambling after exists in God’s Word if we’ll stop thinking and start believing. Here’s what Hebrews 11.7 says about Noah: “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” We make righteousness our primary business. Blameless behavior is essential. Walking with God is vital. Enraged by the corruption and violence in Noah’s time, He declared, “My Spirit will not contend with man forever.” (Genesis 6.3) Have we reached a similar point of pushing too hard, straying too far? If so, a flood is surely coming and only the righteous will rise with the tide.

Will we—can we—ever learn greed-spawned corruption and violence always unleash floods of destruction? And when they come, only the righteous rise above them.

(Tomorrow: Gentle, Obviously)

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