We tend to think of the first eleven chapters of Genesis as being Biblical Myth Stories, which includes Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Ark, and the Tower of Babel: all epic stories that aren't really real. The real stuff doesn't get started until Abraham, right? That's when redemption history really begins, with the covenant between God and Abraham.
The covenant consists of four things. A relationship between God and his people, a promised land, descendants numbering the stars, and a way for God to bring all of the nations of the earth back to himself. Now THIS is quite a covenant, this is where the Bible really begins!
Well, I want to talk about another covenant, and this one is just as important as the Abrahamic covenant. This is the covenant with Noah, and as we read in Genesis 9, this covenant is not limited to people—this covenant extends to all of the creatures that were rescued in the ark. We think of the Noah story as a cute little children's story. Think of how many toys have been made!
Also, because the covenant is represented by a pretty rainbow, we don't take it seriously. On this side, we've got cute animals made by playskool, and a rainbow in the sky, and on this side, we've got the bare minimum of what the rainbow represents: God is promising never to be a big meany again and flood the earth and kill everything. What a bully. Why would he kill all those playskool animals? Because we play this down and make it into a cute toy, it clouds the seriousness of the offense that caused God to flood the earth in the first place, and it waters down the meaning of this very important covenant. This is probably the first place where we learn, as kids, that God is a big bully who slaughters babies and puppies and kittens. What a meany! And it is all couched in a “children's tale” and a toy.
God, we know, is love, and so, when we think deeply about how a loving God can flood the world, we get what Peter Kreeft calls, “Radical Surgery.” Things on earth at the time of Noah were worse than they had ever been, even worse than today. At this point, God “purified” the human race. He saved all future generations by saving Noah and his family and destroying all of the other humans. God does not do things needlessly, so this must have been necessary. Looking at the surgery metaphor: we usually look at mankind as being a functioning machine, but it really is a body, and each individual is a cell of that body. A surgeon cuts out the permanently infected cells before they corrupt the healthy cells. In this case, only eight cells are healthy, but in the end God promises that this kind of radical surgery will never again be necessary. That is the covenant.
We have modern complaints, usually from non-Christians, along the lines of, “if God is so powerful, why doesn't he just fix the problems of the world?” Well, the answer to that is the flood: this is what God fixing everything at once looks like. Do you want that to happen again? Don't ask God to make the world right overnight, you may not be here in the morning. But the flood is the only time in history where God actually “uncreated” the earth. That is what it looks like to actually undo creation. It started with the waters, and it ended with the waters. God created, he uncreated, and then he re-created.
That's what makes this covenant so special. It's not just God promising to us that he will never uncreate the earth again. It is that he will re-create the earth to its full glory. And he does, through the cross. Jesus is the instrument of re-creation. Let's look at out Epistle reading: 1 Peter 3:18-22. This is how important the covenant with Noah was. This isn't just playskool ark stuff. This is Jesus, when put to death on the cross, made alive in the spirit, descended into hell, as it says in the Apostles' Creed, and preached to the spirits in prison down there. These are all of the souls that were lost in the flood.
Peter writes, God waited patiently during the building of the Ark. The ark did take many years to build, about 100 years. During that time, God waited patiently for people to turn to him, all the while, this very prominent ark was being built, a huge vessel that could hold two each of all the earth's land-based creatures. This was a prominent symbol for all to see, and yet they did not turn to God. The waters came and everyone was washed away, except the eight members of Noah's family.
Now we have to come to over 2000 years since the cross, not just 100. We have had 2000 years to turn to God. There are many who have, but there are many who have not. Who laugh at the cross up on the hill, and they say, “that thing will never float.” We Christians are instructed to preach to those in prisons. They aren't in the land of the dead, but they are dead, even though they are alive. They are lost in the depths of the quagmire that is the culture. The re-creation has been happening for 2000 years, and it may come to completion at any time.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 24: “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
This is not another uncreation. God promised that would not happen. This is the completion of the re-creation, where the earth will be renewed. Heaven and earth will be joined together. The cross is the second Ark, and it will hold everyone on earth—it's that big. We have only a limited time to get on this second Ark before the re-creation happens. The other creatures of the earth have already been redeemed. As we move closer to God this Lenten season, let us remember the flood, the covenant, and the cross as our second Ark, to which we cling, thanks to Jesus Christ, who died and rose again, so that we could be a part of the re-creaton of everything.