Genesis is among the most famous stories and teachings. The particular interest in the story arises from the overall thinking about Genesis. In recent decades, Evangelical theologists have returned to exploring the questions of human origins. Even though the mentions of the Flood in Genesis 6-9, it begins earlier as it is a part of a larger literary unit from Genesis 1-11. Just before the beginning of the flood story, it is discovered that “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). Therefore, God caused the flood as a judgment of humanity’s wickedness and failure to follow His word. In many ways, it was the ‘de-creation’ of the world during which the planet sank back into the chaotic waters that God initially cleared on the first page of the Bible. The significance of the ark is also vital to consider because it acts as a second chance for humanity – the Creator carriers Noah and his family through the flood to start their lives fresh in a world that returned to its initial state. The story of the Flood in Genesis is fascinating because it is illustrative of the new beginning and a chance to achieve a different result for humanity.
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Lessons from the Flood
Even though there may be opponents of the story that say that despite the good intentions, God still eliminated all of humanity except Noah’s family, which may seem problematic at first glance, however, there are several important teachings of the story that allow for the understanding of the purpose of the flood and its significance for humanity in the long run. The initial lesson that the story teaches us is that God took merciful action to ensure the restraining of humanity’s ever-increasing evil. In Genesis, it is mentioned that God was afraid that “every intention of the thoughts of man’s heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). In the first several chapters of Genesis, one can see that over a few generations, sin had significantly affected humanity, and the future of the humankind seemed murky and overall negative. Simply speaking, the wickedness of humanity did not align with God’s goodness, who started being dissatisfied with how people acted.
It is essential not to ignore the fact that the issue of sin is the cornerstone of several early Genesis chapters and is the one that culminates in the Flood. The story of sin in Genesis and the Flood as a consequence begins with Eve’s decision to eat from the tree and overrule God. In this instance, one can understand the nature of sin as a way for humans to rebel against God’s rules and separate themselves. Almost immediately after the original sin story, Genesis tells about Abel’s murder by Cain, which is ironic as the two were the first brothers ever to be born as children of Adam and Eve (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica). From the first woman’s act of rebellion in the form of eating an apple, sin grew and expanded until it led to murder, which caused the loss of life of one of her children. Later in the chapter, sin exacerbated with the descendant of Cain, Lamech, bragged about his power exceeding the violence of his ancestor: “for I have killed a man for wounding me; and a boy for striking me; If Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold!” (Genesis 4:24). Thus, with such an attitude toward power and violence, humans began to be concerning for God, who was afraid that the next generations would exceed the sins of their predecessors, wreaking havoc on the earth.
The second lesson from the Genesis story of the Great Flood pertains not to the vengeful nature of God but rather to his grief and disappointment of humans. Despite the world’s destruction through the flood, God was merciful as He allowed humanity to have a fresh start (Patton). In such intentions, critics may see the vengefulness of God, but it was the opposite. In Genesis, God does not take any pleasure from the flood, unlike Lamech taking pleasure in murders. Instead, Good is seen in sorrow and grief from the wickedness of humankind that enabled Him to start the flood. Even though the Creator made the earth to be the place for humanity to flourish and develop, they returned it to a land of disaster and violence, which was heartbreaking to Him. Thus, the basic characteristics of human nature and sin are juxtaposed to the response of divine nature. When causing the flood, God does not appear as the vengeful judge but rather as a pained and grieving parent who was distressed by the disappointment in His children. With a heart filled with pain, God caused to flood with the intention to initiate the cleansing of the earth as a way to express divine emotions. However, mercy is shown in God’s choice of Noah and his family to be the ones to build humankind from scratch. The Creator’s regretful response to sin assumes that humans have consistently resisted His will. Therefore, the flood was not a planned event that God intentionally caused to torture humans. Instead, it was the manifestation of grief and sadness as a response to human sins and their disastrous effects on the creation.
The third lesson that stems from the deeper analysis of the Great Flood relates to the covenant. Later after the resurrection of humankind, Isaiah the prophet remembers the flood not as a disaster but rather as the covenant God made with Noah after it (Isaiah 54:9). The covenant is crucial to the story of the Genesis Flood because it illustrates God’s mercy and commitment to improving humankind and urges it in the direction of goodness and the following of a righteous path. Thus, God blessed Noah and his sons by saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:2). He warned them that the earth will be suffering from the disastrous impact of the flood and the future of its rebirth is in the hands of few chosen ones. In addition, God underlines the importance of preserving the wildlife and bringing animals along to survive the disaster, “you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. And your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being” (Genesis 9:4-5). God’s covenant with Noah and his family pertains to recovering from the ancestors’ errors and avoiding them in the future. God promises that there will never be floodwaters to destroy all life on the planet and says that whenever there is a rainbow in the sky, humans should remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures.
The three lessons that the Genesis story of the Great Flood teaches offer an understanding of how God gave humanity a second chance and the opportunity to learn from past mistakes. Therefore, despite the criticism of God’s actions, the flood that caused the destruction of humanity was not an act of revenge by a capricious God (Patton). Instead, He was acting in the interests of people to restore the goodness of the world and preserve it the way it was initially intended. Because of this, one family was preserved in flood and elevated to a new role that Adam previously had. Placed in a virgin land with the responsibility to establish a new generation that will multiply and be fruitful. However, it must be noted that Noah made similar mistakes to Adam, with the destruction and disaster of human evil spreading throughout the earth, which speaks volumes of the nature of human beings.
To finalize the analysis of the Great Flood, it is important to link the story to the story of Jesus. Noah can be considered a paradigm for the kind of leader that humans were awaiting as he was a righteous one in the age of wickedness and the one who persevered through destruction to come out the other side into a new world, making a covenant with God. Nevertheless, the authors of the gospels that tell Noah’s story allude to the fact that Jesus is the absolute leader. In Genesis’s account of the flood, the wicked people died, and the righteous person was saved, while in Jesus’s story, the wicked ones were spared while the righteous one died. In contrast to Noah, Jesus could not escape the ‘flood’ alive as his death was necessary. In his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus was given the role of a shelter not only for his closest people but all humankind (Patton). The greatest consequence of sin was not manifested by the flood but rather burdened Jesus to die on the cross. Even though the flood was destructive and violent, it was the work of a grieving and disappointed Father. In the story of Jesus, God took on human form and died a violent death at the hands of vengeful people, and this death was instrumental in establishing the kingdom of peace.
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To conclude, despite its simplicity at first glance, the Genesis story of the Flood is inherently complex. It enables the understanding of the formation of Christian principles and dogma upon which the entire faith relies. Even though it may be attractive to skip the passages about the Flood in Genesis because the story is very well-known, they offer immense insight into the ongoing redemption narrative and God’s goodness and forgiveness of people. Even though the flood was a violent event, it was significant for restoring the ‘broken’ creation and allowing the opportunity to learn from mistakes.
The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Adam and Eve.” Britannica.
Patton, Andy. “Why Did God Flood the World?” Bible Project, 2020.