The Rev. Melanie McCarley
Several years ago during a children’s homily I began a conversation about Noah’s Ark. Specifically, we discussed which animals we thought should have been left off the ark. I would hold up pictures of various beasts and folks would vote. Everyone made it in—bears and gorillas, the egret and penguins, even lions and lambs. The hippopotami made it on despite taking up more than their fair share of room and being able to swim. Then we came to the mosquitos. At first, silence reigned throughout the room. Would anyone dare to speak up on their behalf? Would the lowly mosquito—bane to human existence, carrier of disease and constant source of irritation, find a friend? Finally, after an uncomfortable silence a brave voice spoke up. “Bats eat mosquitos.” True. Turns out not only bats, but also birds and frogs. Everyone loved birds and frogs—and quite a few people, as it turns out, loved bats as well. Even those of us who didn’t particularly love bats or mosquitoes had to consider—did we really want to be on the ark with a pair of hungry bats? With something of a groan, a vote was taken and the mosquito found a home. In end, we left the decision up to God, considering ourselves fortunate that we were not the ones who were called upon to make the decision.
The truth is, the story of the Flood—and Noah’s part in the drama—is not a tale designed with children in mind. Despite the plethora of picture books depicting monkeys swinging from beams and camels making friends with zebras, this is a difficult story. In chapter six of Genesis we are told: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” The story of the Flood is deeply disturbing. It reveals to us a God who is angry—angry enough to destroy not only ourselves, but also creation.
Now, few modern people actually believe that God sent a literal flood to destroy the earth. A few fundamentalists may, but most of us recognize an ancient myth when we see one. But here’s the thing….while myths may not be literally true--if we pay attention, they do reveal truth. Truth about humanity and about God. D.H. Lawrence said this about myths: “Myth is an attempt to narrate a whole human experience, of which the purpose is too deep, going too deep in the blood and soul, for mental explanation or description.” So, to say a story is a myth is not to say it is false—rather, it is to say that it is like poetry—it reveals a truth about our nature and the nature of God.
So, what does this story tell us? It tells us that God created the earth with all good intentions; yet those intentions went horribly awry. Humanity, and perhaps even creation, turned out to be less than God intended. God became angry and vowed to destroy the earth. So the wickedness of humanity brought out a corresponding violence in God. In some ways, this story suggests that violence begets violence. Not even God is exempt. Yet, (and here is the good news), God chooses to disrupt this cycle. Having deployed violence to end violence, God now establishes a covenant with Noah and his descendants.
And this brings us to….rainbows. In the story of the Flood, the rainbow becomes a symbol. It is a symbol of the covenant, the promise God made with Noah and the animals who made it on to the ark. God says: “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, … that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” The rainbow is the sign of that promise.
The story of the Flood is one born out of disappointment and violence. God saw what He had made, and the evil intentions within the human heart and was sorely grieved, and decided to destroy the earth. Yet, in the end, God chooses redemption over destruction.
How does this relate to us? Well, think about this. If given the choice, who would we exempt from the ark? Not animals—that’s too easy; I’m thinking about people. How about mass shooters of schools and churches? But don’t kid yourselves, they’re not the only haters out there. There’s the KKK, Neo Nazis, radicalized Muslim extremists, Christian hate groups, and all sorts of extremist groups fomenting violence. There are Drug cartels, human traffickers and fraudsters preying on the vulnerable—and, heavens, that’s only within our own borders. Let’s face it, there’s a great deal of which to be frightened. And sadly, the mentality of meeting violence with violence, of hitting back harder, of arming ourselves to the teeth or sealing ourselves off from any threat of the other (quick, shut the doors to the ark before anyone else comes on board) seems to be our recourse of choice. Are these really our best and only courses of action? Could there be better, more compassionate, less reactionary and more well-reasoned ways of responding?
In truth, I don’t have the answers—but what I do have this story. And it suggests that my desire to wipe whatever scourge I am focused upon from the face of the earth by any means possible, isn’t going to make me much different than them. Rainbows. Perhaps they are there to remind God that despite the wickedness which abounds, God will never again destroy the world in such a fashion. Given humanity and our disposition toward violence, God may well need to be reminded. But, then again, so do we. Violence, you see, has a way of pulling us all in. And somewhere…somewhere the cycle has to end.
Lent is a season of repentance. It is a season of turning away from evil and toward the good. In the Epistle lesson from First Peter we are reminded that just as those on the ark were saved through water; baptism now saves us. Water, which was used to destroy creation in the flood can also be used to save. Now, that’s a turn-around if ever there was one. Through love for us God found a way to save us from ourselves. Is there a way to relate this to the problems facing our world? I don’t know…but of this I am certain….that the answer as to how to put an end to violence is probably not going to be found by doing to others what they have done to us; instead, if it is to be found anywhere, it will be found when we have hearts large enough to find a way to see ourselves in them, and them in us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.