Not for the Felt Board
There comes a time in the lives of many individuals where they stop seeing Noah’s ark as a cute story with animals, and start seeing it as the greatest destructive disaster of all time. Militant atheists will use this to seed doubt in God’s goodness, kindness, or love, while others are left confused and discouraged. Doubts arise as to whether God changes in nature between the Old and New Testaments even to the point of wondering if Christians simply imagined up a God who would be kinder and gentler than the one they read about in the Old Testament. There are two routes we could take to vindicate God’s goodness:
1) We could study the scripture regarding the great flood and meticulously explain why God is still good, or
2) We could look at the underlying beliefs and sympathies of the doubting heart that serve as the foundation for the doubts about God.
While option 1) will be important in the long run, option 2) will provide the deepest peace and the fullest understanding about the heart of the issue. God will not merely be defended, but trusted. Furthermore, this approach will be applicable across many other difficult passages and cause our study to be sanctifying and enlightening, to our eternal benefit.
Who is God?
If we are going to investigate whether or not the great flood is consistent with God’s character, we need to start by knowing what God’s character is. The most fundamentally and vastly understood attribute of God is the simple statement, “God is good.” Certainly there are unnumbered other glorious attributes of God, but this one can be most immediately helpful. To say that God is good is like saying that the ocean is wet. It’s true, but a gigantic understatement. The Bible’s declaration is that God is, “Holy, holy, holy.” Three times repeated, God wants us to know how emphatically holy God is.
The first place we see “Holy, holy, holy” as a description of God is in Isaiah 6. In prophetic vision, Isaiah witnesses a heavenly angel call out to another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” You would expect for Isaiah to be thrilled at his opportunity to witness the holiness of God, and that perhaps he would be overjoyed to see how monumentally good God is. Instead, we see something absolutely terrifying. Isaiah does not explode with joy, nor even crack a smile, but rather cries out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
The Implications of Holiness
Isaiah was not a new prophet here, for he had already received two visions by this point. Yet it was not until Isaiah saw the holiness of the Lord that he cried out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Isaiah was scared for his life, and probably for his soul. He knew that he was a sinner and was terrified because he saw God’s holiness. In other words, Isaiah presumed that he was generally a pretty clean guy until he saw what true holiness really is.
Woe is You
Most people have never honestly felt Isaiah’s feeling that would lead him to cry, “Woe is me.” Most of us are content to say, “Woe is you,” to the Hitlers or the Fred Phelps of the world, but rarely do we find ourselves terrified of God’s judgment. We are not terrified because we do not feel like we are sinners. If we do feel like we are sinners, we tend to think that we still are not really that bad. The reason we do not feel bad about our sin is because we have such a feeble grasp on how holy God really is. We have no real standard of good because we tend to neglect reading God’s law, which compares us to his holiness. In one sense, when we sing about how holy God is, we should start trying to avoid lightning bolts. Yet, just as Isaiah’s sins are atoned for by God through a burning coal, so believers’ sins are atoned for by Jesus death on the cross.
Back to the Point
So what does all of this have to do with Noah and the great flood? In Genesis 6, the passage about the flood, God gives his reason for destroying the earth with the flood: 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. In other words, the population of the earth would have been worthy to say, “Woe is me,” but they didn’t, to their own harm. God has always held woeful wrath against the unholy, but his wrath does not delay forever. When viewed biblically, the great flood is not a tragic natural disaster, but God’s judgment finally being expressed after extreme patience. The previous chapter of Genesis, chapter 5, is a genealogy from Adam to Noah, where men lived to be outrageously old. In other words, God was outrageously patient with them. For generations, he waited the better part of a millennium to bring forth his righteous wrath. Yet, finally the day came when God was grieved and set his heart to destroy the world.
A Sacred Opportunity
Is God good? Absolutely. The flood is more evidence for that fact, not against it. The only real question left is, “Is man good?” The answer? Absolutely not. Isaiah was privileged to see God’s holiness and yet live through crying out his confession, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Now you have that opportunity. Will you cry, “Woe is me” in confession to Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, or will you presume that your great flood will never arrive? God has promised that there will never be another great flood, but he has promised that his next flood will be fire. Be delivered from it. We must not see God as wicked in punishing the wicked, but instead call out on behalf of our own wickedness that we will be saved!