♬ “Tidal waves don’t beg forgiveness // Crashed and on their way” ♫
“And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” – Genesis 6:6
We began this week with a fun children’s song about Noah, Rise and Shine. And while it’s true that the story of Noah is a popular tale for children, it is also true that the story is not without its difficulties.
There are logical challenges to corralling, organizing, and fitting every animal onto the ark. There are internal consistency issues regarding the number of animals that boarded as well as the duration of days spent riding the waves. And there are moral and theological quandaries raised by Noah’s ark. Did God really regret creating humanity? If it were just the people who were deemed wicked, why did nearly all the animals need to die? Would it have been wrong for Noah to save someone who was drowning? When you take some time to think about the complexities and implications of the story, several aspects become really troubling, really quickly.
What do we do with these challenging verses and problematic pieces? This is not the only story in the Bible with a few head scratchers.
Sometimes it helps to understand the historical and literary context of the story. Getting insight into what a word, phrase, or idea meant thousands of years ago can help us reframe it today.
Along the same lines, it can help to remember that Genesis and several other narrative books of the Old Testament were not written to be history books in the way we understand history textbooks today. Their priority was to address questions of why rather than what or how. Truth was not conveyed exclusively through objective facts.
Sometimes it is important to remember the limited nature of language and the unlimited nature of God. Sometimes the messy parts of the Bible seem meant to reflect the confusing, messy parts of our life.
Some people prefer to avoid the stickier scriptures. Some people seek to harmonize every scriptural conundrum. They twist and turn divergent stories until they align with each other and cherry-picked scientific studies.
I believe that part of our maturation in faith is to sit face-to-face with that which we don’t understand. We cannot glibly skip across the scriptures nor can we force them to fit our agenda. We sit with them in prayer. We bring our frustration and doubt and concern to God. This will not always give us the answers we seek but it is the path that will open our heart and mind. Friends, this is about more than a method for Biblical study. Sitting with rather than ignoring, engaging without trying to change, listening honesty, and bringing to God in prayer. This isn’t just how we deal with difficult passages in the Bible, this is how we learn to love our enemy.