God is moved between grief and grace
The entire flood narrative (Genesis 6:5-9:17) is the culmination of a story of increasing human brokenness, that begins in Genesis 3. There we first see that sin results in disharmony -- between humans and other creatures (3:15), between male and female (3:16), and between humans and their earthly work (3:17-18). The disharmony intensifies in chapter four, when the first murder occurs. The genealogy of chapter five draws the link from Adam's generation to Noah's in order to highlight the downward spiral of humanity. Finally, the entire cosmos is thrown into disorder, and humanity is so broken that God regrets having created it in the first place.
The language of this divine regret in 6:5-6 is astounding. In verse five, God saw that "every inclination of the thoughts of [human] hearts was only evil continually." Yet, God's response to this realization is not one of anger or revenge. Rather, God was "sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart" (6: 6). God sorrows over the corruption of the beings that God made with such care and love, and God's heart, in striking contrast to the evil inclination of the human heart, is grieved by their betrayal. God is pained by the brokenness of creation. God sends the flood, not as an act of revenge, but as a result of grief over the tearing apart of the human relationship with God. We should always remember that the human betrayal of God's intention has effects beyond human beings; human sin has resulted in the corruption of all the earth (6:11), and therefore in its destruction.
That destruction, of course, is not total. God doesn't wipe away the creation entirely and then walk away. The flood is in fact the means of re-creation. God washes the earth clean and both God and the earth begin again. Thus all of creation is given a new beginning, a new opportunity to live in the harmony that God intended. Note, however, that this new beginning is also a continuation; God does not create new beings, but begins anew with a remnant of the beings created at the beginning.
The central part of the narrative revolves around the heart of God. This story is about what happens inside God’s heart which brings us to the covenant, the sealing of the newly-restored relationship between God and God's creatures. Note the following about the covenant:
- It is entirely God's doing. God enters into an eternal covenant with all creation without requiring anything in return. God does so fully aware that "the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth," (8:21). God seeks another way to get through to us. So God promises to Noah and to his descendants, and to every creature on the earth, never again to destroy all creation with a flood. God says that grace is going to lead the way. God is going to find a way to see our brokenness yet without destroying us in that sin. God will find a way, in other words, to forgive. God will find a way, to quote the New Testament, to bring about a new truth: “While we were yet sinners, God loved us and saved us.”
- The sign of the end of floods is both beautiful and richly symbolic. "I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh" (Gen. 9:13-15). The "bow" is precisely the word for the bow of war. But now God hangs the war bow in the clouds as a sign that the covenant between Him and the earth is still in force. This charming image is apparently borrowed from their Canaanite neighbours, since, - in their mythology - the god Baal hangs his war bow in the clouds after the earth's creation. For the Hebrews, however, the hanging up of God's war bow is a sign of the end of God's reaction of rage against human sin. That bow in the clouds is the sign of God's promise that God wants our restoration and every act of destruction is off the table.
- The cloud bow is not just for us to see. We may look at it if we like, and it will help us remember the covenant that God has offered, not to mention that it is a lovely sign of the end of nearly every rainstorm. But in fact the bow is for God to remember! It says that no fewer than three times in this text. The cloud bow is the string tied around God's divine finger. When God sees the bow, God will be reminded that floods for human brokenness are no longer an option; God's main role now is sustenance for every creature of God, both human and animal. In short, God is now madly in love with all his creation and He will strive with every divine nerve to make a way for all creatures to thrive in the cosmos.
- We, too, must love the cosmos in order that all of God's creatures might have places in which to thrive. Since we humans are primarily the cause of the planet's potential failure and collapse, so we must dedicate ourselves to its success and ultimate sustainability for all. One could easily say that Genesis 9:8-17 is the quintessential biblical passage for a full and rich environmental theology: God loves the cosmos and works for its on-going success and bids all those who love God to love the cosmos, too, and to join God in that good environmental work.
The world is in dire straits and needs grace. Grace where we are, grace in the midst of our pain. We need to know again and again that the Son of God died in our place so as to open up a fountain of grace that will never run dry, a good floodtide, and a flood that saves. Now more than ever, the world needs the gospel’s rainbow of hope. We, too, grieve over how things are going in this world. But even our grieving is done with the knowledge of God’s overarching grace. It’s our privilege as God’s people to let that grace in us shine forth from us, displaying that rainbow of grace so that more and more may be touched by its holy radiance.
To think about: How can you apply this narrative by following God’s example to move between grief and grace in your involvement with HIV/AIDS?
Writtren By: Ds. Hennie van Rooyen, Brixton Kerk/Church. Trained ‘Churches, Channel of Hope’ Facilitator.