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26 September 2018

The flood story and theodicy.

When people don’t understand “acts of God” really aren’t.

As I said yesterday, when skeptics ask me about the flood story, primarily what they wanna deal with is the idea of a global flood. Earth doesn’t have enough water to cover all the landmasses, and the young-earth creationist explanations for whence and whither the water, generally sound stupid to them. Pointing out how Genesis states the land was flooded, not the world, quickly sorts that out to their satisfaction.

I have yet to run into a non-Christian skeptic whose problem with the flood story is that God flooded the world. I have met Christians who struggle with it though. Generally their problem comes from their Pelagianism.

Y’see, Pelagius of Britain believed humans are inherently good. ’Cause we were created good, y’know. Ge 1.31 But sin bollixed all that, and now humanity is inherently selfish and corrupt—but Pelagians can‘t believe that. After all, they know lots of good people. And optimistically figure all most people need is a nudge in the right direction, provide us good influences, and we’ll straighten right out. This being the case, nobody oughta go to hell; a loving God, if he’s truly loving, would universally save everyone. Right?

Wouldn’t that be nice. But ’tain’t so. Like I said, we’re inherently selfish and corrupt. We could have the best influences ever—like Judas Iscariot had Jesus of Nazareth—yet still figure we know best, rebel, betray, and die in despair and nihilism. It’s not that God doesn’t wanna save everyone; of course he does. It’s that people would rather go to hell than have anything to do with him.

So when Pelagians look at the people of Noah’s day, their issue is they don’t actually believe God when he declared humanity, except for Noah, was ruined.

Genesis 6.11-13 KWL
11 To God’s face, the land was ruined. The land was full of violence.
12 God saw the land. Look, ruin!—all flesh ruined its way in the land.
13 God told Noah, “To my face, the end of all flesh is coming:
They fill the land with violence before them. Look, the land is ruined!”

No, they insist, it wasn’t. A loving God could’ve unruined it… in some other way than flooding it.

To their minds, a loving God should’ve found another alternative than judgment and punishment. The problem—the dirty little secret of universalism—is the only way God could fix ’em without punishing them is to reprogram them. If rebellion is their freewill decision, all God needs to do is abolish their free will, and force them to love him. In so doing, God’s gonna destroy them—you know, like hell will. Only difference is, it’ll look like God never actually destroyed anything—but of course he did, just like a computer with a swapped-out hard drive. Looks the same; isn’t at all.

Y’know, replacing humans with Stepford humans is hypocrisy, and completely undermines God’s character. But universalists don’t care about that so much as they do their character, which they insist is inherently good. Better than God’s, too. (Not that they’ll ever say this. They’ll simply claim instead that the violent bits of the bible which they disapprove of, weren’t literal. Or inspired. Or otherwise count.)

Nope, humanity really was ruined.

Noah didn’t build his black box (which is how the bible actually describes the ark) in a day. Genesis doesn’t say how long it took, but some Christians claim it took Noah a full century. It’s based on guesswork: Noah was 500 years old when his kids were born, Ge 5.32 and 600 when the flood came, Ge 7.6 so they imagine the 100-year interval was mentioned for a reason. Or, because God said his Spirit was only gonna strive with humanity 120 years, Ge 6.3 they imagine this was kinda God’s century-long countdown till the flood.

Regardless, we Christians have traditionally taught that Noah had time to warn his fellow Adamites the End was coming. Don’t know how long he had, but it was at least seven days, ’cause God told him to move into the ark a week before the rains came. Ge 7.4 In any event that’s usually how we tell the story: The neighbors noticed this massive thing Noah’s building, and he uses it to warn ’em of a giant extinction-level flood. True, that part of the story isn’t actually in the bible (no really; it’s not) but it’s not implausible. Unless Noah really hated or feared his neighbors, I expect he’d say something to warn ’em. God never said not to.

And in the way we tend to tell it, Noah’s neighbors thought the whole idea, and Noah himself, was ridiculous and delusional.

Popular Christian culture imagines the ark was a boat. And frequently, preachers stack the deck against Noah being believed: They describe Noah building a massive boat in the middle of dry land, far away from any river or lake, certainly not in any drydock—right where a boat shouldn’t be. A giant black box would be hard enough to swallow—just as many people’s bomb shelters and End Times bunkers seem needlessly paranoid to skeptics nowadays. But a boat on dry land? Noah must be mad.

Again, Noah’s interaction with the neighbors isn’t in the bible. Christians charitably speculate Noah warned ’em the flood was coming, but when we turn the story into the neighbors laughing at Noah’s mad idea, we’re not quite so charitable anymore. We’re basically inventing a misdeed for the neighbors to commit. And the flood punishes them for it.

The flood, I remind you, was unleashed to stop the violence in the land. Ge 6.13 Not to punish doubters for making fun of Noah. When we focus on our made-up story, instead of the scriptures’ real reason for the flood, we make God sound like he totally overreacted. He wasn’t punishing unbelief! He was stopping evil.

Skeptics sometimes wonder whether every Adamite in that time was truly evil, truly deserving of destruction. What about Adamite children? Babies?—surely they never had the chance to do anything evil, and worthy of death. Of course, the flood story doesn’t answer all our questions; it’s full of blank spots, which we keep filling up with speculation. For all we know, the Adamites were into child sacrifice, and there were no innocent children left. No innocent anyone left.

Like Abraham when he figured there were at least 10 good people left in Sodom Ge 18.32 —and it turned out there was only Lot and his pervy daughters—we don’t always believe God when he declares just how bad things are. Things can’t be that bad, can they? Well, sometimes they really are—as we frequently discover to our great horror and disgust. Read the news sometime. There’s no limit to human depravity when we put our minds to it.

Like I said, I haven’t met non-Christians who struggle with the idea of human depravity. They’re fully aware of it. Heck, most of them can quickly slap a list together of people they figure definitely deserve hell. They’re totally fine with God judging the wicked. They won’t always agree with God about how to define wickedness, but—unless they’re universalists—they’re okay with God taking the wicked out of the picture.

…But all those poor animals!

Where non-Christians might struggle with the flood story, is the fact God didn’t just wipe out humans. He scrubbed the land clean of everything.

Noah’s black box was loaded with two of each bird and land animal Ge 6.19-20 —sea creatures weren’t in any danger—and seven of all the ritually clean animals. Ge 7.2 (Centuries, I should add, before the LORD spelled out exactly which animals are ritually clean—which is why Pharisees claimed angels taught the Law to the Adamites.) This meant each of the animals in the box were their species’ only survivors. Every other animal—and reasonably we’re talking millions of animals—would drown.

I know a number of people who are very sensitive to the plights of animals. Not just commonplace animal cruelty, like negligent pet owners or those who run factory farms. They don’t wanna see any animal suffer if they can help it. Which I understand; I don’t care to see humans suffer, and if you don’t give a rip about humans it’s easy to transfer all that compassion to animals. Even project human motivations and desires upon them—but let’s not go there today. Regardless I think people are entirely right to object to animal cruelty. Careless or deliberate destruction of God’s creation is an obvious sign of human depravity, and reveals something seriously defective in those who perpetuate it. Whether arsonists, polluters, or bullfighters.

So y’gotta wonder what God was thinking when he decided, rather than a plague which’d specifically take out humans, he sent a flood which took out everything. I mean, the land was full of violence, Ge 6.11 but does that mean the animals in the land were likewise full of violence? Nature redder in tooth and claw than usual?

I don’t know. Nobody does. That’s the thing: We humans do not know the nature of God’s relationships with his other creations. Popular Christian mythology claims God has no relationship with animals: They have no spirits which go to any afterlife; they’re never getting resurrected; when they die they’re gone forever. Popular mythology also claims God has no grace for angels: When they sin they’re damned. (Supposedly because they see God, so they can’t claim ignorance; but plenty of humans have seen God, yet we get grace—and the utter gracelessness of this idea leads me to conclude it’s something graceless humans made up.) In any event, I have no idea whether the animals of Noah’s day were deserving of death or not. Presuming they were innocent, just because I would feel bad about kittens and ponies drowning, is naïve on my part.

Look, God is good. The scriptures attest to this regularly. It gives plenty of examples of how God has been good to his people, demonstrated by Jesus in particular. Those of us who have close relationships with God, have experienced firsthand how he’s been good to us.

This knowledge is meant to fill in the blanks whenever we come across a difficult part of the bible. Any verse could, if we pessimistically choose to spin it that way, be used to imply God’s not so good. The flood story is meant to teach us how God despises evil and violence so much, he sorta destroyed the world to be rid of it. (It’s a reminder he’s gonna do it again.) It’s another demonstration of God’s goodness. If we lose sight of this because we get fixated on, “What about the innocent little birdies and badgers?” we’ve missed the point. And again, we’ve presumed they’re innocent—and have no idea what they were. Like the children in my previous scenario, maybe they were already wiped out by violent humans for sport. We don’t know. But we shouldn’t fill in the blanks with self-righteous, I’m-more-compassionate-than-God speculation. We’re not more compassionate than God.