When I was a kid growing up in Georgia, in a small village outside Atlanta, my parents were leaders in a small fundamentalist congregation. All six of us kids attended the Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. One of the things I enjoyed most about those early educational experiences was the teachers’ use of “flannel graph” art as a teaching aid in illuminating the Bible stories. Pictures of people and significant objects in the story backed with flannel adhered to a lightweight board covered with flannel which helped make the story come to life.
One of the stories I loved was “Noah and the Flood.” So I was fascinated to hear that Hollywood was producing a movie on the subject, and I intended to see it. Unfortunately I was unable to see the movie. Many years ago I stopped believing that the stories were literally true. In my imagination, however, I would like to have a heart-to-heart conversation with Noah. The really big question I would ask Noah is, why did God send such a terrible flood to destroy the people and animals and everything else in the land where you lived? But, of course, my interview with Noah doesn’t go well because we live in such different worlds. Everything is different. They are said to have lived unbelievably long lives, such as Noah’s 950 years. Different times, cultures, languages. Even to talk of faith and beliefs would be a difficult at best.
Setting aside a preoccupation with all the species of animals, birds, and insects being rounded up and adequately housed as totally impossible, I am left with the most important question of all: Why did God send such a terrible flood to totally destroy people, animals, and everything in the land were Noah lived? The ancient text gives the explanation:
God saw that human evil was out of control. People thought evil, imagined evil, evil, evil from morning to night. God was sorry that he had made the human race. . .it broke his heart. God said, “I’ll get rid of my ruined creation, make a clean sweep: people, animals, snakes, bugs and birds—the works.” – Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message, chapters 6-7.
So what can we learn from Noah’s story? One possible lesson is that when human beings forget their origin in God’s creation, neglect their responsible stewardship of the earth, God’s gift, and forsake their due care for one another, then bad consequences follow. Pope Francis, a scientist himself, has caught the attention of the world, and one thing he said reverberates in our thoughts: “Destroy the earth, and the earth will destroy us.” In his encyclical, On Care for Our Common Home, Laudato Si, he referred to “integral ecology” which means that everything on earth is connected, and implies that our actions can and do upset the delicate balance of our environment, disrupting the intricate web of life supporting everything existing on earth.