The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.’ – Genesis 6:5-7
The flood continued for forty days on the earth; and the waters increased, and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters swelled and increased greatly on the earth; and the ark floated on the face of the waters. The waters swelled so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered; the waters swelled above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, domestic animals, wild animals, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all human beings; everything on dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, human beings and animals and creeping things and birds of the air; they were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those that were with him in the ark. And the waters swelled on the earth for one hundred and fifty days. – Genesis 7:17-24
Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt-offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelt the pleasing odor, the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.
As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest, cold and heat,
summer and winter, day and night,
shall not cease.’ – Genesis 8:20-22
If I were reading this story for the first time as an adult, I wouldn’t think much of this “the Lord” person. First, He (ahem!) makes humanity, then he sees that they are hella evil, so instead of just wiping out the humans (virus much?), He wipes out everything, with the exception of his handpicked guy and handpicked guy’s family and enough animals to hopefully start the process over again. They were likely unaware at this time that certain wild animals do an awful job of breeding in captivity.
Then, after wiping out all land-based life on earth (good time to be a fish), handpicked guy has a barbecue and He’s like “damn, that smells so good, I’m never wiping out humanity again, pinky swear!”
In their attempts to understand the Divine, the writers of the Hebrew scripture often gave God some of humanity’s worst traits. God comes across as fickle, temperamental, subject to fits of rage. Again, I think this says more about the writers of the Hebrew scripture and the masters they served than it does about God.
What I find most intriguing about the depiction of God in this story is the sense of regret. Regret suggests that mistakes were made and in this story, God seems to show regret twice, once for having made humanity and once for the way God chose to deal with their evil.
It’s the second regret that most intrigues me. God’s decision to never destroy the earth again comes from the realization that people gonna people… in other words, humanity is just evil. If I destroy them every time they act evil, I’ll be destroying them every few centuries.
This, to me, seems to mark the beginning of God changes God’s methods of human persuasion. Or perhaps, this is when God starts thinking about persuading humans to suck less. Humanity can’t be redeemed by hitting the reset button every time God feels disgust with them. Moreover, evil can’t be vanquished with evil.
The flood was a hideous act. We need to be able to say that a God who would destroy His own creation in such a childish act is no god worth worshipping. In our building of a new world, the destruction that must ultimately take place can’t be on the level (or worse) than the evil that needs to be destroyed. As Audre Lorde says, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”.
Even God needed to learn this lesson. And a God that learns? That’s a God I can get behind.