Friday, February 12, 2010

God's Nature


One of the most terrible examples of God's judgment of sin is the story of Noah's ark. Even though it has inspired the decor of many a nursery with pictures of a bald, bearded man squeezed into the ark with cartoon-eyed animals, it is anything but sweet. When the earth had become too violent and corrupt, God decided to destroy all flesh, except those in the ark. 

The water came from the "fountains of the great deep" as well as "the floodgates of the sky" (Genesis 7:11). What is this "great deep"? Other Bible passages indicate that it is the ocean. Wikipedia confirms this event: 

Burckle Crater is an undersea crater likely to have been formed by a very large scale and relatively recent (c. 2800-3000 BC) comet or meteorite impact event. It is estimated to be about 30 km (18 mi) in diameter [1], hence about 25 times larger than Meteor Crater.

The comet would have struck the Indian Ocean, between Madagascar and Australia, causing a mega tsunami. 

But I digress, because I've spent so much time talking with atheists recently that I can no longer say anything without backing it up. As soon as I had written the first sentence I heard voices in my head insisting that scientifically the flood couldn't have happened. 

I really wanted to talk about the two parts of God's nature that are so closely intertwined that we cannot separate them: his justice and his mercy. First, there is God's justice. Victims require justice. Nobody sins in a vacuum--sin not only affects other people, but it spreads like a cancer. "The sins of the fathers" are truly visited upon the children, as psychotherapists can attest to. The children bear the scars and inflict them on their own children. 

Although our justice system recognizes that criminals are often deeply broken, crime has to be punished and society has to be protected. But sin injures even when no punishable crime has been committed. And sin and suffering are inexorably linked, even where the link is not direct. 

So God who is just and good will some day do away with all sin and evil. Nothing and no one who causes people to stumble can have a place in the New Earth (Matthew 13:41). In the same way that God flooded the earth during the time of Noah, he will put an end to the current earth. And in the same way that he gave Noah clear instructions on how to build the ark, he gives us clear instructions in his word on how to receive "the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 3:15). 

After the flood, he put his rainbow in the sky as a sign of his covenant of peace and mercy. And after his crucifixion, when evil seemed to have prevailed, he went "and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah" (1 Peter 3:20). At that darkest moment of human rebellion, he extended his offer of peace to the corrupt people who died in the flood, demonstrating that his mercy triumphs over judgment. 

11 comments:

Raoul Rheits said...

Hi Anette,

You said

"I've spent so much time talking with atheists recently that I can no longer say anything without backing it up."

Pesky 'atheists', always demanding evidence ;-)

Anette, something troubles me (regarding the rainbow)...

... do you really believe that light didn't refract through water droplets *before* 2800-3000 years ago?

Or was a rainbow already a common phenomenon?

A voice in my head is telling me that something doesn't sit quite right with that. Which makes thing again, ow does one sift folklore from fact?

And how does one such as myself (who is against animal cruelty of any kind) find any hope in an all-powerful being who chose not to drown just most of the humans, but animals too?

Raoul Rheits said...

'ow' = 'how', 'thing' = 'think'

and various other typos.

Apologies. :-\

Kind regards,

Raoul

Leigh said...

never thought about all the cartoon Noah's out there, it is something how it has been portrayed as a fairy tale rather then the truth..our country is so lost...there will be a day coming where they will see. thanks for getting me thinking.

Y = X said...

Leigh:

I'm curious about your, 'our country is so lost'. Do you believe there was a time when it wasn't lost, or as lost as it currently is?

Also, it seems to me that it would be inappropriate to portray the story of Noah's ark in a realistic fashion in a nursery.

Anette Acker said...

Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Raoul!

Or was a rainbow already a common phenomenon?

A voice in my head is telling me that something doesn't sit quite right with that. Which makes thing again, ow does one sift folklore from fact?


That's a good question. The Bible is historically accurate, but it's important to keep in mind that it was written by men who were inspired by God. Some Christians interpret this to mean that it is completely factually inerrant in every way. They will go so far as to say that if there are any factual errors (and they existed in the original documents) then God lied. This view requires more cognitive dissonance than I can muster.

This is the way I see it: Just like Jesus (who is referred to as "the Word" in John 1:1) was fully divine and fully human, so is the Bible.

The Bible never claims to be "inerrant," it claims to be "inspired" (2 Timothy 3:16), and there is an important difference. "Inerrant" implies that every fact has to be literally true, while "inspired" means that everything in the Bible is exactly the way God wants it in order for him to communicate his message of salvation.

The Bible is human in the sense that it reflects human cultures and contains what appears to my limited understanding to be some human errors. (Like the two versions of how Judas died.)

However, it is also divine. When it comes to the theological message, there are no accidents. Every detail is there for a reason. For example, Weemaryanne asked why Jesus cursed the fig tree. He was hungry, but the tree had only leaves because it wasn't the season for figs, so he cursed it and went on his way. It's a strange, seemingly random event that the Bible never explains. The Interpreter's Bible goes so far as to say that it doesn't seem canonical and should have been omitted from Mark's account.

After thinking about it, I realized just how significant that event really was. First, the message of fruit-bearing is central to the Gospel. John 15 says that we are to abide in Christ like a branch on a vine, in order to bear good fruit. In Luke 13:6, Jesus tells the following parable: "A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard keeper, 'Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?' And he answered and said to him, 'Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.'"

Second, after the fall Adam and Eve sewed coverings for themselves of fig leaves. So fig leaves represent all the things we do to justify or hide our sins. (Significantly, Jesus saw only leaves on the fig tree.)

But right after the fall, God slaughtered an innocent animal and used the skin to cover Adam and Eve, foreshadowing his plan of redemption, where Christ, the sacrificial Lamb, would cover us with his righteousness, meaning that he would restore our brokenness.

It is also significant that the cursing of the fig tree happened right before Jesus turned over the tables in the temple, confronting corruption among his people (i.e., they were failing to bear fruit). And when he left, the disciples observed that the tree had withered.

Sorry, I know that was a long example, but my point is that the Bible is theologically flawless in terms of its consistency and the diverse ways in which it communicates the message. It uses many different literary styles, some explicit (like Paul's instructions) and others subtle (like the parables of Jesus). But it holds together perfectly.

Anette Acker said...

Part 2

So your question of whether that was the first rainbow is a good one, but the answer is not really important. What matters is what it signified. I do, however, think we can safely say that the flood did actually happen.

As to how to sift folklore from fact, in my mind that is of secondary importance. There are two important questions: First, is the Bible the inspired word of God? And second, is God good? Most of the questions that skeptics ask revolve around those two questions.

I think the theological consistency and the subtle symbolism that runs through the Bible (among other things) indicates that it is the inspired word of God. And if we conclude that it is the inspired word of God (which I realize that I have not proven to you, but I have proven to myself) then we can also say that God is good because our clearest picture of his nature is in the Gospels. (The Gospels would have to be read literally because the literary device is eyewitness accounts.)

If we can answer both those questions in the affirmative, then our purpose in reading the Bible is to understand the theological message, so the question of fact versus folklore becomes secondary (but not insignificant). I would say that we have to look at the literary device used. The Gospels are clearly eyewitness accounts, whereas the creation story seems more concerned with the theological message than a scientific explanation.

And how does one such as myself (who is against animal cruelty of any kind) find any hope in an all-powerful being who chose not to drown just most of the humans, but animals too?

In the story of Jonah, Nineveh was a great city with much corruption, which God had decided to destroy. But he sent Jonah to warn them to repent. They did, so God didn't destroy the city. He explains to Jonah: "Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right hand and left hand, as well as many animals?"

So God demonstrates here that he has compassion on people who can't choose right from wrong and animals. However, evil affects everyone, so there are times when children and animals suffer from the choices of adult humans.

Anette Acker said...

Leigh,

Thanks for stopping by and commenting! You're right that it's easy to become desensitized to the Bible stories we've heard so many times and lose the message.

Raoul Rheits said...

Hi Anette, thanks for your explanations. I similarly believe that there were a few 'great' floods that have given rise to much folklore, historically based, and passed down, amplified, woven into mythos etc. Obviously my findings/conclusions are different than yours, but I do like to study these things.

You say:

"However, evil affects everyone, so there are times when children and animals suffer from the choices of adult humans."

Well, actually isn't it more correct to state that (hypothetical disclaimer) *God* chose to kill 99.9% of humans in a way that would make 99.9% of all other lifeforms suffer too?

Being God, assumedly he could have chosen to burned every individual person (excepting Noah et al)to a crisp where they stood, or turned them into pillars of salt or rock statues, or indeed any manner of creative methods without even breaking a sweat?

Respectfully, do you at least see how saying that the animals 'suffered as a result of the choices of adult humans' could be considered a refusal to accept that (hypothetically of course, from my view)God *chose* to punish all living things alongside humans?

So the choice was God's.

Imagine if I was to hurt someone and I was sent to court. And the judge found me guilty and ordered that I was burned, my house was burned, and all dogs and cats in the world (except for two) were burned also.

Anette, would you think it reasonable to say that all the dogs and cats suffered as a 'result of a choice' I had made?

Or would it be more reasonable to say they suffered as a result of a choice the judge had made?

Thanks,

Raoul

Anette Acker said...

Raoul,

Respectfully, do you at least see how saying that the animals 'suffered as a result of the choices of adult humans' could be considered a refusal to accept that (hypothetically of course, from my view)God *chose* to punish all living things alongside humans?

Yes, I see your point. It is true that the animals died during the flood, just like they will die when this world ends (which is what the flood typifies). But we also see God's compassion for animals in the story of Nineveh, so we know that is a part of his nature.

The OT stories are often simple and concrete, and they highlight one aspect of God's nature. But the truth is that God (and Christian theology) is far more complex than anything that can be captured by one story. This becomes clear when we look at the Bible as a whole. Individual stories are intended to instruct and show us how the pieces of the puzzle fit together. They isolate one of the many moving parts of Christian theology, and it is all further explained in the NT.

Raoul Rheits said...

Anette, you responded (thanks) with:

"Yes, I see your point. It is true that the animals died during the flood, just like they will die when this world ends (which is what the flood typifies). But we also see God's compassion for animals in the story of Nineveh, so we know that is a part of his nature."

Back to my analogy - so the judge who ordered that I was burned, my house was burned, and all dogs and cats in the world (except for two) were burned also - is really being consistent because on another occasion he was compassionate towards animals?

"just like they will die when this world ends"

So the judge ordered those animals to be burned because one day he will order all animals to be burned?

I don't get it. Please amend my analogy if you see where I am mistaken.

Anette Acker said...

Hi Raoul,

Sorry for taking so long to get back to you. I hope you are doing well.

The important thing to keep in mind is that God's nature is expressed in Jesus Christ, so we know that He is compassionate. He healed and showed love to everyone. We also know from the story of Jonah that God cares about animals as well.

However, He sees things from an eternal perspective, and we tend to see things in terms of this life only. What matters is our eternal destination.

Animals get slaughtered and hunted anyway. Or they are eaten by other animals. If they didn't, their populations would grow too fast. Most people don't have any qualms about eating meat.

So I think that the mention in Jonah about God's concern for animals shows His compassion for all living creatures, even in the OT, where we don't get the clear sense of His nature that we get in the gospels.