Every week I receive great questions via social media. Here is one sent via Facebook message few weeks ago:
“During the great flood with Noah’s Ark, God wiped out virtually the entire human race to “purge” the earth of evil (at least that’s the story as I’ve come to understand it.) If this was the case I have a problem believing that a merciful, omnipotent God would kill millions of innocent people around the world to achieve this goal. What’s worse, these innocents (men, women, children and babies) not only died, but needlessly suffered a horrific drowning death! This seems extremely inefficient and malevolent to me.”
This is a great question and one I had as a young skeptic who eventually spent ten years as an atheist. What I failed to grasp at the time was the theology behind the historical (possibly worldwide) flood that spared only Noah and his family. In fact, I missed a number of theological points that are crucial for understanding Scripture at all. Here they are:
(1) God is Holy. In other words, God is absolutely pure. There is no fault within Him.
(2) God is independent. He did not need to create anyone or anything. He had perfect fellowship within the Trinity. He created the universe and all within it purely out of love.
(3) We are made by God. Each person is “knit together” by God Himself in his or her mother’s womb. Thus, we all have a relationship with God whether we want to or not. We owe Him everything and are accountable to Him.
(4) We are sinful by choice. Even though God freely made us, we choose to rebel against Him every time we sin.
(5) Sin is always first and foremost a crime against a Holy God. Because we are all in a creator-creature relationship with God and this relationship is primary, when we sin our sin is first and foremost a crime against God.
(6) Justice requires payment for sin. Because sin is a crime against God and God is the purest being, justice requires the greatest punishment, which is death–both immediate and eternal. Look at it this way, humans naturally are repulsed by crimes against children because we view them as more pure than adults. Yet, God is infinitely more pure than any child. He is more pure than we can imagine. Thus, justice demands the highest punishment imaginable.
(7) Because God is not only just but loving He provides a remedy for our punishment via the cross of Christ. But God provided a means of grace even before the cross by passing over the eternal punishment of sins and, often the immediate punishment as well, for those that placed their faith in Him.
It is also important to know that God is omnipotent, or all-powerful, and this includes the ability to see the future. All of this is necessary background information for understanding the flood recorded in Genesis 6-9.
Now, the flood narrative is introduced with these words, 5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.7 So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.
So, all people in the world have sinned against God (or will) and deserve the ultimate punishment. Noah, a sinner as well, has placed his faith in God and thereby appropriated the mercy of God. No one else in the world at the time had placed their faith or, apparently according to the perfect foreknowledge of God, would do so. Thus, they deserved the flood and worse.
Some object that God should only make people who will choose to be in relationship with Him but that assumes such a world is possible. God may very well have good reasons for creating those who reject Him. There are a number of possible reasons proposed by Christian apologists but that question is beyond the space I have here today.
In short, I reject any assertion that any “innocent” person died in the flood (and I doubt it was millions). Moreover, while this sounds a tad harsh, drowning is actually a pretty peaceful way to die as far as that goes. Furthermore, although God knew they wouldn’t take it, Noah’s building of the ark and the rains slowly building to the flood gave the populace more time to repent. Also, God acted to protect future generations for the current generation had grown so violent and, as such, constructed a pervasive culture of violence.
Finally, theologically, the flood points to the judgment on the Egyptians and is a precursor of dying (and rising) with Christ in baptism as a powerful symbol of Jesus’ absorbing the wrath of God on the cross.
I hope that answers the question.
This person (a highly intelligent one who was raised in a Christian home), also asked about where different races come from if the flood narrative is true. I’ll do my best to tackle that one next week.
Until then, grace and peace.