18 January 2020
Noah - a Story of Conservation
One of the first things you notice as you enter the community centre is the bright banner with the colours of a rainbow and the story of Noah’s ark being pictured.
The story from Genesis of Noah is a difficult story, but we keep telling it to children. It is a story of destruction, a world-wide flood which wipes out everything except Noah and his family and of course the amazing number of animals. He packs into the ark. Hardly helpful for a toddler’s sound sleep one would have thought. Also some people take it literally but we have no record of a world wide flood and the enormous diversity of animals, even after centuries of human destruction, make it hard to imagine a boat of any dimensions let alone Noah’s could have contained all the species - but that is up to you to decide.
In our world which is threatened by our use of resources and our production of waste Kathy Donley suggests that this story of Noah can be read as a parable in two ways. We could read it as God getting so angry at the evil and violence in the world he decided to wipe the slate clean and start again. When we tell the story that way, we have a picture of an angry God and that we had better be careful incase God does it again. Maybe we should be like Noah so that God will rescue us because we are good and leave the bad people behind to drown. It can encourage an attitude that its alright to eliminate some of God’s own living creatures to “clean things up”.
A second way of reading it it that we can also notice that God is depicted not as angry but as grieving and the focus in not on what is destroyed but what was saved. Maybe this is a parable of preservation not destruction. Maybe this is prophetic in the true Old Testament sense of telling the people the logical outcome of their actions and giving them a chance to change their ways and change what is inevitable if they continue in the same path...
After being on holiday and seeing the enormous impact humans are having on our environment, I wonder about the consequences of the ways many humans [including us] live now? If we continue to destroy the places where animals and birds live isn’t the logical outcome that eventually there won’t be any animals and birds? If we continue to pollute our rivers and oceans isn’t the outcome that we won’t have water that is fit to drink? Today world wide, one person in five lacks access to safe drinking water and water pollution contributes to the deaths of 5 million children under the age of three. What would the prophets say? Like ancient Israel we don’t always listen we hope it will all go away – as long as we are comfortable. What does this say to us about Jesus’ commandment to us to love one another?
Another thing about Noah - Its not raining when he builds the ark and rounds up all the animals. With no clouds in the sky he somehow believes that God wants to preserve creation. Scientists say one thing and politicians another about global warming, mercury levels in lakes and rivers, genetic engineering etc.. Most of us cannot go and measure these things for ourselves, but following Noah’s example maybe we should err on the side of preservation. The death of our beautiful Central North Island lakes has been predicted for years but only now they are poisoned are a few measures being taken too slowly.
There’s also an irony in this story. Genesis 6:5 says the Lord decided to wipe out human being because they inclined towards evil. But after the flood God says “never again will I destroy the earth” because people have this tendency to evil. It’s a pragmatic observation about humans. The same reason given for destruction now becomes the reason for God to change. . We find that people don’t change, God does . God chooses to stay with creation regardless.
Walter Bruggeman, an Old Testament scholar, says it this way, "[The flood] has effected an irreversible change in God. It is clear now that such a commitment to the creation on God's part is costly. The God-world relation is not simply that of strong God and needy world. Now it is a tortured relation between a grieved God and a resistant world."
When I look at the attempts of prophetic people to tell us about the consequences of what we are doing to our world and society, the truth of this ancient Biblical story is still true. The human heart is what needs to change, away from itself and our own comfort and turn towards God and one another and towards creation.
Those who follow Christ should have something clear to say about the preservation of creation for we are the bearers of the hope of the rainbow promise that humans can change their ways.. In the God who stays with us, we have hope that the earth can breathe again. For Christ brings life to us to share, life which is here and now and beyond death. Salvation means wholeness for us, human society and all creation . Lets us not separate our faith and our actions toward one another and toward creation
Margaret Anne Low
[With thanks to Kathy Donley]
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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