Sunday, June 24, 2007

Genesis 8:13-22

13 By the first day of the first month of Noah's six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. 14 By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.

15 Then God said to Noah, 16 "Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. 17 Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number upon it."

18 So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons' wives. 19 All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on the earth—came out of the ark, one kind after another.

20 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21 The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

22 "As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease."

I'm not going to worry about the ecological problems here -- note, for example, that with only two of each kind of herbivore, the carnivores are going to exterminate them if they are to survive, and of course the earth is not going to be revegetated to enable the herbivores to survive anyway. Whatever. Remember that this is a fable and is already completely preposterous.

Rather, I'm just going to note that in classic fable format, this one has a little tag that tells us what it means. As we discussed earlier, in contemplating the possible sources of the archetypal flood myth, this clearly arose from some great catastrophe, perhaps the breaching of a natural seawall and the filling of the Black Sea, perhaps a vast storm, which utterly destroyed a people's way of life. The point of this story, after all, is to reassure. God is capable of wrath, but he has promised restraint. The people would have needed this story to have the confidence to move on, and rebuild.

Unfortunately, for those of us fated to live at this particular moment in history, the promise is mythical. The earth is in some peril -- not of the destruction of all living creatures, certainly, but of great changes that will bring hard times upon us. And it's not God's wrath that threatens us, but our own folly. The promise given in Genesis isn't going to help us. We're on our own now. It's up to us.