Genesis 6:11-14 & 6:17
By Drew Zuverink
"Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, 'I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark of cypress wood. I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has breath in it. Everything on earth will perish.'"
I think everyone, whether you believe in God or not, finds the flood account a little difficult to stomach. I mean, it's a story of a mass drowning, how could you not find that at least somewhat disturbing? If you google search, God flood's the earth memes, you will see that many people perceive God to be evil because of this story. Here are just a few examples:
- "When God floods the entire world but sends a rainbow so it's all good."
- "For God so loved the world that he drowned everyone. Just kidding, the flood account never actually happened. But if you believe that it did, how can you worship a genocidal mass murderer?"
- "My favorite part of the Bible is when God gives humans free will but then punishes them when they don't act how he wants them to."
- God floods the earth and kills millions to start the world anew and nobody bats an eye. Hitler kills millions to start the world anew and everybody loses their minds."
How would you respond to objections like these? Do they have a point? Does the flood account prove that God is a moral monster on par with the likes of Hitler and Stalin?
The flood account is disturbing, I am not going to dispute that. The thought of thousands of people drowning to death isn't a comforting one. I also completely understand how a skeptic might struggle to view God as good and loving when stories like this are in the Bible. However, a closer look at Genesis 6, as well as a better understanding of what the ancient world was like, can help put the flood account into some context.
But before we dive in, let me ask you just one more question. Is there anything that a group of people could (continually) do (refusing to ever stop) that would lead you to believe that they deserved to die? Keep that in the back of your mind as you continue to read.
Let's start with Genesis 6:5,11, &13.
(V5) "The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time."
(V11) "Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence."
(V13) "God said to Noah, 'I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them."
The reason that God gives for flooding the earth is because of human wickedness, and particularly, human violence. So unlike Hitler who killed millions of innocent civilians because he viewed people through the lens of race, God brought judgement on a group of people characterized by violence. We don't know exactly how evil people were at this time but for all we know God sent the flood because all people were behaving more like the Nazi's and less like your little old neighbor down the street. The way Genesis 6 describes human beings is having hit the moral rock bottom.
God also gave people time to repent and to change their ways. 2 Peter 2:5 says, "God did not spare the ancient world, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness." It took Noah possibly 120 years to build the ark, giving him plenty of opportunities to warn people of the coming judgement, but it fell on deaf ears. Not one person followed Noah's lifestyle of righteousness in 120 years of his preaching, and 120 years is a long time! All throughout the Bible God continually gives people warnings and pleads for them to repent of their wickedness so that he won't have to punish them. In Ezekiel 33:11 God says that he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked but wishes that everyone would turn from their sins and live! That's why he is described as slow to anger and abounding in love. He waits, sometimes 120 years, to punish because he is graciously giving them opportunities to repent. It would have been completely consistent with God's character to warn people of the coming flood and to urge them to leave their life of violence. If someone had repented God would have saved them alongside of Noah.
A little ancient near east history lesson will also help us to understand how a loving God might decide to flood the earth. First let me just say that humans have traditionally become more civilized and made moral progress as time goes on. Usually, the farther back into history we go, the worse people appear. Keep that in mind as I explain some of the near eastern practices that were prevalent many years after the flood account. It's entirely possible that people were far worse in Noah's time.
- The Neo-Assyrian annals from 883-859 BC describe a more violent time than our own. The annals boast of how the king would gouge out the eyes of enemy troops, cut off their ears and their limbs, and then once they eventually died, he would display their heads all around the city. (Research ancient near eastern warfare for a greater understanding of how barbaric and sadistic it was.)
- Child sacrifice was practiced by multiple people groups all throughout history. Often the practice was done in religious contexts seeking to appease their gods.
- Mutilation was a common form of punishment for some ancient near eastern civilizations. For certain crimes, Hammurabi's code (Babylonian legal text) insisted that the tongue, breast, hand, or ear be cut off. One severe punishment involved the accused being dragged around a field by cattle.
- Status or social rank determined the severity of the punishment in Babylonian or Hittite law.
- The code of Hammurabi dictated that if a homebuilder made a mistake and the construction collapsed on one of the homeowners children, then the homebuilder's child would be put to death.
- Chattle slavery was a part of the ancient (and the not so ancient) world. Slaves were bought, sold, owned, used, and violently abused by their masters. In many ancient near eastern countries, slaves could be tortured and killed by their owners because they were viewed as property.
There were many other barbaric practices done back then but the point remains, if a group of people is extremely violent, wicked, and barbaric, and if God warns them to change but they stubbornly refuse - wouldn't we want God to put a stop to their evil? And remember, these practices arose after the time of Noah, so it's entirely possible that it was even worse during his time. Think about it, if Hitler was so hard hearted that he would only stop mass murdering the Jews once he was killed, aren't we glad that he was? In a similar way, perhaps if we saw just how evil people were back then, maybe we would view God more as the hero of the story. We don't need to delight in the suffering of the wicked in order to rejoice in the fact that their wickedness is ended by their death. God's wrath is not opposed to his love but it is precisely because God is loving that he eventually pours out his wrath. God steps in to protect the innocent by pouring out his wrath on evil oppressors. Thank God for that.
Remember also that God is the author of life. When a human being takes another person's life, it's murder. But not so with God. He gave them life. Life was a gift they would never have experienced if God did not give it to them. It is well within God's right, as God, to decide that a person does not deserve that gift anymore.
I hope this helps you think through how a loving God could decide to flood the world but if you are still struggling with that tension - look at the example of Jesus. Ultimately, I can put my trust in a God who would put on flesh, lowering himself by becoming a human being, so that he could make a way for us to be saved. Jesus voluntarily submitted himself to be tortured, mocked, and killed because he loves his human creatures. That is the same God who also decided to flood the earth. So even though it might be hard for me to understand why he would choose to do that, the person of Jesus Christ has earned my trust. He must have had a good reason.