Thinking of Noah

Chapters 6 through 9 of the book of Genesis are devoted to telling the story of Noah and the making, loading and sailing of the ark. Like many of the treasured stories of our tradition it has certain kinds of specificity and yet lacks other details that might help make the story more easily understood. The dimensions of the ark are given, but not the shape of the bow or stern. Presumably the boat was designed to drift with the current and was not powered by sails. There is no mention of masts or rudder or other systems to guide the direction of the boat. The lack of specific details has not deterred artists from drawing their representations of the boat. There have been several attempts at building replicas. In Kentucky, about halfway between Cincinnati and Lexington, there is a theme park built around a huge replica of the ark. I’ve never visited it, but have been fascinated by the web site and other information put out by the promoters of the park. What fascinates me is the certainty of the promoters that they have got it right - that their depiction is exactly the way the original ark was constructed. Of course theirs wasn’t made by a single individual as the Bible reports.As the largest timber frame structure in the world, the Ark Encounter has individual beams and timbers that were lifted into place by cranes - far to heavy for an individual working alone or a father working with the assistance of his sons to raise. And the one in the Bible never had flood insurance, a detail about the park we learned when flood waters damaged the exhibits of the park. Noah didn’t have electric lighting, either. And at the present the Ark Encounter is closed due to public health efforts to contain COVID-19.

There are lots of problems with the type of biblical literalism that seems to be incapable of imagining that the words of the bible are only part of a much larger relationship between God and people. the Bible points the way to the relationship, but it is not in and of itself the entire story of God and the people of God. The story, of course, is about much more than how animals survived a flood. I am a bit uncertain about the huge amount of money and effort that has been invested in the theme park. I’m not convinced that it does anything to promote faith in God, participation in communal religion, or providing love and care to those who are in need. That aside, however, the Biblical story invites deeper reflection, especially in this time of worldwide pandemic.

For the ancients, the story of the flood is a way of thinking and talking about a kind of apocalypse. Of course the destruction of the world is not quite complete. There are survivors. That is true of almost every apocalyptic tale that you can find in either ancient or modern literature. The stories are not really stories about the destruction of the world, but rather about the near destruction. They are almost always told as survivor stories. Noah and his family are survivors. The animals are survivors. From their lives the world is repopulated after the flood.

The novel coronavirus is not the end of the world. There are survivors and there will continue to be survivors. Our economy is shrinking and undergoing stress, but this is not the collapse of modern economies.

Once you have decided that there will be survivors, the idea of the ark becomes a fascinating concept. Rather than think specifically of a boat per-se, simply think of a container - a vessel. If much of the way things were is to be destroyed, what are the things you want to put into your vessel so they can survive? It is a variation on the concept of what treasures you would grab if you were going through your house for the last time before a fire swept over and consumed it? What are the essentials of your past that you want to pass on to the future?

Last night, in Black Hawk, there was an emergency meeting. Sink holes are developing in a neighborhood that was built over an old mine. Some homes have already been ordered to be abandoned. More will need to be evacuated soon. I have a friend who owns one of the affected homes. In the next few days she may be forced to move. Every move is a process of paring down, deciding what to keep and what to leave behind. Our home isn’t near a sinkhole, but we are planning to sell it in the next year or so. And our offices need to be cleaned out and made ready for new occupants in a couple of months, so we are thinking of what items to take with us and what items to leave behind.

What are the essentials that you want to put into your ark to preserve for the future? It is a question worthy of deep thought.

The Biblical story focuses on the rich diversity of animal life on the planet. It speaks of a pair of each type of animal. There is an assumption that the plants and other foods for the animals will somehow survive and regenerate after the flood. It assumes that having a lot of different kinds of animals is important to the life and health of humans as they reemerge from the brink of destruction. Family, too, is important in the Biblical story. Noah’s sons and their wives are important characters in the story who are named and deemed to be essential to the salvation of human life.

The Bible is less than precise with the details of what happens after the flood as well. Noah plants a vineyard and then apparently makes wine and gets drunk. According to the bible he lived a long time after the ark came to rest on solid ground, but there are very few details of his life.

We are challenged to think of our lives after this pandemic. We have to decide what to keep and what to leave behind. It is a challenge and an opportunity. Perhaps the story of Noah and his experiences is an invitation for us to think of what is most important to us.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!