Pointing Out Sins or Providing a Solution?

I know I’ve mentioned before how I don’t always know why some stories are included in the Bible. They just seem strange, and particularly not like the family-friendly, clean-cut, very moral, straight-laced version of Christianity that is so often presented in our weekly gatherings. Genesis 9:18-29 is one of these passages.

What is in this passage you may ask? Well the title above kind of says it all. Noah and his sons have survived the flood, but we get this last little story before moving on to the next generations. During this time we have Noah planting a vineyard, drinking a bit too much of the wine that vineyard produced, and next thing you know he’s naked in his tent.

Things become a bit stranger though as one of Noah’s sons, Ham, sees Noah naked in his tent and runs off to tell his brothers. Unlike Ham though, Shem and Japheth go to great lengths both to cover Noah’s nakedness and not look at it themselves. When Noah awakes, he curses Ham (well truthfully he curses Canaan, Ham’s son, but there seems to be a connection here) and blesses both Shem and Japheth. Then with little in between Noah dies.

So what is all this about? I wish I entirely knew. It just seems like a very strange story. Let’s look at some possibilities. Is it focused on Noah’s indiscretion with alcohol as some kind of indication that even righteous men fall? Potentially, but I see very little to center this story being about Noah’s failure. I mean he did get drunk which is viewed negatively at other places in Scripture, but at the same time if we’re reading Genesis as a whole there has been no prohibition against this so far.

Plus, we see little negative response directed towards Noah here. Some want to compare him to Adam that after the new creation that the flood has produced we see another sinful action showing the taint of sin in the world. I understand the desire to do this, but a few things make me uncomfortable with using this logic.

We were never told that human sin is gone in the first place, just that God won’t destroy the world because of it. We are given no introductory comments on how drinking wine is a sin or any confrontation afterwards to indicate Noah was wrong as we do with the Adam narrative. Sure later on drunkenness is indicated as sinful, but we have to go quite a bit further along in the Bible to see that spelled out.

In addition to this, Noah is naked in his own tent. Now maybe his tent was wide open or something that made it every easy to Ham to see, but still Noah’s not exposing his nakedness outside where anyone could see. What we are given is that he’s naked in his tent, which I’m guessing happened at times even without alcohol. Do I think Noah showed  wisdom in getting drunk? No, but I’m not sure this is a place to pile on Noah and launch into a talk about how the Bible speaks against drunkenness (as if getting naked and passing out in your tent is the worst thing alcohol could bring).

So I’m just not convinced that we’re supposed to be focused on Noah sinning some great sin and ruining his reputation. Not to say there isn’t parallels between the Adam story and Noah story, the planting of a garden/orchard, the eating of that garden, and the presence of nakedness. However, there seems to be a different focus in these stories. Unlike in the story of Adam the focus seems to be on the behaviors of the sons in response to Noah’s nakedness, not on Noah’s sin itself (if his action is being considered sinful).

Now honestly Ham seeing Noah’s nakedness doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. Even if the situation is that Noah and his wife were having sex as I’ve heard proposed before, it still makes it hard to think that such an incident is worthy of cursing. This has led to speculation that something more was done to deserve this punishment or that because sins against ones parents and family were more serious at that time.

I’m not sure about either view, but I like the way that John H. Sailhamer puts in in the Expositors Bible Commentary on Genesis. He says that, “Whatever the details of the actual act might have been, taken at face value the sons’ actions suit the author’s purpose quite well. What he apparently wants to show is simply the contrast between the deeds of Ham and those of Shem and Japheth. This contrast becomes the basis for the curse and the blessing that follow.”

So we’re supposed to be looking at the deeds of Ham and the deeds of Shem and Japheth. Ham saw his father’s nakedness and proceeded to tell his brothers. We have no words on Ham’s part to know what was said or how it was said in this story, but we can gather it was not positive. After all he is not included in the deeds of Shem and Japheth. All we know for certain is that Ham points out Noah’s compromised position.

When Shem and Japheth hear this they take a garment of clothing into Noah’s tents with their backs turned and cover the nakedness of their father. Instead of simply spreading news of Noah’s state they take steps to cover it. If we’re wanting to focus on parallels between Adam and Noah it is interesting to note that God covers Adam’s nakedness and Shem and Japheth are the ones to cover Noah. It’s hard to say if that is intentional or not, but it is clear from the blessing and the curses that Ham did not do what was right and Shem and Japheth did.

This has made me wonder how often are we like Ham? We find someone who we don’t agree with, who fails, who is sinful, or who is simply found to be an imperfect human and we point it out to anyone who will listen. When we look at this passage and want to deride Noah for his sin aren’t we doing exactly what Ham did? Noah’s potential sin here is really very minor, but some point it out with great enthusiasm and many words.

If you compare this to the action of Shem and Japheth, they are part of the solution to this problem not just mockers on the sideline. They covered Noah with a garment and went on their way. It is so easy to point out the shortcomings and sins in people, it can be much harder to go in and be part of a solution to the issues (including sin) they may be facing.

I’m not saying that there is never a place to call out sin. We are all sinful, we are all imperfect, and the truth is we need to have it called out. There are people who are abusive and manipulative and they need to have their sin addressed personally and even publicly. I guess what I wonder is what do we do after we tell others about somebody’s sin?

Do we simply exit the story like Ham did or go on our way to find the next person to expose? Do we actively seek to cover the exposed sin with garments like Shem and Japheth? These garments may not be real clothing or covers like in Noah’s story. They may simply be garments of love, grace, and forgiveness, but those can be powerful garments. This isn’t always easy, because sometimes the one who needs these garments are people we can easily label as an enemy.

I know I can simply want to point out the sins or imperfections of other people. To sit on the sidelines and point it out. However, I don’t just want to just be a mocker. I want to be able to cover the shame and sin of those who I encounter with grace and love. Primarily because that is what I claim, the grace, love and forgiveness of God. This may not be what this passage was trying to get at, but it’s where it took me. What do you think?

Why Does God Send Rainbows and Not Just Walk Away

I’m really not that far into the Bible yet since I’m only writing on Genesis 9, but so far the story hasn’t exactly been what I call uplifting. I’m only through a little portion of the story and it’s already been established that humanity is going to continually mess this whole living in relationship with God and His creation thing up.

Adam and Eve are presented as not even being able to follow one restriction and resort to blaming everyone else (justified or not); Cain murders Abel, his own brother, in jealous anger; and I’ve just finished with the flood which presents the idea that humanity was so wicked God wiped most of them out. Sometimes in all this I wonder why doesn’t God just walk away from it all?  It seems like the smart thing to do, to let the flood overtake or to simply say “You know what Noah, enjoy your life and grow your family, but I’m done trying to have anything to do with humanity. You guys are on your own.”

Truth be told I feel this way even without having to read up to Genesis 9. I mean I feel I’m still living this story. I feel like I fail and flounder  to even keep up to human standards of what people think I should and shouldn’t be doing or thinking, let alone what God may desire from me. It doesn’t take long to look at the news to see stories that make it all too clear that we aren’t exactly living in harmony with each other, let alone God.

So when we get the end of the flood and God is interacting with Noah, we don’t see him turning his back. We don’t see a God who says “You’re on your own.” Instead we see a God who makes a covenant with Noah and by extension all creation in Genesis 9:8-17. Instead of breaking off relationship, God re-establishes it.

Now you could say that this isn’t too big of a deal, all God is saying here is that he won’t destroy the world by the flood again and using the rainbow as a sign of this agreement. However, the reason for the flood in the first place was the wickedness of mankind. It isn’t that everything is now going to be great and wickedness will never show it’s face, because it does and it doesn’t even take long to see it again in Genesis. I’m willing to bet that God knows this will be the case, but still says that He won’t take action like He did with the flood.

This isn’t the only time that God tries to re-establish a relationship with humanity either. It happens a number of times through the creation of the nation Israel and in their history. The pinnacle of this attempt to connect with humanity is seen through the person of Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection. God doesn’t give up on us, he doesn’t walk away. Even though it can seem that way at times, he is still attempting to have humanity be connected to him as much as we are able to be.

This attempt to connect with humanity may look like a rainbow (which I find interesting because rainbows are made from rain which could produce a flood) or may look like Jesus. I’m pretty sure that both examples are signs that God is not turning his back on creation and humanity, but rather moving forward and hoping that there will be those who reciprocate his love and desire for relationship.

It may seem misguided to keep seeking after us sometimes when we look at the history of humanity and the present state of humanity, but I’m also glad that is how God acts. I’m glad that God hasn’t washed his hands of us. I’m glad that he is seeking to be in relationship with his creation. I’m also glad that this attempt to establish relationship doesn’t seem to be coming from naivety, but rather a God who knows what we’re like and what we’re capable of.

 

So There’s This Story About a Flood

I’ll be honest, I’ve had some trouble figuring out how to approach a story like the flood. You can get bogged down in the arguments over if it really happened or not. Then if it really happened was it a local flood or a worldwide flood. These are interesting avenues and I’m not saying that they aren’t important, but I guess I don’t want to waste my time trying to wade into that.

The best idea I’ve had is to look at what I think some themes and issues are in the story and what point it is trying to make. This, I would imagine, should be important to anyone reading it regardless of it being a symbolic story or factual truth. Even this way it is difficult, but it seems like it would be more fruitful. So let’s take a look at Genesis 6:14-8:19 and see what’s going on here.

What makes the flood story so hard, at least in my opinion, is related to what I talked about last time. It’s a story about judgment and obedience. Such stories can make us uncomfortable. It often seems to me that you get people who love talking about God’s judgment and our need for obedience or you have people who want to avoid it at all costs.

I don’t know that I love talking about God’s judgment and obedience, but that is not hard to find in the flood story. God sends a flood in judgment for the wickedness of humanity. Noah, however, has gained God’s favor and is saved. As we follow Noah’s story we see him following the details of what God tells him to do without deviation. The question really becomes one of how are we going to use this story today?

For some it seems the story of the flood is simply a picture of why we need to be obedient to God. If we are disobedient and wicked then God will send calamity to punish us. I’m not so sure this is what we’re supposed to take from the story. This leads to us trying to pin God to any tragedy that happens in the world and then coming up with some reason that it happened. I’m sure we can all come up with an instance where this has happened.

Usually in these cases we set ourselves up as the ones who are like Noah and the rest of the world as wicked. I’m really not sure this is healthy. After all it wasn’t Noah who decided that he had God’s favor, that was up to God. It wasn’t Noah who decided that the rest of the world was to be flooded because it was wicked, it was God. So when we decide that we’re the ones with God’s favor and whoever else is the wicked, then I think we’re giving ourselves far more authority than we should.

This is not to say that God doesn’t judge. As I said we clearly see it here, and it’s a theme that continues through to Jesus and even the final book of the Bible. I just think that it is a theme we need to approach carefully and not carelessly. The same goes for obedience.

Noah was clearly obedient to God here, but again it is something to be careful about. Was Noah’s obedience moral or practical here? I mean most of the instances are simply waiting on God for instructions on what to do to survive the flood. There may be a moral aspect to listening and obeying God, but the areas of obedience were largely practical. So does it compare well to using it today for morality?

Even if you’d answer yes I think there are other questions that arise. Are we better than others simply because we obey certain things? Does that automatically mean we’re following God more? Do bad things happen only because we disobey? Do the nuts and bolts of our disobedience or obedience matter more than our desire to follow after God?

These aren’t questions answered in the flood narrative, but I think they can be raised. I think there are answers elsewhere in the Bible for these questions, but the flood narrative doesn’t give us those. We see this mix of evil, judgment, and obedience when we’re told about the flood. It’s tempting to codify it or turn it into a formula, but that may raise more problems than solve them.

What do you think? Do you have any of these conflicting thoughts regarding the flood story? How do you deal with them if you do?

 

 

 

Wickedness, Righteousness, Destruction, and How it All Fits Together

It’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these posts about Genesis. Last time I looked at the idea that Genesis 6:1-4 may not really be part of the reason why the flood took place. So in my post for today we’re going to be looking at Genesis 6:5-13. Here we’re given a direct reason for the flood, although even here we’re not dealing with too many specifics.

Here we see God looking over his creation and finding that every inclination of the human heart was evil. This fact causes God to regret making mankind and describes how he is grieved, troubled, or even in pain as John H. Sailhamer renders it in his commentary on Genesis for the Expositors Bible Commentary series. This passage always seems to create some discussion.

Such discussion tends to revolve around questions like the following. How can God regret? Doesn’t this go against the idea that God always the same and can’t change his mind? How can God regret his creation of humans and subsequently decide to destroy his entire creation because of their wickedness?

I don’t entirely know how to answer all these questions. I don’t necessarily find answers that deny the events of the passage or simply saying that God can do whatever he pleases particularly helpful. To be honest I’m a lot more comfortable with the idea that God regrets that his creation is saturated in wickedness than I am with the idea of Him sending a flood to destroy all of them.

To me a God who is able to feel regret and pain due to our sin, rebellion, and wickedness is one who cares about us and has an investment. At the same time destroying humanity because of that wickedness seems an odd way to show you care. This aspect of the story of Noah always seems to be overlooked or rushed by a bit fast.

In the popular children’s version of Noah all we’re typically given is that there was a flood, God told Noah to build a boat, so Noah built a boat and there are lots of nice animals on the boat getting saved from the flood. For some reason the purpose of the flood is usually neglected in this telling. God just seemed to think it was a good time for a flood or something and decided that Noah should be saved as well as two of each type of animal.

Even in the more serious treatments of the flood we tend to move a bit too quickly past this whole setup and say as Sailhamer does that, “The central themes… in these opening verses are God’s judgment of man’s wickedness and his gracious salvation of the righteous…” While I don’t necessarily disagree with this assessment, it just seems so casual. Yeah there’s judgment, but they deserve it and then we’re on to Noah.

It’s at this point where I don’t entirely know how to progress. For one there is a tension in this passage that isn’t easy for me to diffuse. I mean a few chapters ago when Cain killed Abel we didn’t see God act with swift justice, but grace. He even put a mark of protection on Cain. Yes, God did exile Cain, but his wickedness could have warranted death if we take what’s written later in the Old Testament or even Genesis into account. So we see grace with Cain, but here with the nameless multitude of the wicked we do not see that grace given to them, it is only given to Noah and his family, because of the favor Noah found in God’s eyes.

The second is that no matter which way you move on this passage it is troublesome. If you think that the flood happened the way that it is told then God was involved in sending a flood (be it world-wide or local but I’m not even going to get into that) because of the wickedness of mankind. To some this is one of the events of the Bible that turns God into some violent monster. You can’t really believe that this happened, after all look at Jesus and what he preached and how he lived. Jesus was the greatest revelation of God, so this stuff can’t be right.

It’s a tempting line of thought for me, but there is a tension between grace and this justice even within the first six chapters of Genesis, you don’t even have to get to Jesus. Sure he may up the ante quite a little, but I also don’t remember seeing Jesus saying, “You know the Torah that you believe in? Yeah, most of that you just made up.”

Instead most of the time I see him affirming what would have been the holy scriptures of his day, which would have been our Old Testament and the half of the Bible we have the most trouble with. He made laws apply to the heart just as much as the actions, he tweaked the way that interpretations of the law had been made, but Jesus never really just tossed everything aside and said that stuff is worthless and makes my Father look like a monster. That should give us some pause, at least it does to me.

However, if you think that this wasn’t up to snuff, that God really didn’t do this it is troublesome in different ways. If you lean this way you have a different set of people coming out with the pitchforks and torches saying you’re a heretic or you don’t believe the Bible or whatever. Any human element of doubt or questioning is a reason for great suspicion and we’ve got to try to root that out as fast as we can, often with poorly implemented methods and attitudes.

You see I kind of get this reaction though, even if I think the attitudes and ways that doubt and questions are handled in some Christian circles are harmful and poisonous. I mean if the flood and the reason for it are not real, why do we have it in the Scriptures? Why didn’t we see Jesus condemning certain passages as distorting God’s image and character? Is it only to tell a symbolic story about God’s justice and mercy? If that’s the case the example is still pretty extreme and, at least in my eyes, conveys the same message regardless of if it actually happened or not.

So yeah, I feel the tension and discomfort of a passage like this, but I’m not willing to push it aside or discard it completely. I don’t have a perfect way of removing that tension or discomfort, but I do have some thoughts that at least help me. It may or may not help anyone else, but this is what I have to offer at the moment.

First, if I’m going to believe in a God that’s bigger than me and can see much more perspective than I can, I have to acknowledge that I don’t have a complete perspective. I mean even on this passage, we’ve given very little information other than the people were wicked enough to cause God regret and pain in his heart. Do I trust that a God who showed mercy, at least the way I see it, to Cain a few chapters ago has a good reason for doing what he’s doing here? Who am I giving more benefit of the doubt God or my own doubts and discomfort? (I admit that here I am believing that the story is truly about God either in the events actually happening or being a story or allegory that accurately describes God’s character.)

Second, I find no place here rejoicing for the wicked being destroyed. Sometimes that seems to be the tone that some Christians take as they talk about the “wicked.” “They deserve it”; “they had it coming”; and “that’s what they get”are phrases that sometimes get tossed around or come into my own mind at times, but I find no place for it here. God is pained to have to do this, it seems like a last resort kind of thing to me. God is not cackling manically like some super villain, but seems rather painted tragically as given a choice between doing something like this or allowing even worse to go on. It may make me or us uncomfortable, but God’s not exactly pictured as enjoying the whole thing either.

Third, I’m willing to admit that I don’t have all the facts. Whenever the flood might have happened I know one thing, I wasn’t there. If it did happen and I was, well my name isn’t Noah, so I imagine that you’d know how that would have turned out. There are people who, for reasons I can understand, view Genesis 1-11 as non-historical stories telling us important things about God, but not really happening as historical events. I’m not completely one of them, but I’m not willing to dismiss them quite so quickly.

We’re all wrestling with something much larger than ourselves here, even if some of us aren’t so willing to admit it. To simply dismiss people who take one view or the other seems a bit like jumping the gun to me. Trading barbs or talking points back and forth seems to get nowhere. There are issues with both interpretations we have to own. Is one right and one wrong? Yes I imagine so, they might even both be wrong somehow, but I certainly don’t know with any kind of certainty which it is.

This has gone longer than I hoped, but it wound up being a challenging topic for me to approach. I don’t come as an expert and having all the answers. I simply come, hopefully humbly, and say I’m not sure but this is what I’ve got. If you’d like to share your thoughts or opinions on the passage or surrounding issues I bring up here, feel free. All I ask is that it is kept respectful even in disagreement.