Noah’s ark is not a children’s story. It’s about God killing all of humanity with a flood. Everyone on Earth, except one family, drowned to death.
Oh and there’s some animals too.
Obviously, this story appears regularly in children’s Sunday school because little kids love animals. In telling the story to children while focusing on all the cute animals, we’re teaching children and ourselves to tame scripture, to ignore what it actually says and make it more palatable to our modern sensibilities.
But scripture is not tame. It is not easy to read. You can either ignore the hard parts and focus on the encouraging bits, though many of those are misquoted and misunderstood. Or you can wrestle with the difficult passages and through them know God more.
Let’s not miss the point of the story: God judges the wicked and saves those who follow him.
The story of Noah’s ark includes God judging humanity for its sin, picking one family to save, and willingly destroying those he chose not to save. This is not a story meant for our modern sensibilities.
But what do we learn in the story?
God Desires Righteousness
Sin demands death. In Genesis 3 we see that rebellion to God, whose very person is the source of all life, necessarily brings about death. Humankind had devolved into rampant depravity and perversion. They were rebelling against God who had created them and made them in his image. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen 6:5) Instead of living in glad submission to God, humanity was rebelling against him which only leads to destruction.
The Lord had made it clear to previous generations that sin was not ok. And yet Noah’s generation filled the earth with violence due to their rebellion.
The Lord decides that he will start over with the family of a righteous man. What does “righteous” mean? Surely not infallible, because Noah had a major drunken carousing sort of failing after the flood.
Based on Noah’s actions in the story, righteous refers to someone who trusts God. Noah trusted God enough to obey him and build the ark, to gather his family and the animals. He trusted God through the storm and weeks of flooding. He trusted God enough to praise him in the midst of devastation. He was not perfect, but he trusted the Lord.
God is Gracious
God is gracious to Noah in that he gives him a chance to be saved from the flood. However, God didn’t just miraculously protect Noah. He gave him a command to obey: “Build a big boat.” If Noah had disobeyed, he would not have been saved. But he took the opportunity given to him by God to trust God. Noah had a faith that showed in his diligent work of building a boat even in the midst of mocking neighbors.
Noah’s obedience shows a deeply formed character and a heart that trusts God. Building a large boat by hand is not a short project, and Noah persisted in obeying over the long-haul.
God Keeps Promises
Even though sin demands death, God promises that he’ll never destroy the earth through flood again and puts a sign in the sky as a symbol of that promise. Those who keep reading know that God already has a plan to defeat death caused by sin. Christ would come, and instead of God destroying the world because of sin, Christ would allow the world to destroy him. In his death and resurrection, we are freed from the price of our sin.
God has promised that he will make the world whole again. Far from destroying the world, he will renew it into what the Earth was always meant to be. And just as he kept his promise of a savior, we know that he will keep this promise. We can trust him.