"Flood and Promise" by Rev. Jillian Hankamer,
Updated: Sep 14, 2022
Flood and Promise
A Sermon for Northminster Church
Preached by Rev. Jillian Hankamer
September 11, 2022
-“If I can convince you that the flood was not real, then I can convince you that heaven and hell are not real.” - plaque inside “Ark Encounter” in Williamstown, KY
-built in 2016 by Answers in Genesis, a Young Earth Creationist organization that also runs Creation Museum in nearby town.
-brain-child of Ken Ham - a biblical literalist. Believes earth is only 6K years old.
-Ken Ham had a public debate with every millennial kid’s favorite science teacher, Bill Nye in 2014. After the debate Nye said this about his reasons for participating,
“[this was] an opportunity to expose the well-intending Ken Ham and the support he receives from his followers as being bad for Kentucky, bad for science education, bad for the U.S., and thereby bad for humankind.”
-Ark is built to exact dimensions given in Bible, though Ham admits the interior has been creatively imagined.
- If you’d like to go -
kids under 11 get in free
For Adults - Ark Encounter is $54.95
Ark and Creation Museum are $84.95
-Mention this because if there was a way to see the Ark without giving Ken Ham money, I would be in line tomorrow morning.
-Despite disagreeing with Ken Ham on almost everything, I find this “realistic” Ark - which had flood damage in 2019 - fascinating. Same way I find Mormonism, particularly the FLDS fascinating, Scientology, NXVIM, the Moonies and cults more broadly, fascinating.
-Notice I said I disagree with Ken Ham on almost everything. One thing I agree with him on is that this story of Noah’s Ark is not a children’s story.
-I won’t go nearly as far as Ham does to prove this point
-the “Fairy Tale Ark.”
-On the second deck, and is a collection”...drawings, children’s books, toys, and images that portray a tiny Noah’s ark that looks like a bathtub, with the giraffes’ heads sticking out and modern animals on board.” According to the Ark Encounter these are problematic images because everyone in them is “...smiling and happy. There’s no explanation for the cause of the flood, and there’s no mention of sin or past and coming judgment…”
-“While [these] are meant to be cute and fun for kids and were surely drawn with good intentions, fairy tale arks ignore the fact that the biblical account of the flood is about a righteous and holy God judging an exceedingly evil world, yet showing mercy to animals and mankind through Noah’s family. The Bible explains that the size of the ark was 300 x 50 x 30 cubits. Some children's books send mixed messages by citing the biblical dimensions of the ark while displaying an image of a fairy tale ark. Presenting contradictory information confuses readers rather than properly instructing them. Using artistic license and stylizing the ark is not necessarily sinful, but these cute arks drastically distort Scripture and make the account look like a fairy tale.”
- You’re also encouraged to read through the display’s “7 Ds of Deception” which include “Distorting the Message, Deceptively Cute, [and] Discrediting the Truth…”
-have to pay to learn the other four.
-But very, very broadly, what Ken Ham gets right is that the story of Noah’s Ark isn’t a kid’s story.
-not a kids’ story when we think of it as a happy tale of animals walking two-by-two into a big ‘ole boat.
-not a kids’ story in that the tale of Noah isn’t one we should leave kids to learn alone because it’s too complex. Too potentially painful. It raises too many hard questions that we as adults struggle with.
-I do think this is a story we should teach our kids, but with a big dose of thoughtfulness and honesty about how hard some of the things we find in the bible can be to understand.
-I’ve mentioned to a couple of you I’ve spent time with this past week that despite living with this text for a couple of weeks now knowing what to say about it that might be helpful, or uplifting has been quite the challenge.
-What can I pull from this text that you can take with you in the week to come that might be at all helpful if not hopeful?
-Honestly, I still don’t know. But what I can do is share with you some of my questions about this text and we can at least wrestle with them together.
III. Exegesis 1
First what are we do with this language about humanity being evil?
-The Message, Genesis 6:5, “God saw that human evil was out of control. People thought evil, imagined evil—evil, evil, evil from morning to night. God was sorry [she] had made the human race in the first place…”
-Big yikes. What has humanity done that’s so bad?
-Only 10 generations in since Adam and Eve. What could possibly have gone so wrong to push God to be homicidal?
-One response: this is all allegory. Much like I explained the creation narrative: one people group’s explanation for what we’d call a natural disaster.
-Seems at least possible because many religions have some sort of flood narrative.
-Epic of Gilgamesh is some of the oldest surviving literature in the world. From ancient Mesopotamia, likely around 2100 BCE. Tells the story of a massive, life-ending flood.
-Aztecs, Greeks, Hindus, Buddhists, Norse, Caddo tribe - indigenous people from my part of East Texas - all have flood narratives.
-Academic part of my brain resonates with this response. But it does nothing for my unease with God being so distraught and disappointed with humanity that mass murder is the only feasible solution.
-But one of the commentators I listen to weekly offered a way to consider this part of the story that was helpful so I’m going to share it.
-Dr. Amy Robertson, Rabbi in Atlanta, discussed the Jewish concept of “The Evil Inclination” - sounds awful, but stick with me.
-yetzer hara/יֵצֶר הַרַע in Hebrew. Opposite is yetzer tov.
-idea that we’re all born with a good and evil inclination. Sounds a lot like “original sin” BUT where this concept is more generous than Christians tend to be is in that Jewish teaching holds that having this inclination isn’t considered bad or abnormal.
-As Dr. Robertson explains the yetzer hara isn’t something we should try to rid ourselves of. “These are things like ego, appetite, sexual desire - [all things] that can get out of control or drive you to evil.”
-”But if you can harness these things for good purposes this is where progress comes from. This is how we procreate, get things done, etcetera.”
-Problems occur when our yetzer hara isn’t kept in check. When we cross the line and allow ourselves to satisfy these inclinations for self-serving, greedy reasons.
-So rather than just thinking of humanity is fundamentally bad and evil and therefore deserving of divine annihilation, looking at this flood the story through the lens of yetzer hara, the Evil Inclination, suggests that perhaps the problem is that the people are out of control. They’ve crossed the line. Perhaps lots of lines. They’ve made poor choices. They need to be corrected and put right again.
IV. Exegesis 2
-But people needing to be put right again bumps us back up against the ugly question of this story: what do we do about this unrecognizable God who’s so angry that she wants to end all life except the critters on this big boat and Noah and his family?
-Here are some things that help me navigate through this ugliness:
-First, the mention of humanity’s violence in 6:11 can’t be ignored. As one of the commentators I listened to this week noted, this indicates that what God is seeing is behavior that’s gone beyond vices or self-destructive behavior and is people hurting each other. Doesn’t make death okay, but gives us a sense of how bad things are.
-Second, and more importantly, we’re told in Genesis 6 that God is heartbroken by what’s happening with humanity. Think about that for a second. God, the creator of the universe, the omnipotent, great I Am, is upset to the point of being heartbroken. Not sad, not disappointed. Heartbroken.
-Particularly, it seems, when humans do violence to each other.
-What this points to is a God who grieves. Who wants to be in a relationship. And though this assertion might seem odd with what we know comes next, I think God’s grief points away from seeing the Eternal as a vengeful, hair-triggered deity.
-Directs us to understand a God devastated by her creation not living up to what she clearly foresaw and hoped for.
-Consider what a failure this is for God. As God’s creation humanity should have worked. Should have been successful and thriving and what the Creator foresaw during the creation process. Clearly that isn’t happening.
Again, doesn’t make murder okay, but maybe it can make us more compassionate for God.
-Third detail I found helpful this week. At the beginning of Chapter 7, God gives Noah very specific instructions for what animals to bring into the ark. So, for someone intent on destruction, the Eternal sure works hard to make sure there’s enough for the world and humanity to resume after the flood.
- The point being: God is angry and disappointed and heartbroken enough to be murderous, but is also caring and detail oriented enough to want Noah, his family, and all of these animals to have a solid chance of thriving after the flood.
-Pause and share a quote from another pastor who uses Narrative Lectionary.
- once a month gathering to talk through texts and potential approaches.
-she shared this quote from a Cree poet, “To love someone is firstly to confess, ‘I’m prepared to be devastated by you.’”
-how does thinking about God as being devastated by us affect your response to this story?
VI. Exegesis 3
-Last couple of questions this text raises for me.
-In 8:20-21 after the water recedes and Noah builds an altar to God we hear God’s thoughts, ““I’ll never again curse the ground because of people. I know they have this bent toward evil from an early age, but I’ll never again kill off everything living as I’ve just done.’”
–What are we to make of this? Because it feels like something to be celebrated - God will never again flood the earth - but it comes with that serious backhanded understanding the Eternal seems to have come to about our being bent toward evil.
-Try as I might, I simply can’t hold with a theology built on the foundation of people having a core of evil we simply can’t escape. I don’t believe people are inherently bad.
-Do believe we’re messy. That selfishness, greed, and a desire for power are at the heart of much of the world’s violence.
-Believe that humans can be incredibly cruel to each other and that the lessons we teach our children about kindness and compassion and trying not to be a jerk is something adults don’t take to heart like we should.
-But I don’t think people are inescapably bad which, in trying to live with this story, the yetzer hara continues to be helpful.
-But here’s the other piece of the puzzle this text gives us that we can miss if we’re not paying close attention: God’s mind changes in this story.
-Did you notice that?
-By Genesis 9 God has moved from being heartbroken over humanity to figuring out that people are inclined to be a certain way. To have a yetzer hara and rather than grieving this, a new way with better guidance and perhaps more compassion is needed from God.
-It’s incredibly telling that when God makes the covenant with Noah the rainbow serves as a reminder to God of the covenant that’s been made. It’s not a reminder for Noah, or for humanity, but for the Eternal.
-What this points to is that God, the Creator, the Eternal changes over the course of this flood and promise.
-God moves from being heartbroken to a new understanding of her creation.
-Humans will never be exactly what God anticipated in creation.
That’s the sneaky part of free will - our yetzer hara is too deeply ingrained. But this reality doesn’t make us unlovable, undeserving of life, or any less worthy of a relationship with our Creator.
-And how powerful, how beautiful it is to see God our Holy Parent grow in her understanding of us.
VII. Good News
-Good news this morning is twofold:
-First, remember: if we’re to this point and you’re still struggling with this story, keep in mind that we don’t form our theology around a single character or passage in the text. This story of flood in promise is one piece of a larger puzzle.
-Second, sit with this idea: It took God a minute to get to the point of not meeting violence with violence. It took God a minute to understand the ins and outs of her creation and that humanity wasn’t exactly what she anticipated. And it took God a minute to realize that a better response to violence is covenant. A better response is relationship. A better response is commitment.
-This isn’t the easiest response. Probably isn’t the smart response. Certainly isn’t the best use of God’s time and creative resources, but maybe, just maybe we can be like God. We can understand our expectations and reality don’t always match and that’s okay. We can choose to meet violence with relationship. We can move to make better, different, more committed response. We can choose rainbows.