What does it mean for God to bring the Flood? Why does God bring the Flood? What is the Flood that brings an end to our world? (Genesis 4 ~ 6)
Is our world unraveling into a flood?
2:16 Did the Great Flood happen?
9:53 What humanity makes of the world after Cain
16:38 How evil unravels our world into the Flood
27:05 Genesis introduces Noah
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“I looked at the earth, and it was formless and empty; and at the heavens, and their light was gone… before the LORD, before His fierce anger. (Jeremiah 4)”
These are the words written by Jeremiah, who prophesied the impending judgment and destruction that would fall upon his homeland, the kingdom of Judah, and its royal city, Jerusalem. And in 587BC, Jerusalem fell to the besieging armies of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, which then proceeded to raze the city to the ground.
What should catch our attention though is that this prophecy is a clear reference to the opening of the Genesis Creation account—the world is formless and empty, and God is yet to speak forth the Light. But, Jeremiah’s vision is the reversal of Genesis; God has turned the world back into the formless, empty, fathomless depth of water and darkness at the beginning; of course, the vision did not imply that God will actually unmake all that ever exists—only the city of Jerusalem would be destroyed. But, for Jeremiah, and the ancient Hebrews, this unmaking was God’s judgment on Jerusalem. The idea is: when a society or people become irreversibly corrupt, deceitful, and violent, their entire world will eventually come apart—what’s happening is God undoing their world that He has spoken forth.
… and thus, everything unravels into a Flood. And, that is the Genesis narrative of Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood, which we will now delve into in…
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…"What do you mean, God speaks?" where we explore important ideas, insights, and stories in Christianity, for the skeptics who want to understand religion, to the Christians who have questions about their own beliefs. And everyone in between.
I am Paul Seungoh Chung, and this is our tenth episode of the second season, "And so, everything unravels into the Flood: from Lamech to Noah.”
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Noah and the Great Flood. Many of us have at least heard of the story. The world becomes utterly corrupt, filled with evil and violence. So, God brings down the Great Flood that covers the entire world, as judgment upon humanity. But, there was one righteous man, Noah. So, God warns him about the coming Flood, and has him build an Ark, a huge vessel that will take in his family, and a pair of every living creature on land—beasts, birds, and the crawling things. Then the Flood comes, and everything on land perishes, but, Noah and his family, along with all the creatures that went into the Ark, survived the Flood, and afterward, went on to repopulate the world once again.
Until the mid-1800s, people assumed that the Great Flood historically happened. And we had very good reasons for it. People found fossils of fish and seashells on land—even on hills and mountains—and thought they were left there when the Flood water covered the entire world. And more interestingly, many, many, vastly different cultures from every corner of the world have stories about a devastating Flood that covered the world, or at least, much of their lands. In Mesopotamia, just east of where the ancient Hebrews lived, there is the Epics of Gilgamesh, which reports an old Flood story similar to that in Genesis. The gods plan to bring the Flood, but tells a man named Utnapishtim, to build a large boat to keep him and other living things alive. If we go further east to India, there is a story in which one of the supreme deities in Hinduism—either Vishnu or Brahma—comes to a man named Manu, in the form a horned fish. The Fish tells Manu to build a large boat to prepare for the Flood, and later, the Fish pulls the boat to safety. Go even further east to China, and we’ll find stories that tell of a time when the rivers burst into a massive flood, so that sages and kings of old built dams to hold the waters back. Go westward from where the Hebrews lived to the ancient Greeks, and they told stories of Zeus flooding the world because of the arrogance of humanity. But, one of the gods warned a couple, named Deucalion and Pyrrha, so that they built a wooden chest to survive. And you’ll find similar Flood stories among the peoples in Africa, and across the oceans, among the first nations in North America like the Ojibway, the Central American civilizations like the Maya, South Americans like the Cañari, and even among the aboriginal peoples of Hawaii, and Australia.
However, modern scientific findings have been inconsistent with the account of the Great Flood. We learned that what was once the ocean floor can rise over a very long time to become dry land today, which is why we can find fossils of ancient sea creatures on land. Aside from that, everything we’ve learned since from geology, paleontology, biology, and archaeology, yielded no evidence of a global Flood— nothing that we’d expect to find if a Flood once covered the entire planet. And in many cases, such as how living species are distributed across the planet, there are evidences against it. Still, there are some Christians who continue to reject these findings, and argue for a global Flood. But, I’ll let the scientists respond to their case, and move on. That’s because I think the obsession of whether there physically was a Flood that covered the entire planet thousands of years ago diminishes what the Genesis narrative of the Flood is trying to communicate.
That’s not to say that there is no historical basis for the Flood stories. Even if there was no global flood, there have been devastating local floods. And for those who live through such a catastrophe, it is something that struck their entire world as far as they’re concerned. That is why a later narrative in Genesis describes a severe, but region-wide famine that struck the lands of Egypt and Levant, as a famine that struck “all the earth,” or the “entire world.” It may also be that the Flood is a very general way to describe any large-scale climate catastrophes. In both cases, our problem then becomes the opposite of what we have with the global Flood; there are too many possible candidates for what the Great Flood in Genesis may be describing. There is the Black Sea Deluge; around 8000 years ago, the waters of the Mediterranean Sea may have broken into the Black Sea basin, flooding the land around it, which is just north of the mountains of Ararat, where Noah’s Ark is traditionally believed to rest. Thera volcanic eruption in the Mediterranean sea, 4000 years ago, or the meteor that struck the Indian Ocean 5000 years or so, hurled titanic tsunamis that flooded the vast tracts of coastal lands. For something older, and more large-scale, the end of the last Ice Age, 8400 years ago, caused flooding worldwide, raising sea levels and forming entire lakes. 70000 years ago, there was a volcanic eruption that would have caused a climate catastrophe—a prolonged winter in this case—and genetic analysis suggests that humanity as a species may have been threatened with extinction back then, with numbers falling to mere thousands of individuals. All of these are just conjectures though—the Genesis account of the Flood may have been drawn from any one of these events or more, or perhaps from an event we don’t even know yet.
However, the account of the Great Flood that Genesis presents is something far greater in scope than any of these possibly historical events. Maybe we can think about it this way. In the seventh episode of this season, we considered how each narrative in the primeval history of Genesis is something like a summation of every event of its kind; so, the Fall of Adam and Eve is not just about how two individuals fell, but about how every human being falls away from God; Cain’s murder of Abel, is not just about one murder, but about what is at the root of every murder. So, the Great Flood is not just about any one, local flood or climate catastrophe in history, but about every such catastrophe that can happen anywhere in the entire world, which can fall upon anyone, and any living thing in that world. And in that sense, it really is the Flood that covers the whole world, and brings end to all living things on land—though not in the seas, which is interesting. But, even this understanding misses one crucial aspect of the Flood in Genesis.
This Flood comes in response to what we make of our world. Humanity fills the world with evil, and God responds by bringing the Flood.
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Let’s go back to when Cain leaves the presence of God after murdering his brother. Now, he couldn’t really leave the presence of God since, well, God is everywhere, and all of Reality is God speaking. But, Cain had killed the voice of God that spoke to him from within, and then killed Abel, because God was continuing to speak to him through Abel’s life and actions. So, by killing both sources, Cain is severed from God from his end. Cain then wanders away from God, and eventually has children, and then, builds a city where they could live.
Wait, who could have gotten together with Cain for there to be children? We don’t have any definite answer to that. One long-standing answer is that Adam and Eve had other children that Genesis does not mention. Another answer is that since Adam and Eve represents humanity as a whole, there were actually more human beings than just that one couple. Whichever the answer is, Cain has descendants, and the key point here is that they are likewise severed from God from their end.
Now, we need to consider what that means. Abel represents a life that relates to God properly—a trusting, openness to Reality, lovingly giving the best of himself to how he engages everything and everyone in his life. Cain represents a life that relates to God in a distorted way—closed to Reality, engaging everything and everyone in his life with increasing distrust, arrogance, and even resentment, though he may hide this with a veneer of civility. But, there was a voice that spoke to him against living like this, which was the voice of God. This is the voice that speaks most truthfully about who you truly are, what is really happening around you, and what you should become—even if, and especially if, these truths are not what you want to hear. This voice may speak from within you, a “better version” of yourself that continually beckons to you; this voice may speak through what is happening in your life, from how reality is unfolding in response to your actions; this voice could also be the lives and actions of people like Abel in your life. But, Cain has rejected this voice violently, and irreversibly, to the point of killing his brother. This, by the way, is what differentiates what I mean by distrust, from just having doubts or questions; we may have questions, but when we can also be open to hear more. Distrust and resentment of Cain, however, is one that closes oneself off at a fundamental level. The question is, what if everyone lived like that?
(Because) Genesis seems to imply that Cain’s descendants all follow their father’s example. Everyone engages reality with distrust and resentment; everyone views each other with suspicion, arrogance, and hostility, which they hide underneath a façade. And they cannot correct themselves, because they silence any voice that speaks any truth they don’t want to acknowledge—with violence if needed. But, how would a society of such people even function? What would hold it together? It wouldn’t be mutual trust; they distrust each other. Nor would it be some set of profound truths, or moral ideals, they are all working toward; they reject the voice that beckons them toward such horizons. What will hold such a society together will be power—power to coerce, to control, or to compel. You have no need of trust, if you have power to simply coerce others to your ends; you have need no truth, if deceit and lies are what grant you power to control; you have need of justice, if you have power to compel others to your will. Cain’s descendant, Lamech, who is depicted as the father of civilization, boasts of such power when he sings of how he kills anyone who dares to strike out at him. And a society in which such power is increasingly the only thing that keeps it together, will soon tear itself apart, for Reality will unfold in a certain way, for such a society.
One way we can think about this is that everyone’s living out a scenario depicted in what’s often called the prisoner’s dilemma. Here’s one nation-scale version of that dilemma. So, say, two nations, capable of making nuclear weapons, are facing off against each other. Now, each nation has two choices—to make such weapons, or abandon them. The best scenario is for both nations to choose to abandon nuclear arms. The worst scenario is for both nations to arm themselves with such weapons, leading to a possible, world-ending nuclear war. But, the problem is, if your nation abandons the nukes, but, the other nation secretly makes them, then it will have complete power over you, to destroy you whenever it wishes with no reprisal. Whereas if you make the nukes, while your enemies abandon them, you will have power over them. Now, if the two sides trusted each other, then the best scenario is possible. But, if the two sides are motivated by distrust, hostility, and need for power, both nations will build up nuclear weapons and aim them at each other, pushing the entire world to the brink of destruction. We can substitute nuclear weapons to, say, breaking environmental or ethical standard for personal profit, or spreading misinformation and lies about our political opponents, or even just people we disagree with. In Cain’s society, best scenario is rejected by everyone, leading to the worst possible scenario being realized. Every time.
And so, Genesis reports that the wickedness of humanity became great upon the world, so that their every inclination—their every choice—were evil; the world thus became corrupt and filled with violence. And in response to what the world has become, God declares that all of humanity and every living creature on land will be destroyed. God will bring forth the Flood.
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Why a Flood? Why not meteors and fire? That’s what happened with the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, as we will see in a later narrative in Genesis. Or, why not a plague? Like what happened in Egypt in the book of Exodus? Why water?
Well, we need to remember that “water” in Genesis is more than just water; it is the physical substance of chaos, of unbounded possibility without form. Let’s review: in the opening of Genesis, God sets forth an endless expanse of possibilities—the fathomless reaches of water—and then, speaks forth the Light, the sky, and the land. Each time, the unbounded, watery possibility becomes something; with Light, it becomes a world that can be perceived, with a reference point and time; with the sky, it becomes a world with space that separates different realms, things, and possibilities. Then, with land, it becomes a world where there can be things with defined existence, with shapes and forms. Then, from the ground of that land, God speaks forth a myriad of different living things, each with different forms, and gives them the breath of life. Eventually, God brings forth humanity that will live among them and rule them. The primordial waters of possibilities remain, however; God places the endless expanse of waters above the sky, and below the earth in the great deep. Now, Genesis reports that when God brings the Flood, the springs of the deep below the earth, and the waters beyond the sky burst into the world. That is to say, the Great Flood is God, reverting the world back to the expanse of water in the beginning. God is withdrawing what He has spoken during Creation—along with the breath of Life He has given. But, what would that mean?
We can begin thinking of this in terms of how we experience our world. To say that God speaks forth Reality, is to say that Reality is like a speech; to say that reality is like a speech is to say that our speech can describe the world and all the things in it. This is what it means for our scientific discourse to describe and understand Nature, for our conversations about justice to actually move us to justice, or for our poetry to be beautiful. God speaks forth the world—such is reality; we speak of that world—such is truth. Or at least, us reaching for truth. And our world—the world we inhabit and perceive, the world we experience and know—is found where our speech meets God’s speech.
But, is that still the case in a society fathered by Cain, and ruled by Lamech? Would our speech meet God’s speech in a world where everyone silences any voice that speaks truths they don’t want to acknowledge, and ignores any voice that calls them to change and move toward more loving, just, and truthful versions of themselves? What would be the world we experience if distrust, suspicion, and hostility, is the fundamental way everyone approaches that world, and everyone else in it? What would happen to our speech in a society that lives primarily by violence and power? And if the world we perceive is found upon where our speech meets God’s speech, what would that world become?
(The thing is,) how we perceive or know anything depends on the words of others, and our relationship with them. Take, for example, the vaccine you’re taking for the pandemic; what really is it? Answer to that would depend on how you regard those that made or promote the vaccine. Now, our societies are such that we can trust our health officials, more or less, and pharmaceuticals that produce these vaccines have some level of accountability. So, seriously, listen to your health officials! But, say, you did live in a society where these vaccines are produced by an extremely corrupt pharmaceutical company, which cares only about raising its profit margins and has no regard for people’s health or welfare. Then, what’s before you is no longer a vaccine; it’s something dangerous, or a ploy to raise profit. But, what if they aren’t the only ones that lie? What if your political leader who’s been telling you that the pandemic is a hoax, concocted to remove him from office and sell fake vaccines, is exposed for covering up the death toll in the hospitals? What if the newspaper that ran the exposé reports that those who did not take the vaccine are becoming seriously ill? But, what if you know that reporters of that newspaper routinely make up numbers and lie either to suit their political views, or to cater to their readers? Even worse, what if you’ve been doing the same thing in this radio show you’re hosting, but you’re no longer aware of this, because you’ve been lying to yourself for so long? Now, what is the vaccine? It is possibly a vaccine; it is possibly a scam; it is possibly dangerous; it is possibly life-saving; it is possibly just placebo. With all the lies, it is now an unknown, formless, fluctuating, thing.
But, in a society where God brings the Flood, vaccine wouldn’t be the only thing we’d be lying about. It would be everything. Every news we hear, every fact we learn, every action we take. And everyone would be lying; everyone is vying for power; everyone is undermining everyone else. Everyone: leaders, teachers, priests, scientists, artists, merchants, farmers, builders, laborers—everyone. So, we can never tell whether someone is speaking the truth, or is maneuvering for power. In such a world, everything around us would be in a flux. When everything that enables us to know the world is lying, then the world we experience loses all shape and form. We no longer know what the world is—we no longer know what’s really in it, what’s really happening, who is really before us, and whether we are safe with them. The world we experience turns into the dark, watery expanse of unknown possibilities—not the possibility that is waiting to become something, which God speaks forth to us, but the possibility that is kept in a constant flux, because of we’re always lying about it, and can never trust each other.
Reality is God speaking, and so, reality is like a speech; but, our speech is no longer like reality. Our speech is now floodwater, with which we’re drowning each other. And so, everything begins to unravel into a flood. This is how reality unfolds when everyone becomes Cain; that is how God brings the Flood.
There is more than that, however. That society may have been tenuously holding on, held together mostly by fear, dominance, and power, with the barest level of truth, trust, and good will. Then, a crisis strikes. Because crises always strike.
It could be a drought, or a sickness. It could literally be a flood; maybe that one at the end of the Ice Age, raising sea levels and forming lakes where people used to live. But, the world of humanity is now so fragile that it cannot respond. Corruption and apathy meant no adequate preparation were in place: no reservoir of water or food, no protocols for illness, no dams or dikes for flooding, no early evacuation, nothing. The problem grows as the leaders are too busy blaming their opponents or their subordinates, and the people are too busy blaming their leaders. Those who should’ve been trained to come up with solutions are instead preoccupied with how to turn this into means to gain power, or bring down their rivals. Distrust and hostility made meaningful cooperation impossible, more time was spent on discrediting your opponent than trying to work together.
Meanwhile, drought becomes a famine; sickness becomes a pandemic; flood rises until it wipes out entire cities. The tenuous ties that barely held people and the society together so far finally breaks apart, and people no longer even bother hiding their hostility toward each other. Eventually, even the barest rules and norms that people had at least pretended to follow is abandoned, as the power and dominance that kept them in check is no longer able to do so.
Society collapses. Everything breaks apart. The famine, the pandemic, the deluge ravages the entire land, far beyond what it could have been or should have been. Even then, no one can truly tell what it is that’s really happening, or what it is they ought to be doing, other than that it is a catastrophe that has engulfed everything. Everything is in flux, as if in dark, murky waters, and only thing that is definite is that everything is being destroyed and there is no place that they know is safe. Nothing in the entire world they know will remain standing.
God has brought the Flood; and it has covered the whole world.
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But, Genesis introduces a second strand of this narrative. There is another line apart from Cain’s. Adam and Eve had another son. Eve named him Seth, saying, God has given me another child because Abel died. Seth, who takes Abel’s place, has children. And Genesis reports that one his descendants, Enoch, walked with God his entire life, so that before he died, God took him away from the world. Enoch had children. And one his descendants was Noah.
Biblical scholars have noticed that the lineages of Cain and Seth have individuals that have very similar names, though they appear in different order. For example, Cain’s son was also Enoch. Seth’s line has Mahalel, and Cain’s line has Mehujael. Cain’s line has Irad, and Seth’s line has Jared. Seth’s line has Methuselah, and Cain’s line has Methushael. And, Noah’s father was also named Lamech. Of course, different people can have similar or even same names. I’m Paul, but, so are many, many other people.
There may be more meaning to it though. This is my take on it, but Genesis may be pointing at how human society, human civilization has another side. Even when it becomes corrupt, filled with violence and evil, that same society and people may have side to them that may yet walk with God—a side to them that can lead to Noah. Far too often, they are not the ones that form our world and lead it; otherwise, God would not bring the Flood.
Yet, either way, down the lineage of Seth, who has taken Abel’s place, was Noah. And Noah walked with God, and God regarded Noah as righteous.
So, God speaks to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the world is filled with violence because of them; I will destroy them along with the world. So, make yourself an Ark of wood; make rooms in it, and waterproof it with pitch.”
And this would be a monumental project. The Ark was to be 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high, with 3 decks. That means each of the three decks would be about as large as 10 NBA basketball courts placed side-by-side. And so, 30 courts in all. It was to be that large, because Noah was responsible not only for his family. God tells Noah to take in a pair of every creatures living on land: livestock, wild animals, crawling things, and birds, and bring them into the Ark, to save them from the coming Flood.
The imagery of Noah’s Ark may inspire some people to build their own “Arks,” so to speak. Underground bunkers, island refuges, nuclear shelters, and so on. But, that would be missing the point. What saves Noah is not just the Ark per se. If that’s all it took, then others could have very well made their own Arks to save themselves from the Flood—they would have had time too, since it takes Noah a very long time to make his, with just his immediate family helping him.
So, what saves Noah? What saves us when everything unravels into the Flood?
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We will explore that next time, on what will survive the Flood.
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