What do you mean God speaks?

S2E11: ...what will save you from the Flood (Noah's Ark)

January 11, 2022 Paul Seungoh Chung Season 2 Episode 11
What do you mean God speaks?
S2E11: ...what will save you from the Flood (Noah's Ark)
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

When everything unravels into the Flood, what will save you from it?  Make sure you've listened to "S2E10: ...so that Everything unravels into the Flood" before this episode.

What does it mean for God to bring the Flood, while speaking to Noah to build the Ark? The Ark is more than just a means to escape destruction--God is, in a sense, telling Noah to build a small world that will not unravel into the Flood.

(Genesis 6 ~ 7) 

 2:25     What God was speaking to Noah 

 11:54     Noah's Ark is not a fallout shelter 

 16:46    No line between the natural and the supernatural 

 21:18     Noah's Ark is a version of world that can be saved 

 26:02     The Ark remains as the world unravels 

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[ pendulum ]

Well, it’s 2022! So, we’re back after a holiday break, to start off the new year by… talking about zombie apocalypse stories. Yeah, you heard me. 

There is something about our contemporary imagination about the masses of the dead “bursting forth” from an initial outbreak, to overwhelm the entire world and devour all the living, which strangely invokes the ancient imagery of the Flood. And this imagery is more than just about the hordes of zombies that fall upon the world like tidal waves; it is about everything unravelling —the natural order that held the boundaries between what’s dead and what’s alive, the social order that held together our civilization, and the norms of our everyday life. All of that unravels in the “deluge” of the dead that devours the living. 

But, a repeated theme in these stories is how it is us, humans, who bring about the worst outcomes. Often, it is us, who unleashes whatever it is that turns people into zombies; then, it is the selfishness or even spite of human individuals that cause the efforts to contain the initial outbreak to fail. And when only a handful of people survive, the greatest danger that falls upon them comes not from the zombies, but from other survivors. So, even though some people may have been spared from the deluge of the dead by sheer luck, by say, securing some shelter, or by living in some hard-to-reach places, the last of humanity may still be killed off by deception, greed, cruelty, and violence of living people—those that follow after Cain.

So, what saves you from this Flood isn’t simply having a shelter from the Flood; it’s more than that. So, let’s consider what that is in…

[ music / ]   

…"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 eleventh episode of the second season, "…what saves you from the Deluge: Noah and the Flood” 

[ / music ]   

There is something odd about how God warns Noah about the coming Flood. We often miss it, because on the surface, it is fairly straight forward. Because of the wickedness of humanity, God is bringing the Flood to destroy all living, breathing thing on land, but since Noah is righteous, God tells him to build an Ark to save himself, his family, and a pair of every kind of land creatures and birds—so, what’s strange about that? Well, a few small details are slightly “off-key,” so to speak. 

But, to hear what sounds off-key, let me compare it to the two other flood stories of peoples who lived near the ancient Hebrews. In the ancient Mesopotamian flood story, the gods decide to destroy humanity by bringing the Flood. But, one of the gods, Enki, the god of groundwater, knowledge, and crafts, secretly tells one man about the flood, and instructs him to build a large boat to survive. In the ancient Greek flood story, Zeus, the king of the gods, decides to wipe out humanity with a flood. But, Prometheus, a titan god who favors humanity, tells his son, Deucalion, and his wife, Pyrrha, to build a large wooden chest to survive the flood. Did you notice? In both cases, gods decide to destroy humanity, but, there is a dissenter among these gods that secretly saves humanity. But, in the case of the Genesis Flood account, One God both brings the Flood, and saves humanity—same God. 

Again, the Genesis account gives a straight-forward reason for this; since God is bringing the Flood because of human wickedness, it makes sense that God will spare someone who is righteous. But, that still rings kind of off-key. After all, if God is that concerned about sparing the innocent, why is God destroying every living, breathing creature on land? Why not destroy only humanity? There would have been means to do so, such as plagues that affect only humans. Then, even more oddly, God tells Noah to build a massive Ark to save those same creatures that would be destroyed by the Flood that He is bringing. What is going on? 

One way to understand this is how a same event may signify different things to different people. And I don’t just mean subjectively, as in how they will feel about what happens; I mean that a same event can have different concrete and practical implications for different people. So, here’s a scenario. Say, there’s a small mining town. Recently, its residents have been falling ill, and a local doctor is concerned that the problem is in the town water supply. What happened was that the mines have been leaking dangerous wastes into local groundwater, due to inadequate and outdated safety measures. Now, what this series of events means, differs for the different people involved. For those who were responsible for operating the mines, it may mean that a time of reckoning is at hand for their negligence, and they will either fix the problem at great cost, or cover it up. Let’s also say that the town officials and most of the town residents have been ignoring the tell-tale signs —dwindling number of fish in the local lake, dying vegetation, and so on—because the town needed these mines to remain open. Then, for them, these events would be an urgent call to acknowledge what’s going on, and not look the other way. For those who had been trying to bring attention to the dangers, it would be a time of vindication—or not, if the town decides to silence them instead.

Another key point here is that how each people in this scenario respond to what is happening will shape what these events will mean for the rest. So, if the mining company responds by trying to fix the problem, then for the town residents these events will mean an opportunity to cooperate in that effort, or to cowardly place all the blame on the company. And if the townspeople choose to do the latter, then the company will have harder time addressing the problem. On the other hand, if the company instead covers up the truth, then it’ll be far more difficult for the town to address the problem, and the townspeople will be motivated to also look the other way until the problem becomes catastrophic. So, as more and more people in this scenario ignore or lie about what is happening, more and more constraints will be placed upon the few who are trying to fix what’s going on, and at some point, the only thing they can do may be to take their loved ones and leave town.

So, let’s put all this back in terms of what God is speaking in the Genesis narrative. Again, everything that happens—that is, how reality unfoldsis God speaking. That’s just what Christianity means by the phrase, “God speaks.” But, what God speaks, is different from what God speaks personally to people; the first is, what’s happening, whereas the second is what we are being called to do in response. (I mean in the most general sense that is, since there’s more to it than that, but for this episode, that’s enough). So say, due to neglect and greed, there is an environmental crisis—that’s what’s happening, that’s God speaking. That in turn calls us to heed that truth, and take responsibility, and work to fix it—that’s God speaking to us, that’s what we’re being called to do. But, what God speaks personally to people through the same event, will be different depending on who they are and what they have been doing. To some people, it will be a call to change what they’re doing— “repentance” is the word that’s used in the Bible. What God speaks to some others, may be an encouragement to continue their work, or it could even be a call to not become so self-righteous and hostile in dealing with people who need to change. 

And what people do in response will in turn lead to what God will further do—it’s like joining a dance—and reality will then unfold accordingly. But, we can be like Cain and his descendants, engaging what God speaks with distrust, deceit, and resentment, making each dance more hostile and violent. And in such a dance, we stop listening—we no longer hear God speaking to us, which is to say, we no longer hear the call to heed what we know to be true, to take responsibility, and to change. And that means we’ll lie to ourselves about our own inadequacies, and relate to other people with arrogance, deceit, and violence, while problems in our world that we ignored, festers. And as more and more people respond as Cain did, what God speaks around us will become increasingly dissonant—that is, reality will unfold more and more catastrophic things that should not have happened. 

Meanwhile, what God personally speaks to us will also change accordingly as all of this happens, becoming more and more urgent, from a call toward a better version of ourselves, then to a call to acknowledge our wrongs and correct our ways, then to a dire call to heed the impending disaster. Yet, no one hears what God is speaking, and so the world runs headlong and unaware into a greater and greater catastrophe that reality will unfold. And because what humanity does have such an outsized effect on the rest of Creation, our catastrophes will pull in every living thing within our vast sphere of influence. And so, Genesis reports that God grieves and speaks about how reality will now unfold—speaks what humanity will no longer hear: “I am going to wipe away all of humanity from the face of the earth, and together with them every living thing that is with them.” 

As this is happening, if there are a few people who still are listening, what God speaks to them would become increasingly bleak, going from, say, a call to pull their world back from the brink, to eventually a sobering assessment that a world unraveling catastrophe that can no longer be avoided. And so, Noah hears God speaking, “I am going to wipe away all of humanity. I’m surely going to destroy humanity and the world.” But, God speaks further to Noah, because he alone is still listening. And God says: so, Noah, save the world.

Humanity has engaged with reality in a way that brings about a world-unraveling catastrophe, which is to say, humanity has made a world that God will unravel with the Flood. Yet, no one hears the call to heed what is coming and change. So, God speaks to the one person who does hear, and says, save the world

Build an Ark for the coming Flood. 

[ pendulum ]

I think there is a tendency for those who read the story of Noah today, to think of Noah’s Ark as a kind of fallout shelter—a place to escape a disaster. But, the Ark is far more than that. Think about what you would put, in something like a nuclear fallout shelter. There would first need to be habitat space for you and your loved ones, and possibly even your pets. You would need to store enough food and water, and a power source to run all those things. Beyond that, you may want to store some critical medical and construction equipment and things like seeds for agriculture, to sustain your life in the post-apocalyptic future. You may even place a library—likely in digital format—that contains past human knowledge that you would need to survive and rebuild. And if Noah’s Ark had the same purpose, it would only need to house Noah and his family, their food, tools, and implements to support their livelihood, and the kind of animals that they would need—livestock and what the Hebrew writers of Genesis call, the “clean animals.”  

But, what God speaks to Noah, is to build something far larger than that. The Ark that God tells Noah to build, is to house all living, breathing creatures. Noah is to take in not just his family, not just the domesticated animals they need, but a pair of every wild animals, birds, and even crawling things like bugs, and their food. Dangerous creatures. Yucky creatures. The Ark is to save a pair of every living, breathing thing that would be affected by the unraveling of the human world.

This, for the modern readers, raised the issue again of the global Flood. The Ark is very large—3 decks, with the size comparable to an aircraft carrier—but even this isn’t sufficient to hold a pair of every living species in the entire planet that we’ve discovered so far. And genetically speaking, a single breeding pair likely isn’t enough to keep a species from going extinct anyway. Then, there is the issue of aquatic creatures; a flood that covers the entire planet would greatly change the salt concentration of water, killing fish and marine life, especially those living in fresh water. So, why didn’t Noah’s Ark take in any aquatic creatures? 

However, this again is missing what the narrative is trying to say. For the Hebrews, land was the realm of human influence. Now, God did create humanity to govern the creatures of the sea also, as the representatives of God, and our misuse and abuse of this capability has become painfully manifest today with our polluted rivers and oceans, our overfishing, and continent-sized floating plastic wastes. But, for the ancient Hebrew imagination, our immediate sphere of influence was land and the creatures living on it, with the wild animals at the periphery. And of course, the imagery of the Flood quite naturally goes with the image the drowning of every creature that needs to breathe. So, putting these together, what the Genesis flood narrative is presenting is the following: the pathological and hostile way humanity has related to God and to each other will lead to reality unfolding in a way that places everything within their reach at peril—represented by the death of every creature that breathes. What God speaks to Noah is to save everything that will be affected by humanity unraveling their world in their sin.

According to Genesis creation account, humanity is responsible for the welfare of the rest of Creation. God created humanity to bring forth a new level of care and love toward the world and every creature living in it; we are thus the only species, for example, that is capable of accurately knowing that another species is going extinct, grieve over it, and even prevent it from happening. But, when humanity ceases to represent God in this way, this same capability can bring about terrible destruction; we are the only species that deliberately tried to drive a species into extinction out of sheer malice—European settlers killed nearly 50 million American Bison, and left their bodies to simply rot on the ground, because this would break the strength of the indigenous peoples who depended on these Bison for their food and culture. This is again why apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans in the New Testament Bible, “All creation is waiting for the children of God to be revealed. And the whole creation has been groaning since then as if in pains of childbirth.”

So, God calls Noah to build an Ark, not just to save himself, not just humanity, but every creature in Creation that will be affected by the catastrophe brought about by human evil—the Flood. God is calling Noah to take up the mantle of responsibility that humanity had cast aside in their Fall. And Noah does so, bringing into the Ark a pair of all the living creatures. But, the Genesis account does not specify how he managed to do this, though it raises up questions like how he could bring in wild animals, like, lions, and keep them together with antelopes and zebras, or catch the birds that could, well, fly away. I’m not bringing this up to say that Noah could not have done what the Bible reports that he did; if anything, it’s the opposite. 

I’m using this as an example to point out how most of us today draw a line that isn’t there in the Biblical narratives—the line between what we now call the natural and the supernatural. Let me put the point in the form of a question. Where is the supernatural aspect of the story of Noah that I’ve been presenting so far? Is it how all these living creatures came to the Ark? What about when God speaks to Noah about the Flood? Was that a supernatural revelation, maybe in the form of a dream or a vision? We may even ask, if everything that happens is God speaking, and every truth we are called to heed, is God speaking to us, then what is supernatural about such things? 

And the answer is that… there is no such line. (Well, it’s more complicated than that, but it’ll do for this episode) For us, what God speaks, and what God calls us to do, includes both the things that we think are mundane and natural, and the things that seem impossible and supernatural. But, these two sides are separated by the line that we’ve drawn. And people like Noah, who the Bible describes as someone who “walks with God,” can experience both sides of the line. 

When we engage reality—when we converse with God that speaks—we may learn truths that our own reason could have reached, or we may become captured by truths that we don’t know how we know, and it may be from a vision, or a dream, or from something else. If they are true, then both are God speaking to us. And so, Noah hears God speak. Some of it is what everyone who truthfully heeds what is going on around them would know already—that the world is filled with violence, deceit, and malice, and that will bring about a catastrophe. Some of it though is what even those people would not be able to know for sure: that their world will indeed unravel into a Flood, and that building an Ark will save them. They may fear that their world will unravel, and they may hope that they can be saved, but, they wouldn’t know it for certain. Yet, God speaks to Noah and declares, “I will bring the Flood that will end the world,” and says, “So, build yourself an Ark, and save the world.” And as Noah completes the Ark, God speaks, “Go into the Ark, because in seven days, I am bringing the Flood.” And Genesis makes no distinction between God speaking the truth that Noah would’ve known already—that the world is filled with evil—and the truth he wouldn’t know. God speaks both.

And God may call us to act and do things well within our capabilities, or God may call us to do things we think are impossible. But, we will need to try anyway, and then when we do so, things we thought were impossible, happens—that’s what miracles are. And so, God calls Noah to build an Ark. Some of that building project is mundane, and some of it is not. Constructing the Ark itself would require a great feat of engineering, but depending on Noah’s expertise, building the Ark might not be an impossible task, though it likely is. But, bringing in a pair of every breathing creature on board definitely would be. But, the Genesis account does not draw a distinction between the two; both are what God calls Noah to do. And God enables Noah to do both.  

The Ark itself and how it is structured also present a number of interesting ideas. God tells Noah that the Ark is to be 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, 30 cubits high, with three decks. It is to have an entrance at the side, and a kind of a window by the roof toward the heavens. And it is to be waterproofed with pitch.

The word, “Ark,” denotes a chest—that is, a container or a vessel. What is it a container of? Well, a pair of every living, breathing creature, and their food—to be precise, seven pairs of birds and “clean” animals, and a pair for the rest. But, it is to hold them in three decks, forming the upper, middle and lower floors. Scholars have noted that this represents the structure of the world as the ancient Hebrews understood it—the sky, the land, and the underground, surrounded by the endless expanse of water, above the sky and below in the fathomless depths. Birds fly in the sky, animals live on land, and crawling things delve deep in the underground. So, Noah’s Ark, with its three decks and the living creatures in it, surrounded by the waters of the Flood, would be a miniature version of the entire world.

Some scholars have also noted parallels to the dimensions of the Ark to that of the Tabernacle and the Temple. Now, the tabernacle is a tent that God tells Moses to build for the people of Israel; it is a place where humanity meets and converses with God. According to some estimation, if we were to take the entire tabernacle and its courtyard, lay down three of them along a long strip of land, you’d have the same dimension of the base of Noah’s Ark. The Temple built by Solomon in the city of Jersualem centuries later replaces the Tabernacle. And the height of each deck of the Ark is the same height as this Temple. What this suggests, if there is some meaning to this parallel, is that Noah’s Ark, the Tabernacle, and the Temple, belong in a same category; the place where we personally encounter God. This is fitting of course, since the Ark—and the Tabernacle and the Temple too, as we will see few seasons from now—is a microcosm, the miniature model of the cosmos, and the entire Cosmos, is what God speaks

According to most interpretations, God instructs Noah to make an opening by the roof of the Ark. Obviously, there is a functional use in having such a window, but, it’s worth nothing that God specifically instructs Noah to make that opening toward the heavens. Heavens, with its endless expanse, in which the great lights, the sun, moon and the stars, travel in ordered regularity, was the closest expression of the Infinite and the Divine, not just for the ancient Hebrews, but every people. Make an opening in the Ark toward the Infinite, toward where you hear from God. And in it is through this opening that Noah would later repeatedly peer into the outside to find whether the world has been restored from the Flood. 

And this is the Ark that Noah builds, and he is joined by his wife, his three sons and their wives. They represent, for many ancient cultures, including that of the Hebrews, those who are most surely within the influence of an adult male individual—wife, children, and their spouses. So, what is happening is that Noah, who walks with God, and those in his immediate influence, come together to build a version of a world, and all the life it contains, which will not unravel in the Flood. It is a world in which humanity upholds their responsibility toward the all other living things; it is a world in which humanity is a family, living a different path from that of Cain who killed his brother; it is a world in which humanity still encounters God and hear God speak. It is a world that God will save from the Flood.

Yet, it is a small world—a fragment, almost insignificant in the face of what is to come. Can it survive the Flood? Can such a small splinter of a world, only as large as a single family can build and hold together, restore the world after it unravels?

[ pendulum ]

Then, the Flood comes. God speaks to Noah, and tells him and his entire family to enter the Ark. The rain falls for forty days—in the Bible, the number forty signifies a compete time of trial and hardship. Israel wanders the desert for forty years; Jesus fasts for forty days. The world is engulfed in the waters. 

Again, there are a number of wide-scale flooding that happened in the past that may have become the historical basis of Noah’s Flood. Perhaps, the Black Sea Deluge 7500 years ago, perhaps any one of the post-Ice Age flooding. There’s one I forgot to mention in the previous episode, the Persian Gulf Flood that engulfed vast swathes of land where rivers Euphrates and Tigris meets anywhere between 10000 to 20000 years ago. But, the Flood of Genesis, I believe, encompasses more than that. It is the unraveling of our world, but, I recommend that you listen to the previous episode, titled, “And so, everything unravels into the Flood,” to know what I mean by that. (Wait, if you didn’t listen to that episode, how did you even manage to follow along in this episode?) 

So, the human world finally comes apart at the seams. Human speech had long ceased to meet God’s speech, which is to say, how we construe the world ceased to be true, and worse, humanity followed Cain’s example in holding their world together with self-serving lies, deceit, and violence. Eventually, they became unable to tell what is true, what is a lie, and what is an error. And when we relate to everyone and everything in our world with a lie, and in turn, distrust everyone and everything as lies, our world inevitably unravels into chaos, a fluctuating thing that is nothing and everything at once: the waters of chaos. Thus, Genesis reports that the waters of the fathomless deep burst forth—this signifies, as I mentioned in episode two of this season, the possibilities that we cannot imagine. Above, waters fall from beyond the sky—which signify possibilities we can imagine. So, a world severed from God, a world severed from truth, unravels into the Flood. 

Likewise, this society, founded on injustice, deceit, and manipulation crumbles and then catastrophically collapses, no longer able to hold itself together. Power and oppression that held people down is no longer enough to keep them in check, and everyone turns on each other. Wars and conflicts erupt, raging unchecked with nothing limiting the scale and horror of the atrocities that are committed. Natural disasters fall upon the world—drought, plagues, or literal floods. But, in a world already filled with corruption and chaos, ravaged by conflicts, and rapidly unraveling, these disasters become amplified a hundredfold. And the destruction of the human world affects everything humanity has touched—every living thing within the influence of humanity. 

All of this, is God bringing the Flood. And the Flood engulfs everything that humanity has built, counted on, and depended on—their entire world.

Meanwhile, the Ark holds together. Noah’s family had built a world that kept out whatever that had unraveled their world—the deceit, violence, and oppression of the old world that had silenced the voice of God. And so, the waters of the Flood do not enter the Ark. And as the Flood engulfs the world, this small splinter of the world, uncorrupted and peaceful, which yet remains as a place in which humanity hears God speak, slowly floats atop the unraveling waters and chaos.

The world unravels from every side—as waters burst from below from the deep, and waters pour from above beyond the sky; and soon, even the most secure and mighty powers, forces, and institutions fail—and so, the waters envelop even the hills and mountaintops. Yet, the Ark stands upon the waters alone.

A seed of the world remains alive. One tiny version of a world as it should have been, built and held together within a smallest human community—a family—and all of Creation in their small reach. Noah’s Ark. 

Yet, can this small, fragile thing, truly survive the Flood that has now unraveled the whole world? Can the world truly be restored from this catastrophe? Noah’s family wonders in their small world floating amidst the seemingly endless expanse of the Flood, and they peer through the opening of the Ark toward the heavens, toward the Infinity from which God speaks. 

God had promised that their one small world will be sufficient. 

So. They wait.

[ closing music ]   

And I hope so will you, for the next episode, “The One that brings forth the Flood and makes it recede.” 

Thank you for listening, and please continue to support this series, by following, subscribing, and sharing this series with others. Also, please take a moment to rate or review this series on Apple podcast and other platforms! 

And you can also support this series by buying me coffee! www.buymeacoffee.com/PaulSoC. The link is provided in the episode description. 

So, with the new year, I’m aiming to quicken the pace a little. So, I hope to have the next episode in about a week and half or so, instead of the regular two weeks! And with that, we will complete the second season by the beginning of February, followed soon after with the third season: The ones who wrestle with God.

What God was speaking to Noah
Noah's Ark is not a fallout shelter
No line between the natural and the supernatural
Noah's Ark is a version of world that can be saved
The Ark remains as the world unravels