Do you believe in a God of second chances?
When you imagine God looking at you, how do you think he feels? Do you think he’s angry at you? Disappointed? Or do you imagine him with his back to you, having given up on you long ago?
Let’s be honest. We have all felt those things from time to time. “There’s no way God could love me after what I’ve done.” Right?
Well, if you’re struggling with thoughts like that right now, hang in there, because my hope is that the rest of this service will be uplifting for you.
We’ve been in this series, “Origins,” for the last several weeks - looking at the book of Genesis, and it has been such a rich exploration of God’s character, hasn’t it? We have seen God’s intentions for creation, his love for humanity, and his posture of open arms.
Well, today we are going to look at a story that will put all of that to the test: the story of the flood.
So go ahead and turn to Genesis 6. [HOUSE BIBLES]
But as you turn there, I need to address a question that comes up in conversation pretty often. And it’s this: was there really a global flood?
As a pastor of young adults, I’ve spoken to quite a few people recently who really, really struggle with this idea - even more than questions of creation and evolution.
The flood has become a major stumbling block to their faith. They feel caught between scientific certainty and biblical authority. They struggle with the concept of a God of love who would literally kill every living person.
Because of this, I feel compelled to share something which I hope will be an encouragement to those of you who struggle as well. And it’s this: There is more than one way to understand this story.
In fact, I believe there are three.
Option #1: Yes. There was a global flood. It literally covered even the highest mountains in the world, just like it says. When scientific observations cast doubt on this idea, either their methods are wrong, or God somehow removed the evidence of a global flood (he is the God who created everything, so it’s possible).
Option #2: There was a flood experienced by Noah and his family, but it was more localized. As far as Noah could tell, it was global. Everything he knew had been swept away and flooded. And so the biblical account is just written from his perspective.
Option #3: There was not a global flood. The idea of a universal flood was like the ideas of ancient cosmology - that the world was a flat disc covered by a dome and surrounded with water. It was just something ancient people believed to be true, so God spoke through their worldview to reveal himself and his purposes, even if it didn’t literally happen the way they imagined.
So those are the three options. And I want to make something clear. You can hold to any one of those options and still be a Christ-follower. And you can still hold tightly to the authority of scripture.
Here’s why. It’s something Tim mentioned in the first week of this series when he discussed the creation story - whether it was a literal six days or something else. Remember that?
He said these types of details - questions of the “how” and the “what” of creation - would not have concerned the original readers at all. The Israelites were only concerned with the “why.”
And I believe the same thing is true for the flood. The Israelites were not doing calculations of water volume and debating whether a T-Rex would have fit on the ark.
They wanted to know, “Who is this God we are following into the wilderness? Why is the world the way it is? And why did God choose us?”
Does the flood story help us answer these “why” questions? I believe it absolutely does. And I think it can still speak to us today.
So as we look at these next couple of chapters, I encourage you - just like last week - take off your modern lenses for just a moment (the questions “how” and “what”), and approach this story with the question “why.”
If you do, regardless of which position you hold, I believe you will discover some powerful truths about God.
So let’s dive in. We talked last week about humanity’s posture of rebellion. How we consistently turned our backs on God’s design. We looked at three stories that to the Israelites would have made these verses seem like a completely justified response by God.
The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. And the Lord said, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. Yes, and I will destroy every living thing—all the people, the large animals, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and even the birds of the sky. I am sorry I ever made them.” But Noah found favor with the Lord.
Moses elaborates further in verse 11. Take a look.
Now God saw that the earth had become corrupt and was filled with violence. God observed all this corruption in the world, for everyone on earth was corrupt. So God said to Noah, “I have decided to destroy all living creatures, for they have filled the earth with violence. Yes, I will wipe them all out along with the earth!
Ok, let’s start with a question that might seem a bit odd, but I think it’s important. Why in this story did the animals have to die? Wasn’t it humanity that messed up? That doesn’t really seem fair, does it?
Well, I think the answer goes all the way back to Genesis chapter 1. Back in that chapter, after God creates humanity, he blesses them and gives them this almost joyful command:
Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.
That was our original job description from God. “Fill the earth, my children… Let’s rule this good creation together!”
But now, this dream of paradise had been corrupted. Had rotted. The earth was not filled with peaceful governance. What was it filled with? Verse 11. Humans had filled the earth with violence.
We were supposed to be stewards of creation, sharing in the upkeep and development of a “very good” world.
But from the beginning, we got things twisted around. We were created for the world. But we acted like the world was created for us.
We were called to be creative. We became destructive. We were made to be benevolent rulers. Instead, we turned into tyrants.
And this is the truly heartbreaking part: Our sin had corrupted not only humanity, but the entire natural world. The literal Hebrew of verse 12 says that “all flesh” was corrupted.
It doesn’t make sense to our modern, individualistic worldview, but in this story, human evil was like an infection. To the ancient Israelites, it made sense that every living thing had been tainted by our violence. All of creation had become corrupted. That’s why it had to be destroyed.
Ok, so let’s read a bit of what happened, and then I want to talk about what it means. Look at 7:17.
For forty days the floodwaters grew deeper, covering the ground and lifting the boat high above the earth. As the waters rose higher and higher above the ground, the boat floated safely on the surface. Finally, the water covered even the highest mountains on the earth, rising more than twenty-two feet above the highest peaks. All the living things on earth died—birds, domestic animals, wild animals, small animals that scurry along the ground, and all the people. Everything that breathed and lived on dry land died.
Now, let’s talk about this destruction. Why was it a flood? Why water? God could have sent a meteor. He could have sent fire. He could have snapped his fingers. Why did he send a flood?
Well, there are two big reasons.
First, ancient people believed that your life force was in your blood. It makes sense, right? If you bleed too much, you die.
Because of this, the Israelites believed that if you were taking a life of an animal, you had to show honor to it by draining its blood. It was considered shameful for any person or animal to die with their “lifeblood” still inside them.
So, in this story, God is dealing with the corruption of the world in a way that shows his contempt for mankind’s violence. When you drown, your blood is still inside you. It’s shameful.
And while we might recoil from this today as God being cruel, it was actually a really positive idea to the ancient Israelites.
Other ancient cultures believed in gods who promoted or even participated in abuse and violence. These gods delighted in child sacrifices and killing and disorder.
And so to ancient readers the flood is a way of showing God’s holiness - his otherness. He’s not like these other gods. Yahweh wants no part in humanity’s evil. The violence of mankind doesn’t delight him. It breaks his heart.
To God, corruption has no honor, and there should be no honor in its destruction.
The second reason he floods the world is because of how ancient people understood the nature of the universe.
In ancient cosmology, great waters like the ocean represented chaos. It was the opposite of the order and stability of land. Back then, they believed that the waters of chaos didn’t just exist on the edges of their world, but also above and below it. We were living in a fragile bubble of existence.
Other ancient cultures had stories of global floods too. I think it helped them make sense of their chaotic world. Think about it. At all times, the great waters were quivering and pressing in, eager to break through the floodgates that were holding them back. Chaos and disorder were always right around the bend.
This is one of the things that makes the creation story in Genesis 1 so spectacular. God - Yahweh - simply speaks and the waters obey. God is the creator of order. He holds back the waters of chaos so that our creation can thrive.
So what’s going on with the flood? I think it’s just this: God is releasing his hold on the floodgates of chaos. He’s allowing the earth to return to its pre-creation state. Remember Genesis 1:2?
The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters.
In other words, before God got involved, everything was covered in water - by chaos. By flooding the earth, God was hitting the reset button. He was allowing the waters of chaos to scrub clean all the rotten corruption brought on by humanity’s wickedness.
It was destruction, but it was also re-creation.
Ok, so when all is said and done, the flood covers the earth, and then God causes the flood waters to recede. He brings dry ground back out of the abyss of watery chaos. He allows Noah’s family and the animals to leave the boat, and then he begins to set the stage for life after the flood.
Let’s look at what he says. Chapter 8, verse 21.
“I will never again curse the ground because of the human race, even though everything they think or imagine is bent toward evil from childhood. I will never again destroy all living things. As long as the earth remains, there will be planting and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night.”
Then God blessed Noah and his sons and told them, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth. All the animals of the earth, all the birds of the sky, all the small animals that scurry along the ground, and all the fish in the sea will look on you with fear and terror. I have placed them in your power. I have given them to you for food, just as I have given you grain and vegetables. But you must never eat any meat that still has the lifeblood in it.
“And I will require the blood of anyone who takes another person’s life. If a wild animal kills a person, it must die. And anyone who murders a fellow human must die. If anyone takes a human life, that person’s life will also be taken by human hands. For God made human beings in his own image. Now be fruitful and multiply, and repopulate the earth.”
Ok, there’s a lot here, but I want to just unpack a few ideas. Essentially, these verses show that three things have changed in this world after the flood.
First, there’s the relationship between mankind and the animals.
Back in Genesis 1:28, God tells humanity to “be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it.” In other words, to help the animals flourish. Now, he tells them, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth…” But now the animals will live in fear and terror of you.
I think this is a reminder to humanity that we have so much power over the animals. Now that sin is a part of our world, we have to be extremely careful in how we fulfill our command to govern the earth. It would be easy to abuse our power. As Spiderman’s uncle would say, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Second, all this talk about murder and consequences is a contrast to the world before the flood - the world of Cain, Lamech, and the Nephilites. I talked about this last week.
In their world, simply living in to God’s designs was what was required of them. Now, because that seemed to be too difficult for humanity, God begins spelling out some ground rules: A framework of justice. I think it’s a kind of precursor to the law of Moses.
Finally, and this is so important, what God says in 8:21 and 22 is the first example we have in the Bible of him being a covenantal God.
A covenant is an agreement between two parties. In these verses we see God making a promise with humanity that exists above and beyond our sin.
Look at verse 21. Even though humans are “bent toward evil from childhood, God will never again destroy all living things.”
In other words, God has a plan, and he will see it through to the end. He’s now a covenantal God. Just a few chapters later, we see him establishing a covenant with Abraham.
“I will make you into a great nation… All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”
Later on, he makes a covenant with Moses himself, and eventually with king David. Each covenant leads closer and closer to the coming of Christ.
What does this mean? It means God is on a rescue mission for this world. He won’t let his “very good” creation stay broken forever.
God’s purposes for creation will not be thwarted.
A GOD OF GRACE
So that’s basically the flood story in a nutshell. Now I want to talk a bit more about what all this means for us today.
You may have noticed that I’ve talked a lot about God and the flood and humanity in general, but I haven’t really touched on Noah and the ark yet. Well, this is on purpose.
Normally when we talk about the flood, we love going straight to the Sunday School flannel graph images of a bearded Noah welcoming pairs of giraffes and sloths and alligators onto a giant boat. It’s a happy image, but I think it misses the bigger point of the story.
Frankly, I don’t think this is a story about Noah. I think this is a story about God.
Back in chapter 6, we get a really stark picture of life on the earth. Remember that?
Humanity had broken God’s heart. We had poisoned all of creation with our evil.
To the ancient Israelites, this was more than enough reason for God to destroy it all. As the Creator whose intentions had been warped and twisted beyond recognition, it was totally justified for him to end it.
And yet, right then, when ancient people would expect God to throw in the towel, he does something completely unexpected. God saves Noah and his family, and he keeps the animal kingdom alive.
As the waters rise, he protects them in a boat. Except, the Hebrew doesn’t say “boat.” The word is probably closer to the idea of a “chest” that holds your most valued possessions - a “treasure chest.” Inside are the things God cares most about.
He allows the waters of chaos to roll back his creation to the start, but God is unwilling to go all the way. Why?
Because God is a God of grace and he loves us.
Think about it. Moses and the Israelites who first put this story down in writing were following a God
· Who had rescued them from the chaos of Egyptian slavery,
· Who had taken them safely through the great waters of the Red Sea
· Who had picked them out of all the nations on earth to be his treasured possession in a world full of violence and corruption.
This was a God who dreamt of humanity restored back to open relationship with himself. A God who envisioned humans living in peace and love with one another. A God who imagined a world restored back to its creative design.
Yahweh was a God whose dreams would not be overcome.
His holiness required a flood. His grace required an ark.
And guess what, friends? This is the same God we follow today.
It is so easy to think of God as some angry, spiteful deity, eager to smite the disobedient. But that image is a lie.
Our God is a God of Grace and love and mercy, who, from the very beginning of time, has been desperately trying to stay in relationship with us, despite our rebellion. We broke his heart, but we are still his treasured possessions, and he would go to any length to bring us back to him.
God is relentless in his love.
So much so, that he fulfilled every one of his covenants. He became one of us - Jesus himself - and he paid the ultimate price for our sin so that we could be free. The Creator of life died on a cross for us - for you.
And when he rose again, he defeated death once and for all. He did it for us.
God is unwilling to let our sin have the last word. He gave his own life to rescue us from sin’s consequences. All we have to do is trust him.
I asked at the beginning whether you believed in a God of second chances. Well, he’s not. He’s a God of third chances. Of fourth chances. Of fifth, of sixth, of thousandth chances…
Though we fill the earth with violence, though we deserve a flood, God carries us through to dry land again and again and again. He is a God of amazing grace.