Is the Flood Account a Beautiful Story about Rainbows?

the flood rainbowOf all the violent texts in the Old Testament, the portrayal of the flood in Genesis 6–8 may be the most difficult text to understand.

As I was struggling with the way the flood is presented in Scripture, I had frequent conversations with my wife about this troubling text. One night, as we went back and forth on how to understand this passage, she playfully said, “I don’t know what the flood story means! All I know is what I was taught in Sunday school, that it’s a beautiful story about rainbows!”

We laughed, but the tragic reality is that this is what most people think about the flood. It is often read and taught sort of like an old-wives tale about how rainbows came to be.

The Flood Story is Appalling

The flood story, however, is anything but a beautiful fairy tale. On its surface, the flood story is an appalling account of how millions (and possibly billions) of people died a horrible death by drowning because God was angry at them.

family drowning in the floodAside from the grim image of every living thing on earth gasping for breath and choking on water as they sink beneath the waves, the flood story also paints a troubling portrait of a God who seems incompetent because He regrets that He made mankind (Didn’t He know this would happen?), and who then foolishly tries to solve the world’s addiction to evil and violence by committing the greatest atrocity of all: worldwide genocide. One author describes the story with these words:

The Old Testament also describes God as a mass murderer. …Despite cute songs, child-friendly play sets, and colorful artistic renderings of the story, “Noah’s Ark” is not a happy tale of giraffes and panda bears clambering aboard a floating zoo. It is a story of catastrophic death and destruction that, incidentally, results from divine decree. Nearly the entire human population perishes because God drowns them. It is a disaster of such epic proportions that even some of Hollywood’s doomsday scenarios pale by comparison (Seibert, Disturbing Divine Behavior, 20).

Strong words! Yet the apparent genocidal behavior of God in Genesis 6–8 is not the only troubling element to this text. Although there is a rainbow at the end and a promise by God that He will never do such a thing again, one is left with several questions about the way God is presented in this text.

The Troubling God of the Flood

For example, if He can promise that He will never do it again, why did He send the flood in the first place? Did He realize the flood was a mistake? If so, He sure seems prone to mistakes, for He first regretted making mankind, and then He regretted killing them all. So is God schizophrenic? Is He bi-polar? Did God realize the flood didn’t work as intended, and that mankind would not learn to refrain from evil simply because God annihilated them all? Maybe He realized this isn’t the example He wanted to set for mankind, and so resolved to be a nicer, gentler, more merciful God in the future? Was the flood “Plan A” and when the violent drowning of all mankind didn’t work, God decided to go with “Plan B” in eventually sending the Messiah?

None of this sounds like any God we read about in Scripture. If He had any foreknowledge at all (as God does), He would have known that the flood wouldn’t stop humans from committing evil. So what was the flood supposed to accomplish? Since it didn’t “work,” it seems like nothing more than gratuitous evil on the part of God, or at the bare minimum, some sort of childish temper-tantrum when the people He created stop doing what He wants. He creates humanity. They sin. He gets upset. So He kills them all.

Then after everyone is dead, He says He is sorry for getting angry, and asks us to love Him anyway. And look! Here’s a beautiful rainbow to prove how much I love you!

Imagine a man got angry because his children didn’t obey him, and so he drowned them all in a bathtub. When his wife showed up, he says, “I’m sorry I did that. I promise not to do it again with our future children. And to prove it, here’s a bouquet of roses!”

Do you think she’s going to be too eager to go make more babies with him? No, most likely not.

This is why the traditional reading of the flood account is so troubling. You may not like the way I propose we read the flood account in the posts that follow, but at least it does away with this violent, murderous, schizophrenic, second-guessing God that is present in the traditional reading of the flood account.

People will object, of course, that in this post I painted a caricature of God that is not actually present in the text. If you think so, just find an atheist friend and have them read Genesis 6–8 and ask what they think of the way God is presented in these chapters. Check out this picture to see what I mean:

the flood atheist

We Christians too often read the Bible with blinders on. We think that since God is God, He can do what He wants. The problem with our Christian way of reading this text is that at the end of the flood account, God Himself recognizes that what He did was so wrong, He will never do it again (Gen 8:21). If God is God and can do what He wants, and so it was okay for Him to send the flood, why would God promise to never send another flood? If it is okay for God to do it once, isn’t it okay for Him to do it a second time, or a third time, or however many times He wants? If it is true that “God is God and can do whatever He wants” there is no good explanation for why God decides to never send another flood.

The reading I propose in the following posts, however, will give an explanation for God’s statement in Genesis 8:21 and will show that under the surface of this troublesome and tumultuous text, the flood account truly is beautiful story about rainbows, just as my wife said.

In the events surrounding the flood, we will see a God who looks surprisingly like Jesus Christ.

God of the Old Testament and JesusThis post is part of my ongoing series on how to understand the violence of God in the Old Testament. Specifically, I am trying to answer this question:

How can a God who says "Love your enemies" (Matthew 5:44) be the same God who instructs His people in the Old Testament to kill their enemies?

To see what I am arguing so far, click here.

Also, when I am done with this series of posts, I will be publishing them as a book. If you want a free digital copy of this book when it comes out, make sure you have subscribed to my email newsletter.



Comments

  1. Juan Carlos Torres says

    I’m glad you’re writing about this.
    The Flood account is pretty terrible.
    I remember being told in church that God would never flood the earth with water again…and that He’ll flood the earth with FIRE next time (2 Peter)! That way He will not break His rainbow covenant. LOL

  2. Seth says

    I am curious if you are familiar with the understanding of the fallen angels defiling the seed of man, bringing forth giants, as well as polluting the seed of man through gene manipulation to the point where nearly all the inhabitants of the earth were polluted in their DNA making it nearly impossible for the seed of the woman (Christ) to come forth. God allowing this to go on for so long for what reason we don’t know to the point that there were only Noah and his family the only ones who were righteous (not morally) but genetically. God choosing to start over from this pure seed again that is traced back to Adam. Again their was a resurgence of the Nephilim as it talks about in the Book of Joshua and others. They had occupied the promised land and God commanding them to wipe them out not because He is a moral monster but because they were a defiled seed, an abomination in His sight and hindering the purposes of God. This is just a super brief overview of a very biblical perspective that I didn’t see you touch on in your last series and by the sounds of the way this one is starting may not touch on it here either. It is my understanding that Jesus and the apostles had the understanding of the fallen ones and their deeds as alluded to by Jude and Peter. When we are looking at this from another perspective that shows the cosmic battle and the lengths the enemy has gone to and goes to thwart God’s plan and usurp Him it actually begins to reveal God as a more long suffering, loving God as we know Him to be as revealed in Jesus. I believe there is a lot more to the story than we understand.
    This also leads into the end time delusion, what is happening now with gene manipulation, singularity, humans 2.0, etc… I am just throwing this out there as a path of consideration. I understand this needs scripture references, documentation and further explanation but I didn’t want to take up your blog with a blog post size comment. i would be glad to follow up and I am aware of the more newer understanding of the lines of Seth which I held to for a while being my name is Seth :)

    • J.J. Valenzuela says

      Completely agree, and was going to add this if you hadn’t already done so. This is referenced a few times in scripture and makes sense without making God to be a raving lunatic. Think of him what you will but Chuck Missler is a proponent of this view and to me, it makes a lot of sense.

    • Vince Latorre says

      Seth, I agree on the Nephilim explanation also and was going to mention it as a plausible reason for the drastic action of the flood. I think it can be supported by Scripture also. As you said, there is so little we know about that time and situation, even more so than in other Old Testament judgments. We all too easily fall into a 21 century context when looking at these passages.

    • Sam says

      It would be very interesting to know how people reading this take these stories (of fallen angels, giants, Nephalim, etc.) – fact, fiction, aliens, legends, imagination literature that served the purpose of explaining part of Israel’s past or what?

      • J.J. Valenzuela says

        I find it to be quite fact. Though on a more speculative note, In Isaiah, there is a reference to Rephaim… in which they will find no rest. The idea is that these are disembodied spirits or demons, different from Fallen Angels. Fallen Angels are… angels, and unsaved people have their souls go to torment, these are neither, and would reference the nephilim, or the half-man-half-angel with the genetic impurity and therefore, their soul would have no place to go.

        • says

          Great discussion here. I do think that the Nephilim were real, and that it was a big reason for the flood. I think that Noah’s purity in his generations had something to do with his bloodline not being polluted. I didn’t mention this, however, because it gets on the fringe a little bit, and didn’t want people to think that they had to agree with this perspective on the Nephilim to also agree with what I was trying to say about the flood.

  3. Dustin@God'sElite says

    Wow. Fine job! You punched so many holes in that story that there is no way that boat can float. (No pun intended)

    You are spot on here. I look forward to hearing your interpretation of those chapters.

    Here is an article which states how the ark story is not scientifically possible.

    http://www.frayn.net/evolution/claim4.html

    • Seth says

      With God all things are possible.

      Here is the conclusion of a thorough analysis of the engineering of the ship and a link to the entire analysis if you are inclined. However, if you read it there is much we don’t know and based on what we do know it is still possible. But even if there was an ark found, and undeniable proof showing there was technology capable back then. We still have to decide what we will believe about it. There will still be people who would refute it. I only put this up because your statements are emphatic but lacking solidity.
      —————————————————————————
      In conclusion, the Ark as a drifting ship, is thus believed to have had a reasonable-beam-draft ratio for the safety of the hull, crew and cargo in the high winds and waves imposed on it by the Genesis Flood.

      The voyage limit of the Ark, estimated from modern passenger ships” criteria reveals that it could have navigated sea conditions with waves higher than 30 metres.

      http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/tj/v8/n1/noah

    • says

      Thanks, Dustin.

      Though I am one who thinks the flood story did actually happen…. I do know some of the arguments for why the flood is scientifically implausible, but I think there are alternative explanations for where all the water came from (and where it is today) that might make it more plausible.

      Regardless, I don’t really mind if people read the creation account and the flood account as literary myths. Even if they are myths, they hold great truths.

      • Dustin Ryman says

        Jeremy,

        Don’t get me wrong. I do believe A flood happened and there was a man named Noah. I believe the story to a point. But it is scientifically impossible for 2 of every animal and insect in the world to fit in the boat.

  4. Vince Latorre says

    In 1 Peter 3:20-21, Noah’s Ark is spoken of as a figure of the resurrection of Christ. Christ’s resurrection signified a new beginning, as did the landing of the Ark. The parallels seems to be, people who were on the Ark were saved, the rest were lost, people who come to know Christ and who have their sins forgiven through His death and resurrection are saved, the others are lost. And the ones outside the “ark” of Christ meet a fate much worse than the physical death of drowning. And in both accounts, they were warned!

    • says

      Vince,

      My post is not arguing that the flood story is a legend. I believe the flood really happened. I do not believe it was a local flood either. I believe it was a worldwide flood that killed every living thing on earth, except for the eight people in the ark and the animals which were on board.

      Anyway, maybe your comment wasn’t directed at me, but I did want to go on record about my beliefs.

      • Vince Latorre says

        I wasn’t sure from your post if you took the local or global flood position. I didn’t think that you thought it was a legend, since then it wouldn’t be necessary to wrestle with a ficticious event in your writings about the flood. I know that many Christians believe in a local flood, and others believe in a global flood, myself being in the second group. Thanks for clarifying your position.

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