Genesis 7:17 The flood continued forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased, and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. 18 The waters prevailed and increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark floated on the face of the waters. 19 And the waters prevailed so mightily upon the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered; 20 the waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep.
St. John Chrysostom does not say the Genesis story is mere fable or myth; however he wants to caution against an overly literal reading which would contradict reason and rational truth and thus lead to a loss of faith. He always wants his flock to know that scripture is to inspire in us a trusting faith in a loving God. He certainly tends to downplay interpretations which would make God into an angry tyrant bent on destroying an evil world. God for him is always a saving and loving God, and that in his belief is the revelation of scripture. “So, whenever God does something, dearly beloved, don’t insist on inquiring with your human reasoning into whatever he has done: it surpasses our understanding, and the human mind could not succeed in measuring up to it or grasping the secret of what has been created by him. Hence, after hearing that God has so directed, we ought believe and obey what is said by him.” (HOMILIES ON GENESIS 18-45, TFOTC, p 135) Chrysostom’s “pray and obey” response to difficult scripture passages will obviously not satisfy some inquiring and skeptical minds. To his credit he never shies away from difficult questions raised by believers or non-believers of his time and often in his commentary poses questions he imagines people asking when the text might cause an inquiring mind to disbelieve.
Some life in the seas, oceans and lakes would have been able to survive the flood. The text really doesn’t concern itself with sea life being able to survive, nor how if it was destroyed it would have been “recreated” after the flood since its seed would not have been saved. The wrath of God seems focused only on land life anyway. This of course raises the question for some, why destroy all life except for that of marine life? The animals on land were not any guiltier of sin than the animals at sea. It doesn’t seem fair. But then our ideas of “fairness” are shaped by modern egalitarian notions in which we want all things treated “the same.” This was not an idea that was vogue in the ancient world which accepts inequalities as normative and thus had a very different sense of what is fair. In the ancient world when families or tribes or villages or clans suffered as the result of the evil of their leaders, this was considered fair as the ancient world did not really think in terms of individualism. Generally in the ancient world the smallest social unit is not the individual but a person’s family or clan. In the ancient world each person is part of a greater social unit and so it would be “fair” if the head of a social unit suffered that all the members of that unit would suffer with him/her. And the ancient notion of fair included an idea that the higher up the social ladder you went the greater the suffering for wrongdoing. Thus the effect of the humans sinning was great throughout the entire creation since in the Genesis story humans had dominion over all other creatures. By our modern thinking it is not “fair” that animals suffered as a result of human wickedness. By our modern thinking it is not “fair” that marine life escapes the fate of land life. But the story of the flood is not about modern ideas of fairness. The story is about how unfair it is that humans, created in God’s image and likeness (unlike all the other animals in creation – hey, that’s not fair! That’s not equal!), created to have dominion over all other animal life (hey, that’s not fair!) respect neither God, nor each other, nor the rest of creation. The humans totally destroy the natural relationships between God and humans, humans and other humans, humans and the rest of creation. Remember when in Genesis 6:11-12 God saw the “corruption” on earth; “corruption” is the same word as “destruction” in the original text. God saw how humans had destroyed the relationship between themselves and everything else. The animal life and the abundant plant life which was created for the benefit of humans in Genesis 2 are being taken away from them in the flood story. This is part of God’s punishing the humans. Noah and company are being saved, but they also are suffering punishment for the sins of all humanity. God saw Noah as righteous, but while that spares Noah from dying in the flood, it does not spare him from suffering along with the rest of creation because of sin. There are 8 humans who will survive the flood, but just as Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise, so Noah and company lose the goodness of the original earth, and are going to be plopped down into a
world which is even more hostile to them. After the flood the animals will dread and fear the humans. The humans are moving ever further away from not only Paradise but the world into which Eve and Adam were sent. The humans are suffering serious loss and consequences for their continued wickedness. The rest of the creatures on earth are becoming increasingly hostile to the humans. So though the story is about a just God angered at the wickedness of His favored creatures, it is not about modern notions of fairness (which shaped our ideas of justice). In the flood story, the One who is directly offended by human sin is God, and the ancient view of “justice” (fairness) demands that the one who is offended is the one who must somehow be made “satisfied” by the action against the offender. Thus the cataclysmic flood which effects the entire world is part of the ancient sense of justice – the God of all creation was offended by human sin, and so a punishment must be meted out that restores his honor and restores order and restores justice to the universe. At least according to the story this is what the flood has to accomplish. Universal justice and order are restored by cleansing the world of all that was offensive to God. That the land animals had to suffer to restore this justice is considered by the ancients what it takes to complete the task (we might apply a modern concept – collateral damage – to this thinking of fairness. You can’t bomb the enemy’s industrial production into oblivion without also killing the civilians and destroying the economies and daily lives of the people). But in the end of the story, God is not going to be “satisfied” with the achievement of such justice. He is the God who is Love after all and in the end He is going to promise never again to use universal destruction as a means to re-establish universal justice and order.