Genesis 7:21 And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, birds, cattle, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm upon the earth, and every man; 22 everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. 23 He blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the air; they were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those that were with him in the ark. 24 And the waters prevailed upon the earth a hundred and fifty days.
Note that there is no mention of hell or eternal punishment in the story – God is cleansing the world of sin and evil, not condemning sinners to an eternal hell, but rather bringing their sinful lives to an end. As far as Genesis presents the story death is the ultimate punishment which God has for dealing with sin – any existence beyond death is not presented in this story.
While the flood according to the story causes a massive extinction of all life (those in the ark being the only to survive), the purpose of the flood is to free the world from wickedness, not to destroy life. “As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11)
In Matins there is a hymn of light which extols God and includes the line addressed to Jesus: “O Lord and God, lamb of God, the Father’s Son: You take away the sin of the world, O You who take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us” (translation from New Skete Monastery, A BOOK OF PRAYERS). Since the advent of Christ, no longer does the Lord God use the impersonal and destructive flood waters to take away the sins of the world as He did in Noah’s day. Now in Christ, it is the Word of God Himself, not nature obeying God’s Word, which takes away the sin of the world. And the Word of God takes away the sins of the world not by destroying the world, but by dying for it to save it. No longer by destroying humans will God save His holy remnant, but rather by the death of His Holy Son will God destroy sin and death. The force of the flood waters destroyed all in its path – animal and human regardless of sin. Christ takes away the sin of the world only by allowing Himself to be destroyed by the world. Truly the love of God surpasses our understanding. The moral of the flood story is a message to all who want evil destroyed – evil is better destroyed by God’s love than by His wrath. The Genesis flood temporarily destroyed wickedness by destroying the wicked without giving them a chance to repent in order to save themselves from God’s judgment. Christ on the other hand eternally destroys death and gives life everlasting to all repentant sinners. God destroys evil so that love can prevail. It is not God’s wish to destroy His creation along with the evil in it but rather God desires that even the wicked be converted to goodness through His love and mercy.
“He blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the ground, man and animals…” This would have included children, toddlers and babies, people we would normally consider to be innocent of sin and malice. However, keep in mind in the story that outside of mentioning the birth of the humans (birth of the men/males) there has been no mention in Genesis of infants, child rearing, or children. If the story is to be read only literally we have to assume either God drowned innocent children, or that since they aren’t mentioned in the story, there were no children when the flood occurred. If however the story was intended to be read figuratively or symbolically (we know the New Testament reads it prophetically, metaphorically, typologically and even allegorically) the story may be suggesting what it literally deals with – the destruction of sin-prone, violent and wicked adults (and maybe specifically adult males since women are not much mentioned in the story either). So rather than portraying this angry, capricious, destructive, unpredictable, and violent God (common ideas in ancient literature about gods) who drowns the innocent along with the guilty (which one might conclude from a literal reading of the story) a more careful and thoughtful reading of the text (and one that would be more consistent with the Creator God who is love) would read the story figuratively. It is a story with a very powerful moral to it. God will not allow wickedness to triumph on His earth. God is not affected or defeated by human wickedness. God is sickened and disheartened by it and wants to preserve whatever goodness He can find in any of His human creations. God is not powerless in the face of evil. God deals with evil totally and justly and will at the time of His choosing completely wipe out evil and all powers opposed to His goodness. Moreover, by using the powers of the abyss – the cataclysmic deluge – to accomplish His will, the one God of the Bible asserts His Lordship over everything in the universe including darkness, chaos, evil, wickedness, destruction and death itself. The loving and all good God endeavors to protect and save the righteous (even if it is only one man in the whole world) from all the wickedness of the world. This thinking is in fact consistent with the portrayal of God in Genesis. “Then Abraham drew near, and said (to God), “Wilt thou indeed destroy the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; wilt thou then destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from thee to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from thee! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:23-25) Genesis is very careful to portray God as Creator and as a God of justice unlike he capricious and violent gods of the pagans. God is not a God who will destroy the innocent with the wicked.