Genesis 8:1 But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided; 2 the fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, the rain from the heavens was restrained, 3 and the waters receded from the earth continually. At the end of a hundred and fifty days the waters had abated; 4 and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest upon the mountains of Ar’arat. 5 And the waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen.
“God remembered Noah…” We do pray in our church that God will remember us in His kingdom. To be totally forgotten by God is a fate worse than death, for it means non-existence. We also pray that He eternally remember those who have died. We pray that God will remember us but that he will not remember our sins (Psalm 25:7, Isaiah 43:18, 64:9).
“God remembered Noah…” Here is a trivia question: In which Orthodox Sacrament is Noah and the ark explicitly mentioned? Here is the quote from the service: “Preserve them, O Lord our God, as You preserved Noah in the ark.” It is in the Wedding Service of Crowning that we remember and invoke Noah and the ark as we ask God to bless the couple being united in marriage. One may wonder about the connection of Noah to marriage – he was married but his wife’s name is not even mentioned and she plays absolutely no role in the story other than being one of those preserved by God in the ark. She is not known to have given birth to children after the flood so it is really her sons which preserve humanity and repopulate the earth. So does the wedding service imply that marriage is like a devastating storm and flood? The imagery of Noah is invoked purely as someone whom God preserved from evil and destruction which is what we pray He will do for the newlywed. The wedding service in Orthodoxy is very cognizant of the fact that life sometimes throws at every married couple as well as at each of us devastating contingencies. Marriage cannot protect us from these life threatening problems and sudden disasters – only God can help us when one of life’s tidal waves overwhelms us.
Noah is also mentioned in the Service of the Great Blessing of Water, where we might more expect to find his name: “For You are our God, who through water and the Spirit, have renewed our nature grown old through sin. You are our God, who with water drowned sin in the days of Noah.”
“God remembered Noah…” Was there ever a danger that God who had ordered Noah to build the ark and had him work on it for 100 years and had him take his family and the various species of animals into it, might forget about Noah? Does the story suggest that God was tempted with simply letting the chaos overwhelm the cosmos? Or that the destructive forces of the cataclysm were so appeasing His anger with humanity that it was lulling God to sleep with indifference towards His creatures? The God whose heart was pained by humanity still has room in His heart for the righteous Noah. Whether God “snapped back” to remembrance or whether he remembered Noah all along, when He thinks about one righteous human God is moved to save that person.
Chrysostom tells his flock not to overly think about or try to rationally approach the story which surpasses our credulity. Questioning the literal facts and doubting their veracity obviously occurred to the Christians of the 4th Century. Such questions of faith are not just the result of secular humanism and science. He acknowledges that the story does not tell us how the humans and animals could have survived being shut up in a big box for so many days. He acknowledges drinking water would have been a problem, the unbearable stench would have been a problem, the lack of fresh air would have done them all in, the wild animals would not have reacted peaceably to being housed in the bowels of the ark as this is totally unnatural to them and many don’t do well in captivity. He advises his faithful not to focus on the literal details but rather to consider the faith of Noah and Noah’s virtuous obedience to God which is what he says the story is mostly about. He admits the facts of the story- what literally happened – remain a secret of God. Chrysostom then argues that since we know the loving nature of our God we simply have to trust Him in His revelation. The story, St. John concludes, teaches us to persevere in obeying God no matter what conditions we have to live under.
The story teaches us that doing God’s will and even God’s salvation might require patience and suffering on our part as it did Noah. That is something we modern people find hard to accept. We want instant success, not a long protracted struggle. Yet as any farmer/gardener knows there are many potential threats and disasters from planting until harvest, and one has to meet them all if one has any hope of having a harvest. Even if one does everything just right, the harvest might be ruined by events beyond one’s control. For Christians the real harvest though does not occur in this world, but in the world to come. The suffering and problems here, bad as they are, are nothing compared to the harvest which awaits the faithful in God’s kingdom.