August 6 and a Transfigured World

August 6th in the Orthodox world is the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ.  It celebrates several theological truths such as the goodness of creation, the incarnation, that the created world is both capable of and is supposed to be in union with God and that the separation between God and humanity caused by human sin was not permanent but was coming to an end.  The event of the Transfiguration can be found in Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36. 

August 6th in the rest of the world today commemorates the American dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, during World War II.  That event is documented in many history books and online web pages.   

There is a similarity in the events in that both of them involve an unusual light seen during the daytime.  They both are signs of power – the Transfiguration of the power of God in relation to creation, and the nuclear explosion of the power that human ingenuity can unleash on the world.   The differences are also profound, for one represents the love of God for His world and the goodness which He bestowed in the physical creation.   The other represents a weapon of mass destruction and of indiscriminate killing for it targets not just the enemy’s military but civilians including children as well.

All day yesterday and even through the night, I could not get the images of these two events out of my mind.  I read yesterday numerous eyewitness accounts of survivors of the atomic blast, and the sheer destruction that explosion represented.   I felt that it was right that there be finally an American presence at the annual Hiroshima memorial, for we too have been victims of the madness that drove us to the development of such weaponry.   The invention of weapons of mass destruction, and the amount of tax dollars America continues to invest (and feel compelled to invest) in developing them, is not something we should be celebrating.  The invention and use of nuclear weapons represents terrorism on a mass scale.

I am not going to second guess the decision to use the atom bomb.  I live after the fact and understand what the use of that weapon did to the world in terms of creating a nuclear arms race and Mutual Assured Destruction.   I recently read Richard Bessel’s book, GERMANY 1945: FROM WAR TO PEACE, and see the absolute ideological madness which drove the Germans to continue fighting until they were absolutely destroyed as a militarist nation.  Their fanaticism to the very last day of the war, cost both them and the allies millions of lives just in 1945 when the war was clearly lost by the Nazis.  According to the book in fact more German soldiers died in 1945 than in any other years of the war.  So there is no doubt that the American leadership in 1945 had plenty of reason to dread the Japanese carrying out such a mindless social suicide at the expense of many more American lives.

The atom bomb was a weapon of sheer terrorism.  It was intended to terrorize the Japanese into submission:  they may be totally suicidal, but they were going to be destroyed without massive loss to American lives.  It worked.  The Japanese government surrendered in the face of such genocidal weapons. 

Many assume that the use of the atomic bomb was also meant to terrorize another people: the Soviets.  Just in case the Soviets were tempted to carry on a war to spread communism in the world, they too were being warned that they would face weapons of mass terrorism and destruction as well.  If that was the intent, it may have worked to avert yet another war immediately in 1945.  Yet it also ignited an arms race that consumed the world powers for the next decades into our current age. 

The atomic bomb transfigured the modern world.  There is no doubt about that.  I find it most appropriate that we finally were represented at the Hiroshima memorial to recognize with fear and sorrow what the development of nuclear weapons has meant to humankind, and what our role as Americans has been in the development of this terrorism.  And we who now fear rogue nations and Islamic terrorists getting these weapons are now also victims of this terrorism, trapped into spending yet another fortune to defend ourselves from a power we released on the world.  And as Americans I think we totally underestimate how the world sees us as a result of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: we are the one nation on earth willing to use nuclear weapons first – not just in response to a nuclear threat.  We also are the only people on earth who have unleashed nuclear weapons on another people.  Of course we are also the only nation on earth which bears the responsibility for using nuclear weapons on an enemy, a fact that should humble us who believe there will be a day of reckoning with the Creator.

August 6th is indeed a day of Transfiguration for the world, not just for Orthodox Christians.    The global population recognizes there are powers at work in the universe which we do not control; some hold us in complete awe and some in sheer terror.

May the King of Peace help us to deal with these powers, and to unleash in the world His power of love.   Nuclear power does not have only destructive purposes.   Like free will itself it holds the potential for good or ruin.

How Original Sin Impacts Christianity

Alan Jacobs, English Professor at Wheaton College, in his book, ORIGINAL SIN, takes an in-depth look at how, since the time of St. Paul,  thoughts on original sin have shaped the history of Western thought.  The effects of “original sin” have not just been the dominate influence on human behavior as Western Christianity sees it, nor is its influence limited to theology and preaching,  but reflections on and reaction to the idea of original sin have shaped the notions of governance, hierarchy, law, punishment, the 18th Century Enlightenment, child rearing, education, philosophy, ideas of what it means to be human, debates on nature vs nurture, psychology, sociology, and evil.

Jacobs presents a detailed look at how various Christian spokespersons have applied their thoughts on original sin to their times and flocks.  This is not always a pretty picture, for the curative reaction against original sin has at times been a justification for abusive forms of punishment, the mistreatment of children, and the idea of assigning unbaptized babies to the eternal fires of hell.  Jacobs does offer a few ideas from outside of Western Christian tradition at how others have dealt with the notion of original sin in their own scriptures and myths.  He touches upon the Jewish reaction against such teachings, and acknowledges that Eastern Orthodox Christianity has not embraced the same ideas as the West, though he admits to not comprehending the Orthodox view.

The notion of original sin and its impact on Western civilization can be traced back to the writings of St. Paul and his exegesis of the Adam and Eve story in Genesis.  It is the interpretations of his writings which so influenced Christianity, and pushed notions of “original sin” to the forefront of Christian theology.

Why humans are not “naturally” inclined toward doing good, toward pleasing God, is something that has puzzled those inspired by God in the Jewish tradition from the beginning.  Logically, it has something to do with free will –  for free will to be true, there must be the possibility that humans can choose between good and evil, AND good and evil must be equally attractive, or otherwise there is no real freedom of choice.  Yet Scripture presents the disappointing story that humans do not even seem to arise to goodness 50% of the time, as mere randomness would have it.  Rather, humans are attracted to the evil.

Before the Great Flood annihilates all life on earth:

The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.   (Genesis 6:5-6)

After the Flood waters have resided:

… the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.”   (Genesis 8:21)

The scriptures have it that even God the Creator does not know what to make of or how to deal with His failed human creatures.  God seems to acquiesce and accept that He will have to work with these beings He created, but who stubbornly gravitate toward wickedness, even when that harms them.  

Though Augustine and the Christian tradition tried to make sense of humanity by working out causality, God Himself does not speculate about human nature;  rather, He adapts His plans and thinking to the errant nature of these creatures He has made. In Genesis, God does not blame Satan, the serpent, or original sin for the wickedenss of humans.

God’s first attempt at dealing with human free will is simply to give them a rule – don’t eat from the Tree of Good and Evil.  But if He expected the humans to intuit goodness from this rule and to simply obey it, He was greatly disappointed.  God, however, does not attempt to stop the humans from taking the forbidden fruit, which can make us wonder why, since He will intervene and prevent the humans from taking fruit from the Tree of Life by expelling Eve and Adam from the Garden of Eden.   Humans are not automatons, and God allows them to follow their hearts and to experience the grave consequences of their behavior.  This seems part of His plan, however irrational it appears to us.   The Bible is comfortable with mystery, though Bible readers often are not.

God’s next effort at dealing with the inclination of the human heart is the story of the Cataclysmic Flood whose purpose was to drown wickedness in the world.  This too as noted in the Genesis passages above (6:5-6) does not have the desired impact on humanity.  God recognizes that there is something about humanity which defies logic (8:21). 

Next in the series:  Original Sin: The Allure of Death

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:24-29 (b)

See:  God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:24-29 (a) 

Noah & Family in the Ark

Genesis 9:24   When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers.” 26 He also said, “Blessed by the LORD my God be Shem; and let Canaan be his slave.” 27 God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his slave.” 28 After the flood Noah lived three hundred and fifty years. 29 All the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years; and he died. 

 “Cursed be Canaan; a slave of slaves shall he be…”   Though Noah curses his grandson, Canaan, to be a slave to his brothers, in Psalm 105:27, Egypt is referred to as the land of Ham where ironically it will not be Canaan who will be enslaved, but where the descendents of the blessed Shem will be enslaved by the descendents of Ham.

St. Paul


Genesis connects slavery to sin, a theme picked up by St. Paul:   “Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to any one as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. …But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life.  For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:16-18,22-23). 

Chrysostom did not believe that the original sin doomed us all to sin.  “If, however, we are on the alert, these evils that came into life as a result of the sins of our forbearers will in no way be able to harm us, going no further than the level of terminology.”  We are not somehow predetermined to be sinners by what Adam or any of our ancestors have done.   Humans can resist sin, but it requires great vigilance and determination.   We are not predestined to sin.   In his thinking St. John follows the wisdom of Sirach:   “It was he who created man in the beginning, and he left him in the power of his own inclination.  If you will, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.  He has placed before you fire and water: stretch out your hand for whichever you wish.  Before a man are life and death, and whichever he chooses will be given to him” (Sirach 15:14-17). 

“Blessed by the LORD my God be Shem…”  Noah’s second sentence is not so much a blessing on his two other sons, but an acknowledgement that God has blessed them (9:1).   Canaan, Ham’s son is cursed to become slave to his uncles.  He is not to be treated as kin but as chattel.  He is disinherited from the family tree.  What did Ham feel when he realized what effect his sin had on his son’s life and fate?  No reaction is recorded of how the sons responded to their father’s blessings and curse. 

Old Testament Patriarchs


When Noah dies, Abram the next major hero of Genesis is already born.  Noah is the 10th generation from Adam, and Abram is the 10th generation from Noah.  Noah’s was the first birth recorded after Adam’s death.  So Noah’s life stretches virtually from the time of Adam’s death until the time of Abram’s birth.   He is thus a key figure in the genealogy connecting the father of mankind Adam who was a man of great promise to the father of the people of God’s promise Abraham.   Adam, Noah and Abraham thus each in their own way become the father of us all.   

Next: God Questions His Creation: The Conclusion of the Flood (a) 

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:8- 17 (c)

See:   God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 9:8- 17 (b)

Genesis 9:8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.”

Noah and his sons are totally silent and do not respond to God’s covenant promise – they ask no questions, make no reciprocal promises; no response of theirs even gets recorded, so we have no idea what they thought about God’s speaking let alone His covenant.  In verse :18, they already seem to be going about their business as if nothing happened.  They do not thank God for His promise and they make no promise themselves to in any way honor the covenant.   God had demanded of them some level of civilization before stating the terms of the covenant.  God laid down that killing other humans is unacceptable and that humans themselves must enforce the ban on killing by executing anyone who commits homicide.  In effect God is demanding them to develop their own police force, judicial system, and executioners.   What God precludes is both unlimited vengeance as well as  tolerance of murderous violence.  God has recognized that the human heart’s tendency toward violence is real and will continue.  But God is not going to be the one who has to tame the

Humans are responsible for justice

wickedness in fallen humanity.   God appoints His humans to this task – this is now to be part of humans having dominion over creation: they must enforce dominion over their own hearts and over any tempted to murder.   God places the burden on humans to police themselves.  God has promised not to destroy humanity for its violent wickedness, but insists that humans deal with homicide by killing the murderers.    Executing justice turns out to be a very unsavory business.  Humans now are going to be forced to use the punishment God put upon them for the sin of Eve and Adam – mortality – to establish justice on earth.   God has already seen how humans twist around God-given punishment by making mortality a tool of sinful murder.  Now God is demanding of humans to use mortality wisely and judiciously to establish justice and to contain violence.  God is curtailing the human proclivity to vengeance but is demanding that humans must rid themselves of murderers.  If humans are going to live together they must choose to control the homicidal tendencies of their hearts.   If humans want to continue to have a relationship with the divine, God is insisting that the humans must be willing to purify themselves of violent evil.  Unfortunately this too humans will distort with the rise of armies and warfare in which killing is sanctioned by human civilization not just in defense but in offensive aggression and pre-emptive warfare.   While God sanctioned the death penalty for murderers, He does not demand humans to kill the violent before they sin.

In the Orthodox Prayer Service (Slavonic: Molieben) “in the time of inclement weather, and unseasonable rain”, we find the following petition:   “That He will remember His covenant which He made with Noah, and will not despoil the land and His needy people with grievous wetness, dark, malevolent skies and gloomy fog, but will mercifully spare His inheritance and will command the sun to shine on the earth with fruit-bearing rays and abundant warmth, let us pray to the Lord.”   From that same service there is also this petition (note this prayer asks God to make a new covenant with the petitioners – either assuming God frequently makes covenants with His people and one can petition for a covenant and/or that the covenant with Noah was not eternal but must be remade from time to time):  “Save us from mud, O Lord, and from deep mire, and from deep water, that our days not pass in vanity and our years with sighing.  But remember Your covenant, which You made with Noah, and make one with us, according to Your mercies, with broken hearts we pray to You, hearken and have mercy.”    From the Prayer Service “in time of flood”, we find this prayer: “That He will remember the covenant that He made with Noah and not destroy us with grievous wetness and the stormy breath of winds, but will mercifully spare His inheritance and appease the storm that is laid upon us and the disturbance of the air, and will give a seasonable and peaceful breath to the wind, let us pray to the Lord.”   

Next: God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:18-23 (a)

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 8:20-22 (c)

See:   Questions His Creation:  Genesis 8:20-22 (b)

Genesis 8:20 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And when the LORD smelled the pleasing odor, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. 22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” 

Christ who reconciles God to humanity through His own sacrifice

Noah is the prototype of the man who is to reconcile the fallen world to a holy God.  In Ezekiel 14, God is so displeased with the House of Israel that He declares that even if Noah was with them and interceding for Israel, He would not spare them from His pending wrath.

“for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth”    In Genesis 6:5-6, it is because God realizes that the human heart imagines evil constantly that He become grieved over having created the humans.  But after having destroyed His creation in order to rid the earth of sin, God is suddenly pleased with the incense offering of Noah, and appears to remember what He so valued in His creatures when He first looked upon them and saw them as “very good” (Genesis 1:31).   The human is capable of doing something pleasing to God, and even if that something is very small – creating scented smoke – it removes from God His grief stricken desire to eliminate humans from the earth.

“…never again…”   The Lord’s promise to never again destroy all life may also indicate God will no longer judge humanity as one whole but will treat each person as they deserve based on their own life choices.  The promise is unconditional – no matter how wicked humans continue to be God says He will not again curse and totally destroy the earth because of the evil humans do.  This may well be the beginning of the notion of hell – a place for the torment and punishment of sinners which does not involve the destruction of the planet.  While God’s vow to never again destroy the earth and all the wicked on it may be a sign of His mercy, it also means that as long as the earth exists the wicked will always live alongside those who wish to follow God.   If God was not able to eliminate the wickedness in humans through His divine punishments and great mercy, it seems that human efforts through correctional institutions, police, armies, legislation, courts and wars will also never bring an end to all evil either.  There is no such thing as a war to end all wars!  As long as there are humans in whose hearts evil incubates, there will be wickedness on earth.  That is a reality we have to live with.  

God promised to NEVER again destroy all humanity, and yet also speaks of a coming Judgment Day.   What is holding God back?  Why does he wait before visiting His final saving judgment on the people of earth?   “Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition,  who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.  Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you this? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time.  For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way.  And then the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming.  The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12).

 Next:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 9:1-2 (a)

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 7:21-24 (b)

See:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 7:21-24 (a)

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.

How did the people of the world benefit from this tragedy?   In Hebrews 11:39-40, we are told,  “And all these, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised,  since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”   The salvation of the world is done as whole for all of humanity – those people living in the past as well as those in the present and who will live in the future.   Those living in the past could not be made perfect apart from those who live in the present or apart from those yet to be born.    All that happens benefits future generations even if in the present we do not understand the purpose of the events we live through.   The suffering of past peoples may not immediately have benefited them, but it does potentially edify and benefit us.  In this we can also understand how and why the literary power of the Genesis stories is not in their literal detail and reading, but rather in the lessons and morals of the stories.  The stories are a prophetic witness to God’s Lordship, will, plan and Kingdom.   They reveal to us both the eschaton (what God is guiding us to) and the teleology by which God guides the universe.   When we understand that God loves all His created people, we can understand how events of the past benefit us more than they benefited ancient people – we are the ones who learn the lessons from what they suffered.  And our suffering today will benefit our fellow humans in the future.  We are all part of the one human race and we all benefit and suffer when any humans anywhere are blessed or suffer.  Our sense of absolute individualism causes us to fail to take into account just how connected each of us is to all other humans.  We share a common humanity and a union with all other humans.  We share a common human nature.  St. Paul also uses the image that we are all members of one Body.   “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit.  For the body does not consist of one member but of many … If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it”  (1 Corinthians 12:12-14,26-27).

Some Patristic writers see in the story of the ark a prototype of the Church, outside of which no one is saved from the deadly flood of sin.

Apostle Peter

In St. Peter’s First Epistle, Peter has Christ upon his death descending into the nether regions to preach salvation to those “… who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.  Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…”  (3:20-21)   So though they were blotted out as a result of their wickedness by the deluge, St. Peter claims Christ redeems these people once judged by God.   The judgment rendered by God on the wicked in Genesis is thus not a permanent judgment.  Those who died in the flood were not condemned eternally to hell, nor were their sins considered unforgivable.  In the end, God’s own mercy and love overcame even the wickedness of those whom God could no longer tolerate on earth!   (Additionally, by connecting baptism to the ark, St. Peter treats the Flood story as a prefiguring of the salvation offered to the world through the Church.  Formerly only a few, eight people in the ark, were saved.  Now the Church as the ark of salvation is capable of having the population of the world board in order to be spared from God’s judgment.)

Only land animals and birds are included in the destruction.  Sea creatures are not destroyed by the flood – in any case Noah would have lacked the technology to build a sizeable aquarium which could save sea creatures and thus preserve their seed..

“And the waters prevailed upon the earth…”   When God unleashes the waters from the vaults of heaven upon the earth, He seems to be saying to the people on earth, “You didn’t like the order I imposed upon the cosmos and you prefer to follow your own disorderly and destructive ways, alright then, I will let disorder and destruction reclaim the earth.  You can have your way but I will no longer protect you from the chaos, from the randomness of an ungodly universe, from the entropy described by your laws of thermodynamics. You prefer disorder in the world to my divine order, now you will see what happens when I decide not to impose my order on the universe.   See if you can survive when the world ignores the divine order.”  Or, as the Lord says in Deuteronomy 32, “The LORD saw it, and spurned them, because of the provocation of his sons and his daughters. And he said, ‘I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end will be, for they are a perverse generation, children in whom is no faithfulness.  For a fire is kindled by my anger, and it burns to the depths of Sheol, devours the earth and its increase, and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains. And I will heap evils upon them; I will spend my arrows upon them… destroying both young man and virgin, the sucking child with the man of gray hairs” (32:19-25).

 Next:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 8:1-5 (a)

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 7:21-24 (a)

See:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 7:17-20 (b)

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.

Next:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 7:21-24 (b)

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 7:1-4 (b)

See:   God Questions His Creation: Genesis 7:1-4 (a)

Noah in the ark

Genesis 7:1   Then the LORD said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation. 2 Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate; 3 and seven pairs of the birds of the air also, male and female, to keep their kind alive upon the face of all the earth. 4 For in seven days I will send rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.”

“…in seven days…”   Though in P-Source Noah has 100 years to build the ark, here in the J-Source he is suddenly given a seven day warning and in a new commandment is to gather seven pair of clean animals.  The urgency in the story is now great. The reference to seven days in the story reminds us of the seven days of creation.  Seven is a sacred time period.  The combination of the two traditions (Source Theory: J-Source and P-Source) moves us back and forth from a grand picture of things to the sudden urgency of events.  Jesus uses the story of Noah exactly as a warning against sudden and unprepared for death.  “As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of man” (Luke 17:26).  The Final Judgment of God will come upon us just like the flood came upon the people of the world in Noah’s day – we have been warned, they were not, will we be prepared?

“I will send rain upon the earth…”   God foretells what is going to happen.  He wants Noah to understand that what is about to take place is not just an act of nature; it is the will of God.  He prepares Noah for what will take place and wants Noah to understand the events happening are a fulfillment of a prophecy/promise.  There is no coincidence, all that will take place is an act of God; it is what God intends to do.  For his part, Noah is to remember what God told him, so that Noah upon seeing the deluge will not attribute the events to the forces of nature, to some unnamed evil, or to the gods.  Noah will be certain when the events transpire that the force unleashed upon the earth is the hand of the one Creator God.

“I will send rain upon the earth forty days…”   One aspect of the flood story that it is easy for modern people to miss is that ancient people experienced nature and weather as an unpredictable and violent force in their lives.  They lacked reliable methods to forecast the weather let alone earthquakes, volcanoes or Tsunamis.  They tended to view nature as an anthropomorphic force that could suddenly and violently turn against them, or be used by God as a means of venting His anger on them.  Nature was a totally unpredictable, uncontrollable and even hostile force.   Though we today sometimes experience that force of nature (such as the hurricane Katrina devastating New Orleans), still we do have some warnings and with satellites and other scientific instrumentation we are given warnings and a little time to prepare for the force of nature.  Ancients lived in a world where there was no way to predict even the smallest natural disasters and were often caught unaware.  We see that dread of not only nature but also of the unexpected appearance of enemy armies in our liturgical prayer where we pray for deliverance from “Flood, fire, sword, invasion from enemies, civil war and sudden disaster.”    The ancients experienced the world as much more unpredictable, chaotic, capricious and wreaking havoc without any warning.  The story of the flood uses that experience of the ancient people and their fear of natural disaster to portray to its readers a warning about what can happen when humans totally disregard God and offend or anger Him.

“…seven days … forty days…”   Certain numbers repeat so often in the scriptures that they are believed to have symbolic value to them.   Many scholars believe that the true significance of these numbers is in their symbolic meaning not in the actual literal numerical value.   Seven is a number which symbolizes completeness in the Scriptures.  God creates the world in 7 days.  He warns Noah that the flood will begin in 7 days – the fullness of time is coming.    Forty is symbolic of a long period of time and is often associated in critical situations with a form of consequences – 40 days of rain, 40 years wandering in the wilderness, 40 days of fasting.  The idea that numbers stated in the Old Testament have a symbolic meaning to them is bolstered by the fact that in the ancient world alphabetical letters are used for numbers and so often people assume the number is a mystical spelling of a hidden word.  St. Basil the Great for example wrote, “Scripture continually assigns seven as the number of the remission of sins.”   He does not tell us what made him associate seven with repentance.   Whole mystical movements especially in Judaism have evolved around numerology and occasional become faddishly popular.    But those engaged in such deciphering of the meaning of numbers have rarely agreed with each other about the meaning of the numerals.

Next:  God Questions His Creation: Genesis 7:5-10 (a)

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 7:1-4 (a)

See:   God Questions His Creation: Genesis 6:19-22

Genesis 7:1 Then the LORD said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation. 2 Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate; 3 and seven pairs of the birds of the air also, male and female, to keep their kind alive upon the face of all the earth. 4 For in seven days I will send rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.”

Genesis does not tell us how the invisible God “speaks” nor how Noah would have known God’s “voice” which would be coming from “thin air” as it were.  Noah who cannot see God, has a mouth but does not speak.  Noah is able to envision what God wants from him, even though He cannot see the God who is speaking to him.  Noah cannot see God, but he can envision the ark and begins to work on it.  Noah is able to see what God wants without seeing God.  Noah shows no surprise at hearing the voice of the invisible God.   God almost never dialogues with people at this point in the story.  He simply speaks or commands and they either do or do not listen.   Our story’s narrator is obviously not God for the narrator is describing what God is doing and thinking.  The narrator gives us no clue how he learned these things, he simply reports them. 

Noah’s family may have heard even less – the text tells us only that God speaks to Noah.  Whether the family has any sense of God’s speech or presence we aren’t told.  The family is to follow Noah.  We do not know if they hear, follow or obey God.  Is Noah’s righteousness such that not only God takes notice, but Noah’s family sees it in him and respects him for it?

In the Septuagint we read the following words using a boat on water as an image of relying on God’s Wisdom to carry us safely through the tumultuous threats of a fallen world.  The passage is reflecting on the lessons of Noah and the flood:  “Again, one preparing to sail and about to voyage over raging waves calls upon a piece of wood more fragile than the ship which carries him.  For it was desire for gain that planned that vessel, and wisdom was the craftsman who built it; but it is your providence, O Father, that steers its course, because you have given it a path in the sea, and a safe way through the waves, showing that you can save from every danger, so that even if a man lacks skill, he may put to sea.  It is your will that works of your wisdom should not be without effect; therefore men trust their lives even to the smallest piece of wood, and passing through the billows on a raft they come safely to land.  For even in the beginning, when arrogant giants were perishing, the hope of the world took refuge on a raft, and guided by your hand left to the world the seed of a new generation.  For blessed is the wood by which righteousness comes” (Wisdom 14:1-7).  The wood of the ark and that of the cross will be frequently associate metaphors in Orthodox hymns of salvation.

“seven pairs of all clean animals…”     As in the early chapters of Genesis it appears that more than one tradition of the Noah/flood stories are brought together in the formation of our scriptures.  Whereas earlier Noah was commanded to bring a pair of all animals into the ark (6:19, P-Source), here in the J-Source he is told to bring in seven pairs of all CLEAN animals.  Modern scholars remind us that before these stories were written down in Scriptures, they were transmitted orally for generations.  Oral Tradition doesn’t have just one “author” (as we to think in modern times of an author).  Rather it is held, authenticated, honored and handed on in community – by, through and in all the people.  Oral communities commonly remember more than one version of a story (Think about the New Testament’s four Gospel writers).  It is only when the story is committed to written word that efforts are sometimes made to combine or harmonize the variations, or that the story begins to be examined for its “literal” truth.  The story’s discrepancies may be a clue that the story is not to be read quite so literally as we sometimes think it should be read.   The text does not offer a reconciliation of the variations and doesn’t command the reader to resolve the discrepancies.   Source Theory offers a plausible explanation – there are two different sources at work here.  The LORD (YHWH) commanding Noah to take 7 pairs of clean animals, while in Genesis 6 it is God (Elohim) who commands Noah to take but 2 pairs of ALL animals.   The different ways of referring to God and the different commands given to Noah suggest that different traditions (sources) were blended together to form the canonical Scriptures.    Since this was inspired by God, one has to think that God did not intend for the stories to be read only literally – they have deeper meaning and the variations in the story remind us of this. These God-inspired differences and inconsistencies motivate believers to dig deeper into their meanings in order to get beyond and past the literal details.  Biblical literalists generally conclude that God was only further refining His thinking – 2 pairs of all animals but seven pairs of the clean ones which will be helpful at the end of the flood when Moses slaughters some of the clean animals in a sacrifice to God.   The distinction between clean and unclean animals does primarily arises in the Bible in the time of Moses with the giving of the Law.  Here the J-source anachronistically assumed that even in ancient days they would have known the Torah and followed it even before the Law regarding clean and unclean was given.   The Torah-keeping Jews of the time period when Genesis was actually recorded as Scripture would have found the lack of distinction between clean and unclean animals by Noah as unacceptable for a man whom God had deemed righteous. 

Next:  God Questions His Creation: Genesis 7:1-4 (b)

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 6:19-22

See:  God Questions His Creation: Genesis 6:17-18 (c)

Genesis 6:19 And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. 20 Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every sort shall come in to you, to keep them alive. 21 Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up; and it shall serve as food for you and for them.” 22 Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.

Part of the story of the flood is God’s own graciousness in not wanting to completely destroy His creation but rather endeavoring to preserve some of it in order to cleanse and renew it.  God’s goal is not just the annihilation of wickedness.  He didn’t need to save Noah for that.  He saves Noah because His plan is ultimately about salvation not destruction.  So of all animals a pair of them is to be saved in order that they may be a continued part of the renewed creation.   God does not even eliminate “unclean” animals for He has created them and they too are to be saved.  The renewed creation which is to appear after the flood has every kind of creeping animal (including snakes) and every kind of unclean animal which eventually will be forbidden as food to the Jews. (at this point in Genesis humans are apparently still vegetarians as permission to eat animals/flesh is given only after the flood in Genesis 9:3 where all animals are given as food and none are declared as unclean).  God wants to save the animal species from complete extinction.  He apparently is not intending to recreate extinct species after the flood nor is He planning to create new species, but rather will repopulate the earth from the remnant gene pool.  He is not going to create vast numbers of the animals as He did at the beginning of creation; rather He is going to expect the animals to repopulate the world through procreation.

In saving each species of animal, God puts some of the work of salvation on Noah himself.  God does not do all the work but expects synergy with humans in saving the world.   God doesn’t build the ark for Noah; Noah has to do it himself.  God doesn’t save Noah’s family and the animals of the world from the flood; He expects Noah to do that part of the work which humans are capable of doing.  God has warned Noah what is to happen – that is something only God can do.  It is up to Noah to accomplish the human contribution to the salvation of the world.  Why does He need Noah to preserve the animals so that they too will exist after the flood?   The salvation of the world is not a spectator sport.  God calls His chosen ones to actively engage in the salvation of the world.  God doesn’t want a people who are in the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, “so heavenly minded as to be no earthly good.”   The ark as a prototype of salvation requires the people who are to be saved by the ark to do a tremendous amount of work for themselves and for the world.   There is little reason to doubt that had God so desired He could have simply drowned all the animals on earth and then created in the new world new animals.  The God of Genesis is the Creator who also is Savior.  If everything had been wiped out by the cataclysmic destruction, the God of Genesis would be little different than the other gods of the ancient world who create and destroy capriciously and amorally.  The God who is love loves His creation even when it isn’t lovely or loveable.  God saves His creation; He doesn’t simply trash it and start totally new each time He is unhappy with the results. He intentionally created beings with free will, the humans, and accepts the consequences of their decisions – and He expects them to as well! There is a sense in which there is a permanency to God’s creation, even if the creation exists in time.

Patristic writers did see the flood as a foreshadowing of baptism – for in baptism the immersed person’s sins are washed away and drowned while the one being baptized is saved and brought up to heaven.  The baptismal font is a watery grave where the “old man” (the fallen sinner, the person whose humanity comes from Adam) is left buried along with one’s sins, while the “new man” (the person whose humanity is that of Christ’s) rises to eternal life.  The flood waters are being portrayed not merely or even mostly as destroying the earth, but of cleansing the earth from corruption and freeing the earth of wickedness, decay and of death.

What do we learn about our God – a God who does not return His creation to chaos or nothingness, but rather uses the creation to cleanse and purify His world become corrupt?  He is not a God who simply starts over anew, or abandons what He has begun.  Rather He is a God who interacts with His creation in order to save it. The created cosmos is both capable of being used by the Holy God to cleanse corruption from it, and capable of emerging from the cleansing in a renewed form.  Why did He not more simply deconstruct everything and then start again?  Why does He try to use the little good that He finds in the world rather than starting all over?   Could not He who created the animals in the beginning, create new ones after the flood?  What is His relationship to and commitment to this cosmos and world?   Why does He want to save part of it rather than simply starting from scratch?  The answer to these questions is revealed fully only in the time of the New Testament with the incarnation of God the Word.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).  The Lord is the God of love, the God who is love.  He is not going to annihilate that which He loves; rather His plan is to save it.

“Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up”     Non-edible plants apparently will not be spared in the flood.   The amount of food Noah would need to harvest and store up is immense and would require massive farms and storage facilities, as he wouldn’t be able to do all this work and food growing and collection and storage on one day.   It would be a project worthy of modern mass farming, transportation and storage.   Or perhaps Noah was expected to bring back not only animal species from across the globe, but also a sufficient amount of their native foods to last from the time he got them back to the ark until the ark departed.  The storage of such plant life (keeping it edible for a sufficient time period) would have been a challenge of “Biblical” proportions.

Noah is seen in the Patristic writers as an example of perseverance, faith and patience.  He does everything God commands without ever complaining, asking a question, or even uttering a word.  He manages to build the biggest structure known to man, while at that time going out into all the world and corralling representatives of every species of animal. Noah is the very icon of obedience and faith.

Next:  God Questions His Creation: Genesis 7:1-4 (a)