Sunday, January 12, 2020
God created the world. He put his special mark on human beings, the animal created in God’s image. Of all that God made, humans are God’s image-bearers. Men and women were granted free will. God brought us into existence and then allowed to choose to follow, worship, and love Him, or to choose not to. From the beginning, humans sometimes chose not to.
God said do not eat from that tree. Adam and Eve ate from that tree. God created us to be in relationship and even warned Cain, “Sin is lurking at your door; its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:7). Cain didn’t master it. Instead of thriving in relationships with God, with his parents, and with his brother, Cain disrupted God’s created order. He murdered his brother.
God creates. People rebel and sin. God punishes. But, God also protects. Adam and Eve had to leave the garden, but they didn’t die. Cain was banished, but also marked with God’s protection (Gen. 4:15). We traverse these opening chapters of the first book of the Bible, Genesis, until we come to chapter 6. At that point, the world is filled with people who have repeated Adam and Eve’s rebellion, and Cain’s violence.
The first question to help me organize my thoughts around the story of the flood and Noah is what do we learn about God in the flood story? We learn that God took to heart every single sin. A world full of hundreds of thousands of people, or today, billions and billions of people; God feels a rip in his heart every time one of the billions turns away from his love and care and instead tries to live apart from him. Genesis 6:5-6, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth … and the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” We see God has feelings and how we act, what we say and think and do, affects God.
God in the flesh, Jesus, wept as he rode into Jerusalem knowing crucifixion was ahead of him. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often I have [longed] to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! … If you this day, even you had only recognized the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God” (Matthew 23:27; Luke 19:41-44).
Before the story of Noah’s ark is a story about a guy and two of every animal afloat in a flooded world, it is first a story about God heartbroken that the world he’s made has rejected him.
What did God do?
He destroyed the world in a flood and started over with one family. We pick the action up on a hillside – Mount Ararat. When the waters receded, the ark came to rest there (Genesis 8:4). Noah and his family and the animals exited the ark. His first act on dry ground was to worship God (Genesis 8:20-21). It is the most noble of all human activities. Worship is our highest calling. In the flood, the world was unmade, and through Noah’s family, God re-created the world. Humans continued to be God’s image-bearers. The flood didn’t change anything. God made the world and saw that it was good. After the flood, the world was still good and humans were still the unique ones in creation made in God’s image. The first post-flood human act was worship.
Still, we linger on our questions: who is the God in the flood story and what did this God do?
God is a personality that loves. God feels the deep heart wounds that come with love. God flooded the world. God started things all over again. Noah’s family began creation 2.0.
Now look at what God did next, today’s reading. What’s God first action? Genesis 9:1: “God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” Noah and his family was to come off the mountain and go into the world, to the very farthest reaches on earth, filling the world with God’s people, God’s image bearers. God’s creation design is fulfilled when His image bearers live in loving community with him, with one another, and with the earth.
In Genesis 9:1-7, God makes it clear that on earth, human beings are in charge. God has entrusted the management of His world to us. The hillside mandate is that we fill the earth with communities that live God’s way. How have we done?
Numerous animals are hunted to extinction, not because humans need those animals to die for our survival, but because rich people desire some aspect of those animals as a status symbol. In some circles it is consider a sign of wealth to eat gorilla meat; ground up rhinoceros horns are said to cure hangovers and act as an aphrodisiac. Whales are killed for their blubber and oil, even though other oils can be used. These and many other magnificent creatures are dying just because we humans possess the ability to kill them, and lack the discipline to curb our cravings or meet those cravings in less destructive ways.
Genesis 9:2-3 is easy to understand. God said, “The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal. … Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you.” Being a vegetarian is not particularly virtuous. It might be healthier, but from a Biblical perspective eating meat is sanctioned by God.
However, this passage also contains limitations. Verses 4-6 forbid eating the blood of animals. At first this appears to be a completely ritualistic prohibition related to the way ancient Israelites worshiped God through blood sacrifice. But it seems to me there is something more significant going on. God gave humans the earth, but not to do whatever they pleased. Women and men are God’s partners; we are God’s agents on the earth.
If we see that God made the world and saw that it was good, then we too must see that it is good. We cannot destroy this good thing God made. In Job chapters 38-41, God displays his holy majesty by expressing his care for the created world. In Matthew 6:26, Jesus says birds live worry-free knowing that God feeds them. God cares for the world and so must we.
Our destruction of the atmosphere through unchecked air pollution and carbon emissions is a rebellion against God and a lack of gratitude for what God has given. Destroying natural habitats wide-scale is an affront to our creator. Every time we eat meat or used the materials of the earth to make our lives tastier, more comfortable, and easier, we must raise a voice of thanks. God has given us good things. We need to work with Him to take care of his world.
All this that has been said about creation care and environmental sins could be repeated in terms of how we care for one another. As humans kill each other and dehumanize one another in countless ways, we reject God’s command to love our neighbor.
We stand atop the mountain with God’s hand on us. We’ve discovered who God is. God is a loving creator who is emotionally invested in each and every one of us. We’ve looked at what God did. God started over with Noah and ultimately with Jesus. With the flood, God uncreated in order to re-create His good world.
Now, God has set his mission before us. Fill the earth with communities in which the people love and worship him, love and help and serve each other, and love and care for the earth. That’s the mandate. We can’t just stay on the hill. Where do we go from here?
We respond to our creator by loving what He loves. With God a simple act of love is to obey. We go out. We go into the world seeking to help people. We go in kindness. We know the world is a place of chaos and pain. God knew it the moment Noah set foot on dry ground. He becomes passed-out drunk and his son Ham gawks at his slumbering naked body; this right after worship! The world is a messed up, hurting place. We go into the mess carrying the love of God and the message of salvation in Christ. We obey by going.
We also imitate our creator. “Just as I gave you the green plants,” God told Noah, “I give you everything” (9:3). God gives out of God’s generosity and grace. So, as we go, we project kindness and give grace generously. Because we have been blessed, we strive to bless the people we meet.
And we keep this in mind. Going and imitating, we at the same time stay connected to the God who created us, who in the sacrifice of Jesus saved us, and who now sends us. God sees all that happens on earth. We’re never out of God’s view. And God’s doesn’t watch from a distance. God comes into close relationship with every heart that opens to him in repentance and need.
Obey God. Imitate God’s loving heart. Stay connected to God. That’s how we fulfill His hillside mandate for us.