In scripture, one idea that returns over and over is that of “covenant.” The myth is like so: God punishes humanity for its sin, sees what he has done, and promises never to punish humanity ever again, and makes a covenant with all life. The symbol of that covenant is the rainbow.
Although I’m sure we all breath a sigh of relief that God has made such a promise to protect all life, I still find the story a little disturbing. I find destroying an entire civilization a bit… a little extreme, perhaps over the top, and – if I may say so – a little psychotic. And then He wants to apologize?
It is as if that we’re being told, “Look God’s peaceful now. He used to be violent. Aren’t we glad he changed?” I am. Although there are times where I wonder if people (or God), really change. Should I be looking over my shoulder to see if God has it in for me? Isn’t God changeless?
So why is it that God gets really angry at his children? He threatens punishment, even though scripture also says he is, most of the time, slow to anger.
Let’s first admit that this anthropomorphic soldier God is useful to a point. It’s not absolutely useful, but it provides a little object for the imagination. We can be thankful that a former soldier God wants to become a peacemaker. I think of the great Indian King Ashoka, who after seeing the rivers of bodies and blood that he was responsible for, gave up all war and built his kingdom for the sake of peace and prosperity for all his people. We don’t need to end the story with God being a man on a chariot. God is fundamentally a peacemaker. It may seem, on our worst days, that God has it in for us. But our trust is that he wants us to thrive.
It might be that we had not learned from the story of Cain and Abel. They had competed for God’s attention. God chose a favorite. And Abel was killed. What does this say? Violence is a consequence of believing that we have to compete for God’s attention.
We don’t. There may be people who prosper more than we do, who seem to have the abundance of God’s blessings; but we are still expected to care for each other. It was a violent society that the scriptures say God wanted to cleanse.
To me our current financial mess (What’s next? Our Pensions?), looks a lot like a world-wide deluge. Might our civilization crumble if credit disappears? Our promises in the future, based upon the immaterial photons of light, the LED screens that represented the great wealth we thought we had, now gone.
The cash we thought was there was a ghost. We built castles with it; we asked it to fund our universities; we even played poker with it and took its money. And now, it has vanished, and the pundits hope that the ghosts will once again return.
But there is one road to salvation – and that is trust. The rainbow that the scriptures tell us that God gave is the Lord saying, “trust me.” If you think trust makes no sense, you would be absolutely right. There are few good reasons to trust: nobody wants to open their books; they won’t take risks to hire; they won’t expand. People do not trust each other’s accounting; they withdraw and withold from each other. They’ve been burned, and they won’t get burned again. And with that the whole economy can come crushing down. They are justified in their suspicion, and with that, the flood begins, and we will all be drowning.
What happened during the flood? A violent world was destroyed, and replaced with a new differentiation of animals, a new tribal system that brought peace and order.
The scriptures, however, give some clues as to what this might mean. In Peter “a few, that is eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you.” We have all been touched by the flood, but through this, we are brought up and out and another stage of peace will come before us.
We are reminded that trusting one another means we are responsible for each other; that we invest in each other; that we empower one another. And it makes little sense – our instinct is to flee, to demand our own needs get satisfied first, to wait for others to save us.
There is a brighter future on the horizon, that will come out of being baptized in the current disaster. We might not see it now. but as the deluge begins, it is our trust in each other, that web of relationships that God has invited us into, that will lift us up and sustain us in these coming days. Peter indicates that even the righteous, the ark itself, was baptized by the flood. But this was just a prelude for what we will see.