Of all the violent texts in the Old Testament, the portrayal of the flood in Genesis 6–8 may be the most difficult text to understand.
As I was struggling with the way the flood is presented in Scripture, I had frequent conversations with my wife about this troubling text. One night, as we went back and forth on how to understand this passage, she playfully said, “I don’t know what the flood story means! All I know is what I was taught in Sunday school, that it’s a beautiful story about rainbows!”
We laughed, but the tragic reality is that this is what most people think about the flood. It is often read and taught sort of like an old-wives tale about how rainbows came to be.
The Flood Story is Appalling
The flood story, however, is anything but a beautiful fairy tale. On its surface, the flood story is an appalling account of how millions (and possibly billions) of people died a horrible death by drowning because God was angry at them.
Aside from the grim image of every living thing on earth gasping for breath and choking on water as they sink beneath the waves, the flood story also paints a troubling portrait of a God who seems incompetent because He regrets that He made mankind (Didn’t He know this would happen?), and who then foolishly tries to solve the world’s addiction to evil and violence by committing the greatest atrocity of all: worldwide genocide. One author describes the story with these words:
The Old Testament also describes God as a mass murderer. …Despite cute songs, child-friendly play sets, and colorful artistic renderings of the story, “Noah’s Ark” is not a happy tale of giraffes and panda bears clambering aboard a floating zoo. It is a story of catastrophic death and destruction that, incidentally, results from divine decree. Nearly the entire human population perishes because God drowns them. It is a disaster of such epic proportions that even some of Hollywood’s doomsday scenarios pale by comparison (Seibert, Disturbing Divine Behavior, 20).
Strong words! Yet the apparent genocidal behavior of God in Genesis 6–8 is not the only troubling element to this text. Although there is a rainbow at the end and a promise by God that He will never do such a thing again, one is left with several questions about the way God is presented in this text.
The Troubling God of the Flood
For example, if He can promise that He will never do it again, why did He send the flood in the first place? Did He realize the flood was a mistake? If so, He sure seems prone to mistakes, for He first regretted making mankind, and then He regretted killing them all. So is God schizophrenic? Is He bi-polar? Did God realize the flood didn’t work as intended, and that mankind would not learn to refrain from evil simply because God annihilated them all? Maybe He realized this isn’t the example He wanted to set for mankind, and so resolved to be a nicer, gentler, more merciful God in the future? Was the flood “Plan A” and when the violent drowning of all mankind didn’t work, God decided to go with “Plan B” in eventually sending the Messiah?