Remembering Noah

“But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and all the domestic animals that were with him in the ark” (Genesis 8:1). These days, I keep remembering Noah, reflecting on the relevance of his story then and now.

By Bill Leonard

It begins with judgment: “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence” (Gen. 6:11). Next, Noah’s mandate: “Make yourself an ark of cypress-wood” (Gen 6:14). Then the secret is out: “I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life…” (Gen. 6:17).

Not all, but many 21st century Christians take Noah’s story quite literally: real flood, real animals, real ark, real judgment. In fact, a New York Times story of Dec. 5, 2010, reported the planned construction of a replica of Noah’s ark as a Kentucky museum.

Mike Zorvath, vice president of Answers in Genesis, a sponsoring group, stated: “It’s our opportunity to present accurate, factual biblical information to people about a subject that they’re really interested in.”

Plans call for ark construction on Genesis specifications. Pairs of animals will then be packed on board, as Zorvath says: “We think that God would probably have sent healthy juvenile-sized animals that weren’t fully grown yet, so there would be plenty of room. We want to show how Noah would have taken care of them, taken care of waste management, taken care of water needs and food needs.”

Zorvath insisted that this “Ark Encounter” would be environmentally sensitive, commenting, “I don’t believe in global warming, but I do believe we’ve got to be good stewards of everything God’s given us.”

The collision of biblical literalism and global warming isn’t limited to Kentucky. This week the governor of Tennessee allowed a bill to pass that “prohibits the state board of education and any public elementary or secondary school governing authority, director of schools, school system administrator, or principal or administrator from prohibiting any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught, such as evolution and global warming.”

The bill encourages scientific inquiry in Tennessee schools with options for teachers to present varying views on controversial theories. One report suggested that science teachers who are also “Sunday school teachers” might now feel freer to challenge prevailing views on global warming.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the bill’s wording came largely from the Family Action Council of Tennessee, “a socially conservative public-policy group associated with Focus on the Family.” No doubt that faith-based agency would lean toward literalism regarding the Genesis flood. Remember Noah?

On Easter Monday, the Winston-Salem Journal included a story that began: “It's been so warm in the United States this year, especially in March, that national records weren't just broken, they were deep-fried. Temperatures in the lower 48 states were 8.6 degrees above normal for March and 6 degrees higher than average for the first three months of the year, according to calculations by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That far exceeds the old records. The magnitude of how unusual the year has been in the United States has alarmed some meteorologists who have warned about global warming. One climate scientist said it's the weather equivalent of a baseball player on steroids, with old records obliterated. ‘Everybody has this uneasy feeling. This is weird. This is not good,’ said Jerry Meehl, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.”

Did anybody say something like that to Noah when the water started rising? 

A CNET report (March 4, 2012) stated: “As the world gets warmer and with waves encroaching ever closer, an entire island nation is on the verge of vanishing beneath rapidly rising sea levels. And pretty soon, an unprecedented mass exodus is set to begin. While the scenario sounds a lot like the plot from some preachy doomsday movie, it’s actually an extremely dire situation facing the people of Kiribati, a republic located along a chain of islands that stretch across the central Pacific.”

The country’s president is “working feverishly” to find another home for the 113,000 population. “This is the last resort, there’s no way out of this one,” he commented. “Our people will have to move as the tides have reached our homes and villages.”

“As it was in the days of Noah?” (Luke 17:26)

When did the people of Noah’s day finally realize that what was happening to them was more than just a stationary front? Why do some religious folks take the Noah story literally but resist the possibility of a contemporary global catastrophe, one essentially of human creation?

Is biblical literalism clearer for the past than the present? How many glaciers must collapse and heat waves smolder before we literally read the “signs of the times?”

Wouldn’t it be weird if “secularists” turned out to be the ones who discerned earth’s impending judgment on our lives and lifestyles? What if global warming is true and we don’t have sense enough to see the planet itself as ark?

Like Noah, we still could labor together to find “grace in the eyes of the Lord.” Or just turn up the church air conditioning.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.