One of the dangerous myths that has been propagated since Wednesday’s killing of seventeen people in a Parkland, Florida high school is that God wasn’t there when the bullets were flying. The storyline is that because our elected officials have upheld religious freedom in our public schools and no longer require prayer, God got mad and left.
Thankfully, Scripture offers us a different picture of the world and the character of God.
The reading from Genesis picks up the flood narrative near its end. The three chapters preceding this morning’s text describe how God witnessed the ways that humankind repeatedly turned to violence and God expressed remorse at creation.
From Eden onward, God has desired relationship with creation, and intended “that creation’s comfort is found in God’s own care and promise.”[i] But instead of recognizing how we belong to God, humankind continually distances ourselves from God and insists upon living in a world that is in-dependent of God.[ii]
In Chapter 6, the author of Genesis writes,
“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.” (Gen. 6:5-6)
While we like to remember the ending of the flood story with images of brightly colored rainbows, its beginning is rooted in a grieving God who first decided to blot out all creation. But that’s why it’s so important to get the whole story!
What begins as a story of violence that begets violence has a surprise ending. As this story unfolds, God’s own heart changes.
While God allowed Noah and his sons and their wives to find safety from the floodwaters, the waters swelled on earth and killed “every [other] living thing that was on the face of the ground, human beings and animals and creeping things and birds of the air” (Gen. 7:23)
Then, the text tells us that “God remembered Noah” and sent wind over the earth and the waters receded. Later in Genesis, God remembers Abraham and spares his nephew Lot from the destruction that rained down on the cities where he lived and he remembers Jacob’s wife Rachel and opens her womb.
While the world continues to be battered and bloodied by violence, the Word tells us that God remembers and is merciful.
Our reading today describes how God responded to Noah and to all creation after the flood. It is the first of five covenant stories from the Hebrew Scriptures that we will hear during Lent.
In Scripture, “covenant” is a word used to describe how God interacts with us and enters into relationship with us.[iii] It is a promise or set of promises made between two parties and accompanied by a sign.
God promises and we respond. Or at least that’s the hope.
Sadly, more often than not, just as we did before the flood, humankind rejects God and lives in a world without reference to God.
Thankfully, unlike us, God upholds God’s promises. “Gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, [God] relents from punishing.” (Joel 2:13) The “evil, death and destruction [we witness in the world] are not rooted in God’s anger or rejection.”[iv] It is human arrogance to think that we have the power to “allow” or “not allow” God anywhere and it is ignorance to think that our human impulse to answer violence with more violence is anything new.
After the flood, God promises 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.” (Gen. 9:11) God surrenders his bow of battle, placing it undrawn in the clouds, pointing away from the earth.[v] God’s promise, or covenant, is that God will not be provoked.
God’s heart has changed, not humankind. “[God is] fully aware that the inclination of every human heart is evil from youth, still.” [vi] But “God decides to endure a wicked world while continuing to open up the divine heart to that world.” [vii]
This same God who places a rainbow covenant in the sky for us is the God who bears witness and suffers alongside us when evil disrupts and when violence destroys.[viii] This is true in Parkland, Florida and it was true two thousand years ago when Jesus was crucified. On the cross God shows that human violence is “impotent compared to God’s life-giving power of love.”[ix]
As we draw near to God this Lent and repent for of our rejection of God’s loving intention for each one of us, may we remember that God’s everlasting love is what creates life and reconciles us in a world that kills.
Let us pray.
We pray with thanksgiving for your everlasting covenant with every living thing in creation.
Overcome our human impulse to respond to violence with violence and teach us to depend on your steadfast promises and abounding love.
Restore us to life this Lent and give us courage to follow Your Son Jesus,
In whose name we pray.
[i] Interpretation, Brueggemann, 21.
[ii] ibid, 19.
[iii] “Covenant” in Crazy Talk. Rolf Jacobson, Ed. Minneapolis: Augsburg Books. 46-47.
[iv] Brueggemann, 84.
[v] ibid, 84-85.
[vi] Cameron Howard, WorkingPreacher.org
[vii] Terence D. Fretheim, WorkingPreacher.org
[viii] “February 22, 2015: First Sunday in Lent”, Paul Nuechterlein. Christian Century.