TINAoS*: God’s Covenant with Noah

*Things I’ve Never Asked of Scripture.

One of the readings in my prayer book a couple of days ago was Genesis 9:8-17. When I read it, I asked a question I had never asked before: why does God make the promise never again to destroy all life?

Before the flood we learn that “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (6:5) and “how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways” (6:12). “The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth” (6:6), so God decides to destroy everything as a result.

After the flood, at the end of chapter 8, God decides in his heart that he won’t completely destroy all life like this again and in chapter 9 he makes a covenant with all living things to this effect. God decides this “even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” (8:21), which was the reason for the flood in the first place. Even though the reason for God causing the flood in the first place remains, he decides he won’t do this again. No reason is given, other than God smelling the pleasing aroma of Noah’s burnt offering, which on its own seems like little reason for such a huge change of heart—after which one can’t help but wish that Noah had made such an offering before the flood occurred, perhaps preventing it from happening. But then that’s what sacrifices appear to do in the Old Testament.

Which makes me wonder, Why? Why does God take this gentler approach after the flood, even though the human heart remains the same? Does he regret causing the flood, like he earlier regretted creating human beings?

At the moment I don’t have an answer. A quick look at some commentaries shows they aren’t asking the question either.

This question remains for me even if looking at the flood narrative only as a story, leaving aside questions about its function in its ancient cultural setting, its historicity, etc.

2 thoughts on “TINAoS*: God’s Covenant with Noah

  1. Toni

    “Which makes me wonder, Why?”

    I am increasingly inclined to think the answer is because people wrote the bible. Given we assume it was God-inspired, everything people do is filtered through their emotions, expectations and understanding. You have experienced some of the contradictions of this in your struggles over whether everyone will be saved (FWIW I no longer hold a dogmatic opinion on this).

    Guess I’m not a fundamentalist any more. :p

  2. Marc Post author

    I’m not getting comment alerts anymore, Toni. Not sure why. As a result, I didn’t see this until 5 days later and I didn’t see your comments on my previous posts at all until they were (automatically) closed. I guess I should log into WordPress more often. This I will do, as I hope to write more.

    I don’t have a problem with your answer, Toni. I think no matter what answer we find, there are bound to be tensions.

    I can understand why *theologically* we expect the Bible to be “perfect” (to the point of overlooking or constantly trying to explain away problems)—and I understand that some of the problems we see are *our* problem, not the Bible’s. But I can also understand why, also theologically, we might expect the Bible to reflect the people who are responsible for writing/compiling/transmitting it.

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