One Thing Everyone Is Forgetting About Noah

The story of Noah has been controversial since the beginning, long before director Darren Aronofsky decided to turn it into a movie. Of course, Aronofsky has created quite a bit of controversy himself, what with the amount of artistic license he allowed himself. His film has been received by the Christian community with a mixture of disgust, ambivalence, and praise.

Who is right? Not having seen the film myself, I can’t quite say. What I can comment on, though, is what the filmmakers—and its most ardent critics—are overlooking in the Noah story: the actual reason for the flood in the first place.

I’m not talking about the generic, “big picture” reason (i.e., that man’s wickedness was great and every intent of his heart was only evil continually). I’m talking about a particular incident, or rather a series of incidents, that spiraled out of control, leading to God’s denouncement of mankind. Remember what that was?

When humans began to multiply on the face of the earth, “the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose” (Gen. 6:2). Because this incident itself is shrouded in controversy, we often miss the point of the narrative. We’re drawn in by the mysterious identity of these “sons of God” and “daughters of men.” Is this a description of angels mating with humans, producing a supernatural breed of half-human, half-angel giants?

Frankly, that is doubtful. Everything Scripture tells us about angels points to their inability to procreate. What seems more likely, say numerous Bible commentators, is that the “sons of God” were the descendents of Seth, while the phrase “daughters of men” describes the lineage of Cain.

In his commentary on Genesis 6, John Gill fleshes this idea out, citing some ancient writings:

[I]mmediately after the death of Adam the family of Seth was separated from the family of Cain; Seth took his sons and their wives to a high mountain (Hermon), on the top of which Adam was buried, and Cain and all his sons lived in the valley beneath, where Abel was slain; and they on the mountain obtained a name for holiness and purity, and…went by the common name of the sons of God.

Going on the (reasonable) assumption that Genesis 6 is talking about real human beings here, what does that tell us about the initial sin that sparked God’s wrath? It tells us that these men sought marriage on the basis of physical appearance. They let lust rule their hearts while pursuing romance.

Let that sink in for just a moment. Isn’t it striking that the destruction of the world (as it was then known) came about at least initially because men lustfully and idolatrously valued physical beauty over everything else? I mean, that’s an incredibly “normal,” and practically universal, sin—even today. As Alan Noble, managing editor at Christ and Pop Culture, recently wrote,

[M]en don’t know how to live with beauty without owning it. Either it’s ours, or it shouldn’t exist. So, when we see a beautiful woman, it frustrates us.

That’s because lust, in the end, isn’t primarily concerned with what is beautiful; it is concerned with what is off limits. God does not want us to be kept from enjoying all beauty—just some forms of it that would be unhelpful (at best) or destructive (at worst). Some beauty exists merely as a test, to see if we will value the supreme beauty of God and His holiness over superficial and temporal beauty.

These sons of God failed the test. They valued beautiful works of God more than God himself. Through their lusts, they worshipped the creature rather than the Creator. That was—and is—serious rebellion.

What can this realization teach us about ourselves? First, that the sins we’ve grown familiar with are grievous in our Creator’s eyes. We can excuse sexual lust (“I’m just looking”) or trivialize it (“Everybody struggles with it, after all”). But the sins we treat with a shrug, or maybe even a smirk, are sins over which God is greatly grieved. We would do well to cry out for hearts that see and feel and prize and praise the same things God does.

Second, this story can teach us that we are dealing with a merciful God. Yes, I know people love to characterize the Old Testament God as an overly angry, ill-tempered tyrant. But even in the story of the Flood, that is not the case.

God proclaims in Genesis 6:2, “My Spirit shall not strive [or abide] with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” The belief that this is a reference to man’s lifespan is misguided, seeing as how humans continued to have long lives after these events. Noah, for example, lived 950 years.

No, the 120 years was much more likely the length of time God gave the earth to repent. Talk about a generous ultimatum! This was no ninety-day cease-and-desist. Though mankind’s wickedness was great, God’s mercy was also great.

Furthermore, Noah is said to have been “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet. 2:5), no doubt acting as a beacon of truth for the inhabitants of the earth during those 120 years. Through these actions, the Creator showed just how longsuffering He is toward His creatures, “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

The story of the Flood teaches us not only that our sins are gravely abhorrent to a holy God, but also that this same God delights in showing mercy to those who demonstrate genuine repentance and humble contrition. He has not left us without hope. In Christ, our true shelter from the storm, we can learn not only to take our sins seriously, but also to take the Lord’s salvation seriously—and joyfully.

photo credit: fritzmb via flickr, CC