Have you ever looked at the world and wondered, ‘How did it come to this?’
Noah strikes me as the kind of man who might be troubled by such questions. Genesis 6:9-10 describes him as, ‘a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.’
Perhaps I should be asking myself, how does my life compare with the people of my time?
Our World Today
Look around you and you will find nothing has changed. Man decided in the beginning to wrest judgement from the hands of God (God said ‘live like this,’ man said, ‘I’ll be the judge of that’); man determined to build a city and a tower to make a name for himself (Do I need to mention recent political events?); Cain and his murderous act; Lamech and his polygamous lifestyle; ungodly and defiant relationships that overstep the bounds set by God; all these are reflected in today’s society.
The first six chapters of Genesis describe our world today. Genesis 3 gives an account of the Fall of man while Genesis 11 gives an account of the Fall of society. The signs were there. The problem is, people don’t see themselves in this story. Wickedness is always about other people, not me and mine.
The 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon asked, ‘Have you got enough light to see the darkness? Have you got enough life to smell the decay?’
The Heart of God
The saddest words in this story, ‘The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.’ (Gen.6:6)
We often worry about the suffering of man. We ask, ‘why would God allow this or that?’ But consider here the heart of God, breaking because of the sinfulness of man. Why would man do this to his God? We think of God as impregnable in his Deity, but God’s vulnerability is on display here. He has invested himself in us so fully that our rebellion breaks his heart.
In the middle of the deluge there is mercy. Outside the ark judgement is poured out on a wicked world. Outside the ark all hope is gone. But in the midst of the storm God shuts up a faithful man and his family in the ark and, though tossed and afraid in that storm, yet they are safe because of God’s grace and mercy.
Grace and Mercy
When things are going well for us, our lives are secure, when we have money in the bank, food on the table, our children are healthy and strong and our futures look promising, we must beware we don’t forget, all we have we have by his grace. When things are hard for us, when the storms break out, our lives are deluged, our hopes dashed, our world threatened, where do we look for our help?
The Psalmist wrote, ‘I lift my eyes up to the mountains, where does my help come from? My help comes from you, maker of heaven, creator of the earth.’
There are people in church today who have known such storms, some who are going through such storms even now, and who look to the one who alone can keep them through the troubled waters of their world. I am reminded we rub shoulders every week with people like Noah.
How is it still like this?
And yet, while the land is cleansed, the earth renewed, the people’s nature has not been transformed. God’s verdict is, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.’ (8:21)
The flood happened because of man’s wickedness. Here is justice. Noah was saved because, even though imperfect, he was faithful. Here is mercy.
In the story of Noah God speaks to us about his heart commitment to his creation, his determination to both bring justice and show incredible mercy. But, as has so often been observed, the heart of the problem is the problem of the human heart.
A time would come when God would not simply show grace to a man like Noah, but would demonstrate perfect grace in a man.
A time when he would not simply shut up a righteous man in an ark and effect a fresh start, but would walk the earth himself as a fully righteous man and effect a new birth.
A time when he would serve the purpose of justice completely on a Roman Cross, wiping out our sins and giving to all who would trust him, not simply a fresh start, new hearts.
A time when God himself would set in motion a process that would create of true believers like Noah a new human race, raised from the death of sin to a life of righteousness.
That process goes on today, and continues while it is called today.
What will we do about that?
It’s easy to join in the clamour of sinfulness. It’s all around us, unavoidable, irresistible, and after all it’s so personal as to be a matter of the heart. And without new hearts it defines us.
It’s hard to do what Noah did, build an ark, not because it’s carpentry, but because it’s counter-intuitive to this world with which we are so familiar, with which we are often too comfortable, with which we have made a myriad compromises.
Yet it is expected of us that we should live our lives against the flow of this world. In Noah’s time God cleansed the earth, in Jesus God cleanses us from sin, equips us to live for him, and makes a promise that has eternal consequences, ‘If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, the old had gone, the new has come.’
In this wicked world our ark is Christ. Will we be found in Christ when finally the door of the ark is shut forever? I pray that today, while it is called today, we will be found answering God’s urgent invitation to trust in Christ, and him alone.
[adapted from a sermon by Michael Thomas at Pantygwydr Baptist Church]
Ann Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more at www.annmariethomas.me.uk