“Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
your justice like the great deep.
You, Lord, preserve both people and animals…
…For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.”
Psalm 36:5-6, 9
“I will remember…”
Found in Genesis Chapters 6-9
There are stormy days when the sky weeps. And days when God is grieving with it. Days when the darkness in humankind overcomes the light that once was us.
The thunder drum rolls and the lightning flashes and tears fall and fall and fall. If this stormy dark was all there was, our world would always be in flood. Just as it was this day. Long ago.
“ In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.” Genesis 7:11-12
Drops as small as tears became torrents as thick as thunderstorms, and inch by inch the floods engulfed the earth.
God had said He would ‘bring floodwaters on the earth’ when He had first confided in Noah, but when the floods arrive, there are no verbs in the text linking the floods to any direct action by God. In the whole flood narrative of Genesis chapters 7 and 8, between when God actively tells Noah to enter the ark and when He later tells Noah to leave the ark, God is recorded as actively involved on only three occasions, and none of these are bringing the rain or the floodwaters.
Rather than a vengeful act of God, the flood arrives in the story as the result of God stepping aside, no longer standing in its way. God is no longer holding back the flood, so the deluge prevails.
And here in all these aching floods there is a sense of God allowing the reversal of His creative act in Genesis 1:6-8, where He had divided the waters from the land bringing order to the chaos before creation1. God steps back and allows the flood of human violence, chaos and corruption be washed away by the flood of nature’s original state.
When God no longer holds the world together, it returns to the chaos from which it began.
But God is active in the flood story in three ways, three ways that whisper His name and His nature, the shape of His beating heart. God directly acts to shut Noah, his family and the animals into the ark to protect them as the floods are about to arrive,
“Then the Lord shut him in.” Genesis 8:16b
And after the deluge has done its job, God remembers Noah and his living cargo and then directly acts, sending a wind to push back the flooding waters to save them,
“But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.” Genesis 8:1
God was active in the creation of the world, and He is active in the protection of Noah, but He is not described in the text as directly active in the destruction brought by the flood. He simply doesn’t intervene, doesn’t protect or defend the corruption and violence of humankind. He steps back and allows the deluge to have it’s way. Inhumane humans had reversed creation by bringing darkness and chaos once more to earth. God does not save humankind from the darkness they have chosen for themselves. The flood was the physical result of humankind’s spiritual corruption and chaos.
‘Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.’ Genesis 7:23
Humankind had known their lines by heart, family lines, script lines, shrugging shoulder lines that said “am I my brother’s keeper?”. Lines lining every human heart born into Cain’s family line, a line wandering east of the garden with God.
“The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days.” Genesis 7:24
But then in all the stormy dark this light becomes visible on the horizon, this tiny light in all the thickening black. One last light left flickering in a human heart. A heart set afloat, trusting God’s faithfulness, in the middle of a raging storm.
And God’s faithfulness can be trusted. So here the story turns…
“But God remembered Noah…” Genesis 8:1
God remembers Noah and the ark full of life, and moves to put an end to the flood engulfing them.
And there are literary layers to this story, like ocean depths, layers overlaying story, highlighting meaning. The first already mentioned is the way the whole story mirrors continually the language and themes of Genesis one and two, the story of creation. But there is another layer yet.
The story at this point is also a mirror turned in on itself, the first paragraphs mirroring the last ones, the second mirroring the second last ones, and onwards all building inwards to a central point. In this type of literary structure (an extended chiasm or palistrophe) the central point is the main point2 .
And the main point of this whole story? The point that the rest of the narrative swirls around like a cyclone out at sea? The central point of the story of Noah and the flood?
“But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.” Genesis 8:1
‘God remembered Noah…’. This is the main point. The turning point. The axis point around which this story spins. God turns His heart to Noah and remembers, and turns this story full of darkness and death into a story of life once more.
The point of the flood narrative is not the flood, is not the righteousness of Noah or the sinfulness of everyone else. The main point of the flood narrative is that God remembers. God sees and God acts to save.
Wherever we are in all our flooding troubles. God remembers. We are not just a speck in the middle of an overwhelming ocean. We are seen. We are held. We will not sink, will not drown, will not be forgotten. Whenever we reach for Him we will find Him already reaching back.
God was there, present with Noah in every moment, every trial, every testing minute where Noah wondered if the storm would ever end. It was God who intervened and made sure the flood did end.
“Then God said to Noah, “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.” Genesis 8:15-17
The words of Genesis chapter 8 and 9 now weave themselves in familiar ways that again echo and emulate the tapestry of the first creation story, our story, threaded with all the colours of Genesis chapter one. Our chapter one. Our genesis.
“So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on land—came out of the ark, one kind after another.” Genesis 8:18-19
Noah with his feet on dry land once more now stands before God as the new father of humankind, the new Adam in another renewed beginning. And life on earth begins again with a restored human family line, a family line that calls on the name of the Lord3, and walks closely with God.
“Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.” Genesis 8:20-22
God blesses Noah with the same blessing He gave the first humans in Genesis one,
“Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth…” Genesis 9:1
But there is a difference. God now speaks the blessing twice (Genesis 9:1 and 7), and in between this He names a change that has taken place on earth since the first blessing was spoken in the garden long ago. This is a renewed creation, but not a completely healed one. God now has to stipulate something that had always been assumed before the fall, before the knowledge of evil as well as good…
“And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.
‘Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.” Genesis 9:5-6
Though the flood has wiped violence from the world temporarily, it could not prevent it forever when ‘every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood’ (Genesis 8:21).
The image of God within humanity will still be held to ransom by the competing darkness within human hearts. Corruption, violence and murder have never been God’s plan for His creation, for His children, so His blessing now sandwiches a warning and a reminder, a warning against the way of Cain, alongside a reminder of the precious Imago Dei within every human heart.
“Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” Genesis 9:8-11
God has created, spoken, blessed, engaged and grieved, but here we have the first covenant, the first promise of God. And it will not be the last.
All of God’s covenants in the Bible reveal a piece of His heart, a part of who He is. God is just, so He had to respond to humankind’s violence and corruption, but He doesn’t want us to live in fear. He wants to salvage His Imago Dei children from the floods that carry us away from Him. He wants to restore our feet to the secure dry ground of a life lived in loving partnership with Him.
There are no strings attached to this covenant, no expectations of humankind, no loop holes, no escape clause provisions so that God might change His mind.
God owed the world nothing. He didn’t have to bind himself to an oath, He didn’t have to limit His future options. But He did, because He had already bound his heart to humankind. This promise God gave to Noah, was also given to you and I, the promise of a God, limiting Himself for us, Hoping we will limit ourselves for Him, limit our greed and corruption for the sake of this world He has given us.
“And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Genesis 9:12-13
The sign of this covenant, the reminder God chooses for the contract He makes is the natural phenomenon we see when the sun breaks through a storm, when light shines though rain, allowing itself to become broken by it.
A rainbow is broken light and so are we.
When we see a rainbow, it looks like a bow, pointing upwards to heaven. But actually, from the perspective of Heaven looking down, a rainbow is a complete circle with no end and no beginning. Eternal. Like an everlasting promise.
This broken, breaking beautiful thing, this thing that is simultaneously a symbol of brokenness and beauty, becomes the very signature of God’s promise, His signature on the dotted line of this contract between Him and all life on earth.
“Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”
So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.” Genesis 9:14-17
Just as the point on which this whole flood story turned was ‘God remembered Noah’, the final point of this whole human story, on which this whole world now turns is God’s promise “I will remember…”
No matter how far you wander, how much you break yourselves apart and give yourselves to darkness, I have sworn by myself I will remember, the time for floods is done. I will not step aside and let the floods engulf you. I will remember. I will remember who you are long after you’ve forgotten.’ Human. Imago Dei.
God’s covenant promise means He will not give up on humanity. He is now at work in this world, redeeming, restoring, renewing re-establishing His Kingdom in every human heart that is willing to partner with Him in light.
‘The long history of evil has begun, but matching it, stride for stride, is God’s redeeming purpose.’ NT Wright
This is the time we now live in. A time when darkness and light dwell together, as mixed as the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but while God for now holds back His hand from wiping out darkness altogether, He matches it stride for stride with light and grace. He turns His grief to grace and doesn’t give up on humankind. On us.
As I write this the rain is falling outside, drenching earth, making everything new, and the rain, it washes everything clean, pinning the pollution down so we can see through the crystal clear air to the world as it really stands. Refreshed. Reformed. Restored… for now.
This journey God took with Noah, this storyline of grace, it was not the first renewed creation story, and it will not be the last. This flood only washed the problem away, it couldn’t fix it for good. Not when the problem was within every human heart4, yours and mine included.
I can beat my fists into the closing dark and in fear hurl insults at the brokenness around me, and beat myself up about the brokenness within me, but no argument with darkness ever wins, it only produces heat, not light. It is not possible for me to regain the light, the light of wholeness and completeness on my own. I cannot do it. I cannot do it for you and I cannot do it for myself. We are all refracted light, fractured light, broken light. We cannot see light, cannot be light by our own striving. Our vision is all muddied by the past, the tears of floods that undid us and re-formed us into all the shadows of our brokenness, the shades of our grief.
But Light has come into the world, Light shining in the darkness unbroken by our brokenness. Into all our fear and flinching history, He comes. He comes to pick amongst the rubble of our humanity, the aftermath of our flooding darkness, to find the one small part of our Imago Dei human heart buried underneath all our scar tissue and all our pain, underneath all the layering coping mechanisms of our souls; the remnant of the light that once was us. He comes to breathe His life once more into us, reviving the flame of His Imago Dei within us. He comes to light the dark.
“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:4-5
The only wooden vessel that could truly ever save humankind from drowning in all the darkness was not an ark, but a cross. So many years after Noah’s flood, after time reached its fulfilment, God Himself comes, comes into the flood of human history and divides it with His death. Instead of destroying the world once more because of human violence and corruption, He chose to destroy Himself; one death bringing new life to all, the life of the new creation.
Our God is committed to new creations, salvage operations, to picking through the rubble of the thousand ways we’ve fallen and walking alongside us as He restores us to the light. He is forever calling us to the light, the radiant light of life in Him, seeing light, being light in a world of thickening dark and flooding corruption.
It is only in the light of who He is that we begin to see who we are; Humans made in His image and likeness. His Image bearers. His Light bearers5. In a dark world.
Life will always have it’s storms, but they don’t have to flood our lives. They no longer have to leave our human calling, our mandate, our humanity dead and buried in the ground. In the aftermath of all our floods, in the brokenness of all our past, into the darknesses all around us and within us, through His death and resurrection, God, through Jesus breathes new life. New life. New beginnings. A new creation6.
If you look between the words of this long story, like light streaming between fence posts, you will see the face of God shining behind the lines, in His words, through His actions, in His grief, His grace, His promises, His justice, His faithfulness. His long memory of His love for humankind. He is a God who remembers us, when we forget ourselves. And His memory is long.
The main point of this story is not endings, death, punishment or even floods. It is actually all about God. This God who will take the thinnest thread of humanity left alive in a beating human heart and wrap it around His own beating heart, and in the rhythm of the two, weave a whole new world.
“But God remembered Noah …” Genesis 8:1
“I will remember…” Genesis 9:14a
How would life change if you were to live in the truth that God remembers you, sees you and acts for you?
Our God is a God who is committed to new creations, salvage operations and to picking through the rubble of the thousand ways we’ve messed up, walking alongside us as He restores us to the light.
References, Notes and Credits
1 John H. Walton, ‘The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis’ Zondervan, 2001
2 John H. Walton, ‘The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis’ Zondervan, 2001, page 316, referring to the work of G.J. Wenham, ‘The Coherence of the Flood Narrative’ Brill, 1978
3 Genesis 4:26b
4 Genesis 8:21
5 Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.
6 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
Thanks Liz. I very much appreciate your reflections and insights so beautifully articulated.
You are very very welcome Ann. Lovely to hear from you.