After the Flood

May 18, 2011

Where were we? That’s right. Noah had just gotten off the boat.

“’The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the air, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea;’” (Gen.9.2)

This is God’s long winded way of saying, “Everything will run away from you.” I find it interesting that this aspect of animal behavior made it into the Bible. Obviously people needed an explanation as to why all the creatures of Earth were afraid of them, and here is an answer. From a story telling perspective, it makes sense. If I were an animal on the ark that had just been saved by Noah, I probably wouldn’t be afraid of him when we all got off the ark. In fact, I’d probably want to hang out with Noah in case something else went down. Alas, since animals are afraid of humans, this excerpt needs to be in. It’s nice to see a fact of life represented in the Bible too.

Oxford informs me that after everyone gets off the boat God outlines a deal or “covenant” with Noah and, subsequently, mankind. God first outlines the things He is going to give humans:

“’Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.’” (Gen.9.3) No take-backs!

Alright, so God’s statement in the beginning of this chapter makes a little more sense now. Apparently He’s just giving all the animals a head start seeing as how we’re going to start eating them pretty soon. I’m not really sure how this is a “gift” or good deal for humans though. It’s as if God says, “Happy de-arking! Now here’s a job you have to do to stay alive.” Now, I don’t want to sound selfish, because he did get to keep his life and all, but Noah did build an ark, round up a bunch of animals and live on the ocean for a few months securing the continued existence of life on Earth. I think he deserves a better parting gift than a lifetime of chasing critters through the forest. But that’s just my opinion.

After settling Noah’s end of the deal, God asks (He pretty much tells) for what He wants in return:

“’For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning; of every beast I will require it and of man.’” (Gen.9.5)

I’ve heard it said that the “debt that all men pay is death”, but I never thought it would come from a source like the Bible. If I am to interpret this excerpt correctly, then it seems God requests that all life on Earth be attributed to Him upon death. I can also see this excerpt as the beginnings of the idea that people go to heaven when they die. If, upon death, the “lifeblood” of everything on Earth goes to God, then I don’t think it is a stretch to say that people go to heaven. This assumes that God is in heaven and not sipping mimosas on the beach in Malibu. Although the latter wouldn’t be bad either. Whether or not everyone gets to go to heaven is still up for debate.

I also wonder why God chooses the word “require”. By saying He requires the life of man, it sounds like God needs the lifeblood of man. If God is the supreme power He has always been made out to be, I don’t understand why He would need anything, let alone something from mankind. Maybe He’s just lonely.

Not to beat a dead horse (whose lifeblood would surely go to God), the above quote reminds me of a time when I was a kid. Growing up in a Christian household we would say a prayer before we ate. Although the food had been long since dead, we still made a point to “give thanks” to God. Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself, but it makes sense at this point in the Bible to think pre-food prayers are a demonstration of giving this “reckoning” to God. It seems other religions follow a similar rationale. In several faiths, animals to be eaten are raised and slaughtered in a specific manner per the tenets of the religion. Although I cannot yet speak to why kosher and halal foods are the way they are, I wouldn’t be surprised if it stems from an analogous source as this part in the Bible.

“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.” (Gen.9.6)

God ends his covenant with Noah with this passage, a foreboding passage. With this final deal God makes with Noah and mankind, ethics and morals are being solidified. I feel like this excerpt clearly states that whoever kills a man should reciprocally be killed by man. However, God adds a layer of complexity by giving the reasoning “for God made man in his own image.” I see this rationale as having two possible meanings. First, it could be a simple reiteration of the covenant as if to say, “God would kill a man who was a murderer.” Or, the reasoning could be that God does not want men to kill because killing a man is like killing God. Both interpretations are vastly different and produce noticeable different portrayals of God. Depending on your interpretation God can seem like a hard-core vigilante or a disappointed parent. Regardless of how I interpret it, I can only imagine the verdicts and justifications for murder that have been delivered over time based on this short moment in the Bible.

While at first I agreed with this moral stance presented by God, now I begin to question it. I agree that there is a certain amount of retribution necessary for heinous acts; however, I can see how violence could be perpetuated by this thought process especially when it is difficult to see who cast the first, proverbial stone. Being a relatively grown person I have already determined many of my own ethics and morals. When the Bible challenges my developed beliefs, as it has done here, I am presented with an opportunity to change my opinion. I guess this is a reflection of the reality I was faced with from the beginning: my perspective and opinion about religion and the Bible may change during this journey. It’s still an unsettling thought, but it looks like I will encounter it in the text sooner rather than later.

I know my morals will continue to be questioned and sometimes affirmed by the text. This is a reality I know is not mine alone. If unsettling questions about one’s morals arise in the text, then how does one ultimately choose to believe in the Bible? Perhaps having a dilemma over the text is reason enough to consider another book to follow. However, there’s a lot more Bible to get through, and I can only hope the answers are in there somewhere.

I’m still wondering where all the water went…