Darren Aronofsky’s long-planned film, NOAH, is invading movie theatres everywhere this week. A high budget movie, it picks up and develops, with a deal of latitude, the biblical epic of the flood (Genesis 6:9-9:17). One of the big questions that will surface is, ‘Did it happen?’
Just another myth? The story of a flood has been passed down from ancient times in many cultures. Indeed, because it is found in Mesopotamia, Greece, and in North America, Central and South America, as well as the Bible, it is dismissed as a myth from the past – perhaps linked to a creation story, or the fiction of the action of an angry god (or gods).
Furthermore, there are practical questions such as, ‘Where did all the water come from?’ and ‘How could the ark contain all the animals?’
Some brief responses come to mind. While the Mesopotamian story is undoubtedly old, it is reasonable to point out that the biblical narrative is older – predating all other flood accounts. As to the question concerning the amount of water needed, we should note that significant volcanic and tsunami activity could have been involved producing the catastrophic event the Bible describes. And, as for the size of the ark, various calculations conclude that it was a large ship, possibly even nearing the size of the Titanic.
However, perhaps the biggest question of all is, ‘If there is a God, would he do such a thing?’
For me, a helpful way of responding to this question is to ask whether Jesus of Nazareth said anything about the flood. After all, we know that Jesus lived and that he had a high view of the Bible. Yes, he does refer to Noah. In Luke 17:26f we read: Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.
Jesus was saying that there will be a day would come when God’s King will come as judge. It is a day to be feared, for all of us will be brought before him. We live in a moral universe. Significantly, Jesus cited Noah and the flood as an example of the way God calls us all to account. We learn from Genesis that Noah was not a virtuous man, but he did believe God’s warnings about the coming crisis and acted accordingly. What is important for us here is that Jesus regarded Noah as a historical figure and treated the event of the flood as a reality. Just as the flood occurred, just as Jesus’ predictions about his own death and resurrection, and the fall of Jerusalem were fulfilled, so too will there come a day when he returns in all his glory.
Is it all true? G.K. Chesterton once remarked, ‘Truth is stranger than fiction.’ And Heraclitus, a philosopher of the ancient Greek world, taught, ‘Unless you expect the unexpected you will never find truth, for it is hard to discover and hard to attain.’
Our danger today is the same as it was at the time of Noah. The people then were so taken up with their own lives, so proud of their achievements, that they forgot they were but creatures and rejected the reality of God. Consequently only a few in Noah’s day were saved. If only they had been humble enough to turn back to God while they had time (17:26f).
Jesus’ reference to Noah and the flood is a chilling reminder that we ignore God at our peril.