Continuing my thoughts on searching for more helpful wisdom for my adult life in these Bible stories from childhood, let’s move on to Noah’s Ark.
I first want to describe my general takeaway from this story handed to me in my childhood:
- God decided to wipe out the whole human race because they were so evil
- Noah has enough faith, so he’s the only guy God decides to save
- He builds a giant boat while everyone looks at him like he’s crazy
- He puts two of every animal in the boat along with his family
- God sends a flood to destroy everything and everyone living on the earth besides the people and animals in the boat
- God says “sorry” by sending a rainbow and promising not to get angry and kill everyone again
- Somehow all the animals make their way back to all corners of the earth from the top of a mountain where the ark landed
Despite the adorable picture books we’ve made for our kids, it’s a pretty disturbing story and way of thinking of God to hand to a young child and then kiss goodnight.
Noah’s ark is not meant to be a cute children’s story; it is a mature metaphor for the People of God on the waves of time, carrying the contradictions, the opposites, the tensions, and the paradoxes of humanity—preserving and protecting diversity inside of a safe unity created by God. (Thinking of it merely as punishing “bad” people only appeals to our lowest instincts and puts us back into meritocracy.) It is no accident that animals are deemed worth saving and that the covenant YHWH proclaims after the flood is “with every living creature,” not just humans as we presume. (Read Genesis 9:10, 13, 15, where it is said three times!) This is no small point, although it has been largely ignored.Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM
I want to first say that the idea for it was sparked by Father Richard Rohr who opened my eyes to, what I believe, is the true purpose of this story. You can read what he writes about it here.
Something I’ve come to realize is that faith and belief are not the same thing. For the longest time, I’ve been conditioned by the church to think that faith meant believing in things that made no sense whatsoever. Things that science clearly contradicts. What I’ve come to discover is that one can have a strong and serious faith AND have beliefs that change. There are over 33,000 Christian denominations. The goal posts about beliefs are constantly moving. However, fear is a very powerful motivating force. Many people are scared to question things about the theology they were assigned at birth. “Do you want Jesus or do you want to go to hell?” Ahhhh…Jesus! If faith was built on a foundation of fear, then fear has to be sustained in order to keep the faith going.
Likewise, as harmless as the Noah’s Ark story seems, it planted a seed of fear in me…the subconscious message programmed in me was, “be willing to obey God by doing something big and scary or God’s gonna be angry or disappointed in you. And when he gets angry…watch out!” As an adult, it’s taken a lot of work in counseling to undo my fear about upsetting God and other people. Not only did I not want to make God mad, I didn’t want to make anyone else mad either! I was not able to tolerate the distress of others in order to do what was right for me. This led to a wide disconnection from my True Self and caused my anxiety.
I heard a quote recently that went something like this:
It’s not that ancient writers told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told symbolic stories and we are now foolish enough to take them literally.
Now, please don’t take that as an insult. I think the real reason we take so many of these stories literally is because of fear. The church has scared us into checking our brains at the door. I don’t fault anyone for that. What I wish to convey is that children’s stories are (sometimes) appropriate for children because they cannot comprehend the more complex ideas in the story. But these Bible stories–like Noah’s Ark–have so much more life and wisdom in them than we were handed. And it’s such a shame that we have been afraid to even think about a deeper, more inspired, meaning.
One way I now view the story of the Ark is as the Earth…with every person and creature and idea and contradiction locked inside together! It’s like God plopped us all here together, shut the door, and said, “it’s gonna get pretty bumpy until you figure out how to make this work (Genesis 7:16).” Instead of trying to escape people and keep them out of my personal “ark” (ie. life, country, church, work, organization, business, etc), the Bible tells me to bring them all into the ark. Figure out how to love and thrive as we ride the waves together.
Isn’t that a much more beautiful way to think of that story? Instead of “Obey God! Or He’ll getcha! Look what happened to the people who didn’t obey! Ahhhh! Fear!”, the message is “Include everyone and everything in your Ark. Throw off the black and white thinking (dualism) and allow non-dualistic thinking. Allow the contradictions, the paradoxes, the tensions. If you don’t, the waters are going to be pretty rough.” Whatever parts of yourself cannot be at peace and allow will drown in the flood.
When you look at the Arks in your life, do they look like Noah’s? Are there voices of different genders, different races, different sexual orientations, different nationalities in your life? Do women, minorities, and LGBT persons have a seat at the leadership table at your church? If you surround yourself with people who think just like you, that’s a problem…and certainly not obedience. And you will experience fear any time someone or something bumps up against the wall you’ve built to protect yourself.
Love, the attraction of all things toward all things, is a universal language and underlying energy that keeps showing itself despite our best efforts to resist it. It is so simple that it is hard to teach, yet we all know love when we see it. After all, there is not a Native, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Islamic, or Christian way of loving. There is not a Methodist, Lutheran, or Orthodox way of running a soup kitchen. There is not a gay or straight way of being faithful, nor a Black or Caucasian way of hoping. We all know positive flow when we see it, and we all recognize resistance and coldness when we feel it. All the rest are mere labels.Fr. Richard Rohr
If you need more diversity in your Ark, just look for a rainbow!