The flood story is an image of the end. All images, analogies, symbols, and metaphors break down here or there in their comparisons because they are merely images and not the actual object or event they depict. So we need to be careful in ensuring we maintain a firm grasp on the theological points intended without pushing every bit of the imaging to odd and ridiculous extremes. For the same reason, we should recognize that these first few chapters of Genesis are indeed meant for theological illustrative purposes and not simply to give us a history lesson. That’s a point we need to pause on to understand fully.
The Bible covers a span of about 4000 years of fulfilled history from Adam and Eve through the apostolic age (ending sometime in the first century AD). Then the Bible covers at least about 2000 years of predictive time, including our current time period. Of course, we do not know when the expected return of Christ and final restoration of physical creation will occur. It could be soon, and it could be out another 1000, 5000, or more years. But as of now, we are looking back over 6000 years of the Bible’s historically recorded and predictive time.
Here’s a simplified depiction of that time period:
I’ve marked out only a few major events as the red dashed lines: the start of human existence, the flood, the culmination of Jesus’s first advent (that cross/arrow symbol stands for his death and resurrection), and then Jesus’s second advent when he comes for judgment and to apply redemption. Across the top, I’ve marked out sections of 1000 years and noted some of the events so we can keep sense of the time line. Thus, Abraham lived around 2000 BC, whereas David lived about 1000 BC. So the Egyptian captivity and the exodus with Moses all took place between those two dates, while the Babylonian captivity and exodus by Cyrus’s decree took place in the 1000 years BC closest to Christ’s advent. The green shaded areas are those times in which there is no curse on physical creation—at the beginning before the fall and after Jesus’s redemption at his second advent (still to come).
The point I am making with this chart is that we have a relatively huge period of time—over 1600 years of the total 6000 (25%)—that takes place before the flood. Yet the Bible records all of that time in just six to nine chapters of its 1189 total chapters—less than 1%. It should make us wonder why. Why doesn’t God record all the interesting stuff of learning about fire, weather, food supply, home building, communities, commerce, migration? There is simply way too much history going on in this expansive block of time that is not recorded for us to even wonder whether the Bible is a history book (at least at this point). It is not. Even though we do have multiple genres in the Bible—poetry, drama, letters, apocalyptic, and even history—we should not, especially in these first few chapters, be looking to those standard literary forms as merely means to tell us what happened. Rather, these first chapters are theological, making points for us to recognize about God, creation’s purpose, the fall into sin, the curse of the physical creation, the consequence (judgment) for that curse, and the restoration means.
And all those theological points taken together picture for us the entire human experience from beginning to the culmination of everything. In other words, creation to the flood depicts for us the entire span from the perfect Garden to the new heavens and earth. The flood images the judgment to occur at Christ’s second advent.
As we look then at the flood—this judgment—we should understand first the necessity for judgment. I’ve shown this chart before, but briefly running through it again, I think, will be helpful.
God is a trinity—a multiple in one. In his one shared essence he is truth, goodness, and beauty, the three categorical virtues that encompass all others. But God is also three persons—individuals who operate based on their one shared essence. And that operation relates to the essence. In other words, these persons of God have intelligence, morality, an aesthetic sense to recognize their essence. They respect that essence in faith believing those qualities of essence are how to operate, and they look forward in hope to always operate in that essence. Those are internal characteristics. But they also communicate or express their shared essence by revealing it in love. Love means giving of self for the benefit of others. So as they give of themselves—their essence of truth, goodness, and beauty—they operate in love.
Since God operates in love, when creating, he created being with whom he could have relationship. In order for them to have relationship, they had to be like him, so he made image bearers. First, they bear his image in the multiple-in-one construct. They too have essence and existence. But the shared essence of the image bearers cannot be the same as God. Only God is source of truth, goodness, and beauty. The one shared essence of humans is their physicality. It is from the physical creation that they exist with common air to breath and water that flows into, through, and out from them. The energy they employ comes from the physical elements around them. Their bodies grow taking in and giving out. And the very atoms and molecules that make up their bodies have at one time been (and will be again) parts of other elements or creatures (even other humans). Thus, we share this physical essence.
But we are also individuals in spirit (or person). With our own conscious minds and wills. Since only God is truth, goodness, and beauty and since God operates only according to his essence, his image bearers must also be able to comprehend that essence of God’s. Therefore, we’ve been given a conceptual intelligence to understand his truth, a conscious morality to understand his goodness, and a critical aesthetic to understand his beauty. Once understand, we may concur by embracing it in faith and continuing to look forward to its embrace through hope.
Finally, like God, we may also communicate this truth, goodness, and beauty back to God and to others through love—that free expression of giving what we have for the benefit of others.
So that essence of God flows through his persons and is revealed to our essence. Romans 1:20 tells us that God has revealed his divine nature (his TGB) and his eternal power (loving care) to that which he has created (which includes us). With our image-bearing attributes, then, that knowledge of who God is may flow through us. As God and his image bearers operate according to God’s essence, love relationship is possible.
I want to go back and insist on a couple points a bit more because they are essential in how we are to understand God. His persons always operate according to his essence. Therefore, God does nothing that is not part of who he is in his oneness. We may even speak of this truth as a covenant among his persons: the covenant of operational essence means God will always operate according to his essence. He must do so. It is part of the definition of being God. To cease doing so would be to cease being God.
But we see another trinitarian covenant in his decision to create. This covenant of creational purpose tells us that God created for the purpose of everlasting love relationship. Importantly, since God always operates according to his essence, the only way for the covenant of creational purpose to continue is for his created image bearers to also operated according to God’s essence.
And that is what created the problem. When Adam and Eve fell in the Garden, their fall was from this perfect relationship. Instead of basing their activity on God’s essence, they took their eyes of desire off him to place them on their own essence—a mere reflection of the truth, goodness, and beauty sourced only in God. They in essence made an idol—a replacement god—out of their physical essence.
What was God’s reaction to that? Well, he definitely had a problem in maintaining faithfulness to both his trinitarian covenants. If he maintained his covenant of operational essence (which he had to do as God), he could not have relationship any longer with humans who were not operating according to God’s essence. But separating from them (the definition of death) meant that he would leave his covenant of creational purpose unfulfilled: there could be no everlasting love relationship with his creation.
Of course, God knew this dilemma could and would occur even before he began his creation. His resolution was through his redemptive, restoration plan, the culmination of which is the picture given to us of the flood. To be true to his covenant of operational essence (always operating according to his essence of truth, goodness, and beauty) he had to turn away from his creation who rejected him—who would not embrace him as source of TGB. So he determined—because he had to as God—to turn away from his creation, and we see that pictured in the image of the flood’s destruction.
Let’s think a bit more about how I characterized that. I said God turned away, causing the destruction. We must remember who God is. He is truth, goodness, and beauty. I know I’ve said that phrase a thousand times now, but it is that truth that we Christians find so easy to forget. We expect God to be just like us. When we get mad, we strike out; we punch somebody. But that attitude of desiring the harm of someone else cannot be the attitude of someone who not only likes to do good some of the time, but actually IS goodness. The oneness of God is only truth, goodness, and beauty. What then does the Bible mean when it talks about the wrath of God. Well, it talks about it somewhat in anthropomorphic terms for us to understand it is wrath, and so we may get the idea that God is punching someone out in anger. But when God, who is all truth, goodness, and beauty and who expresses himself in love, evidences his wrath, it is in turning away. Again, if the rejection of him by another brings anger, his anger is expressed by himself turning away.
Now, as humans we may think big deal. If I turn away from someone, that person can simply go on in his or her evil ways; I’m just keeping it from influencing me by turning away. But that’s not the entire story with God. Since God IS TGB and TGB is sourced only in God, the turning away of God is the removal of TGB from whoever or whatever it is God turns from. What is left when TGB is removed? What is left is only falsehood, evil, and ugliness. God gives life. With God removed, only death remains—a complete destruction. For bad to happen, God does not reach out to cause it. God does not punch anybody. God withdraws from the rejecter, and the absence of his TGB presence, the rejecter undergoes horror.
Think of it this way. Light gives us the sight. What happens when the source of light goes out? What if the sun were destroyed? Or on a smaller level, what happens when a light bulb stops producing light. The light bulb doesn’t send out darkness. Darkness is the result of the absence of light, and destruction is the result of the absence of God.
Notice in the flood story, you have no words of anger. Although we often imagine God is so uncontrollably angry, we think he’s destroying the world actively, as if punching out at it. But we don’t have violent talk by God. In fact, in the whole of these several chapters, even though tremendous judgement is going on, the concentration of destruction is on righteous Noah and his rescue. And so it is in the activity of God.
God is also not laughing and dancing in glee at the prospect of the destruction. The regret mentioned in 6:6 is coupled with the thought that God was “grieved in His heart.” “Grieved” may be too mild of a translation. Lexicon discussion shows this word to mean to toil with pain, to suffer to be tortured. As Christ was grieved when crying over the disappointment of Lazarus’s friends and over Jerusalem who would not gather to him, so is God grieving over these whom he brought into the world for love relationship, who have chosen to forever reject him. God knew his separation would bring them harm, and his heart hurt for them. Yet he could not do anything other—he could not embrace that which would cause him to deny himself, his essence of truth, goodness, and beauty. Thus, he would turn away.
But there was hope. Righteous Noah pursued God.