This is the Thought for the Day I gave on Radio Kent this morning:
“The animals went in two by two, for to get out of the rain.” We all know the story, and we may even have thought of Noah as the recent flooding, “of Biblical proportions”, overtook our own land over the past few weeks.
The Bible story tells how God instructed Noah to build an ark so as to be safe from the imminent flood, sent because of God’s displeasure with the way human beings were behaving, and to take into it animals and people who would be saved from the inundation.
We have an instinct, as human beings, to want to know the reason for events which affect our lives. For the majority of our ancestors, living in a pre-scientific age, the explanation was simple: God caused natural disasters, and did so for a reason, usually human wickedness. And at the start of the story of Noah, God is indeed an angry God, intent on punishing people for their godlessness and moral corruption. But like many of the stories of the Old Testament, the story of Noah sets out to move us forward in our understanding of what God is like.
So, by the end of the story, God appears in a very different light. As the animals, and Noah and his family, emerge from the ark, God says:
“Never again will I punish the earth for the sinful things its people do. All of them have evil thoughts from the time they are young, but I will never destroy everything that breathes, as I did this time.”
What are to make of this? God is no longer the angry or vengeful God he was at the start. We have matured in our understanding of God. Indeed, from this point on it is no longer good enough to think of suffering and disasters as indiscriminate divine punishments. This is not what God does, not what God is like.
The most important thing when disaster strikes is human solidarity, standing shoulder to should with those in need, knowing all the time that misfortune can strike any of us, at any time. It is by helping our fellow human beings that we are able get closer to who God really is, the God of compassion, whom we glimpse whenever we see anyone who is suffering or in distress as a result of disaster, whether natural, or caused by human beings.