The Hardest Passage in the Bible (For Me)
I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.
I find Genesis 6–8 to be some of the most challenging passages in all of Scripture. The account of Noah and his family and many animals boarding a boat and surviving a worldwide flood by the mercy of God is an amazing picture of both God’s wrath against sin and his mercy to those who call on him. I do not find the passage difficult for theological reasons, so much (though I understand why others wrestle with the section there), but for the difficulty they present in reconciling the Scriptures with the evidence of the world around us.
I have a bachelor’s degree in physics and I spend a substantial part of my time outside of seminary working as a software developer. Science is deep in my soul; the way the universe ticks has always fascinated me and the way we study the universe no less so. The combination of these pieces leaves me able to understand—far better than many of my peers—just how odd the narrative seems scientifically.
There are plenty of parts of the history that do not trouble me at all. That God could miraculously flood the entire earth is not a matter of doubt in the least. That he could miraculously carry people and animals through the flood is likewise unproblematic for me. Even the repopulation of the earth with animals from what was an impossibly small sample1 when compared to the nearly incomprehensible biodiversity that characterizes our world is as nothing for the one who made all things.2 God made the universe; he is perfectly capable of managing a worldwide flood without breaking a sweat.
The problem, from my point of view, is that—all the arguments to the contrary of Ken Ham and his fellow travelers notwithstanding—there is not a shred of credible evidence for a worldwide flood in the geological record. It is an item that must be taken purely on faith, and not only on faith but on faith that runs exactly contrary to all the best evidence otherwise available to us. For a faith that sets as its capstone the historicity of a miracle, this is troublesome.3 Granting that scientific evidence is always open to revision, the best we have right now says, “This didn’t happen.” That leaves me in a strange spot.
The spot is strange precisely because ours is a historical faith, and because I am confident—absolutely confident—that 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ really did rise from the dead, and he really is enthroned at the right hand of God the Father in heaven right now,4 and he really is coming back to set all things to rights. I believe his word, and I believe that the Scriptures are true. The historical evidence is amazing; the testimony from the internal coherence of Scripture itself is remarkable; and I and many others have personally witnessed the power of God in the lives of believers and unbelievers alike—to heal people, to deliver from demons, and to radically transform people from those who hate God to those who love him. I believe and trust in Jesus Christ.
And I have no idea what to do with Genesis 6–8 other than to continue asking questions in a posture of faith seeking understanding.5 I believe the passage, because it is the word of God, though I do not understand it yet. But—for now—that is enough. Jesus does not require that we understand every last thing, and he does not demand that we set aside all our questions; he requires only that we believingly obey him even as we continue asking in faith that he will ultimately answer us (and more, that he will ultimately satisfy us more than the answers will). And so as I continue seeking how best to understand this passage, I will also continue worshipping my risen, reigning God-Man Savior-King.
- Obligatory Firefly reference here: I can’t help but thing of River Tam saying, “Noah’s ark is a problem… We’ll have to call it early quantum state phenomenon. Only way to fit 5000 species of mammal on the same boat.” ↩
- Obligatory tweaking of the nose of all angrily ardent anti-evolutionists: If we assume that all animals alive today are descendants of animals that were on that boat, and think about the size of the boat and the number of distinct species of animals on the planet—including every kind of bird, reptile, and mammal—we are forced inevitably to the conclusion that God directed massive, species-boundary-crossing evolutionary diversification in the immediate aftermath of the flood, or otherwise to suppose that he simply recreated all the other species (in which case, why bother taking that particular set on the boat?). The fact that said evolution would have occurred far more rapidly than old-earth models suggest does not negate the fact that macro-evolution is all but demanded by the flood narrative. ↩
- If you’re curious: I’m an old-earth creationist, and I find the creation narrative much less difficult to square with the scientific record than I do the flood. ↩
- Is he presently reigning millennially? Heh. That’s definitely a different post… ↩
- Thankfully, I’m in good company, since I stole that phrase from St. Augustine. ↩