October 16, 2020

Noah (without the naughty bits)

Is this the official version?

A good friend of mine who I run with regularly, recently PM-ed me that question in relation to this picture:

Turns out her daughter is fascinated with her Noah story book. Turns out a lot of other kids are too, (along with books about dinosaurs).

There are heaps of great picture books for children, but Noah has a place in the pantheon. There’s something about all gathered animals (kids love the zoo too), and the intriguing idea of an underwater world, that kids can’t get enough of. And then there’s the rainbow, the Noah puzzles and patchwork quilts and the pop-up books.

But as you may have noted, many Noah storybooks don’t have the naughty bits. Most of them are not “the official version“.

And not the naughty bits in the sealed section where after the flood Noah gets hammered and then lies around with nothing on, and his son does something disgraceful. That part of the story never makes it into the kids’ books somehow (more of that later).

What I mean by no naughty bits are the judgey-judgey bits in which God wipes humans out for their sin, while only saving Noah and his family. You know, the official version in the book of Genesis.

When the flood happens in most Noah books, everyone is having a whale of a time, the animals are all smiling and dancing around, and Noah is doing crazy stuff like shovelling out elephant poo.

So kids absolutely love the Noah story, but many a parent – like my friend – struggles with the pages that say the flood is a result of God judging the world because of humanity’s evil. Hey, so do I! The judgement side of the story is chilling!

So what did I say to a long term friend who is not a Christian who wants a genuine answer?

Well first up I sat on it for a day or so. I didn’t want to dive into the depths, in a manner of speaking, without thinking through the implications and the pros and cons of what I wanted to say. I mean after all, if someone asks me if the naughty judgement bits are in the official version, then that raises a lot of questions itself.

We live in a post-Christian world in which many of our friends have little or no understanding of the sweeping narrative of the Bible. Heck, many self-confessing Christians don’t!

So what did I say? And what would I suggest you say if you were asked the same question?

It went a little like this.

I suggested that she might like to consider leaving the naughty bits in. It is the official version of events after all.

The best reason to do so is this: If her daughter only reads the fairy tale versions of Noah she will grow out of fairy tales. She will leave the world of unreality behind for the real world. The Noah story will become a childhood memory, if even that, and will have been stripped of all of its narrative power.

I told my friend that her daughter is going to want to know answers to the question of evil. Children are not very old when they start to realise that some things – and some people – are bad, and that justice and judgement are needed. They can’t articulate it all that well all of the time, but they feel it in their bones. They want answers!

And Noah, without the naughty bits, has nothing to say to them. Noah without the naughty bits presents an indifferent God, or at least one who is not all that concerned about evil. Such a god is not good, or not god, and is at the most a fairytale to grow out of.

Yet the story in Genesis does not present such an indifferent God. The God of Genesis is grieved at making humanity because of the injustices he sees among his creation, injustices still with us today.

My friend’s daughter will grow into the Noah story, not out of it, if we give it the full weight of what it is saying. Or she will need answers from somewhere, anywhere, about the pressing need for justice and what God has to say about it, if indeed He exists.

The conversation got interesting at that point. I was able to show my friend how the story of Noah is embedded in the first twelve chapters of Genesis, and how the flood brings the world back to its watery, formless beginning and how Noah is a new kind of Adam, with the same task of being fruitful and multiplying, and how even the animals coming to Noah is a repeat of Adam’s experience in naming them.

And then I told her the other naughty bit about the wine, and the sleeping around drunk and the even naughtier son. Which was a precursor to showing how Jesus is our ultimate rescuer because even the fresh start with Noah got stale quickly.

A great conversation, though one borne out of many conversations over the years. You can’t run thousands of kilometres with people without laying the foundations of honest friendship through long conversations!

But a final reason to leave in the naughty judging bits is that somehow in our secular, post-Christian world we haven’t, as we were promised, left judging others behind. We were constantly assured by the culture – and often by many in the church too – that a God of judgement would fall out of favour.

We were promised that judgemental types such as Christians would fade away, and that a serene impersonal god who looked on everyone with benign favour would be the way to go, if we had a god at all. And that somehow the progressive path we were on would lead to peace and love and understanding of each other, where justice reigned.

Well all I can say is “Hello 2020!”

Torrential judgement that washes in Noah-like waves appears to have been outsourced to humans, leaving God very much a distant second in the smiting stakes. Judgement is the order of the day. And with no hope, it seems, of renewal or a fresh start if you fall under its wheels.

Douglas Murray says this of our current Western context:

We live in a world where actions can have consequences we could never have imagined, where guilt and shame are more at hand than ever, and where we have no means whatsoever of redemption. We do not know who could offer it, who could accept it, and whether it is a desirable quality compared to an endless cycle of fiery certainty and denunciation.

That’s the judgey-judgey world we inhabit. You can tear the pages out of the Noah storybooks, but judgement – implacable and unyielding human judgement, is finding us out.

A friend who works in a para-church organisation in state schools said that the consistent top three questions she is asked by students revolve around identity issues, meaning and purpose, and… wait for it… forgiveness and where to find it. Kids are scared of remaining unforgiven all their lives.

The world is being flooded with a judgementalism tsunami on social media and in institutions that is drowning people. We need the Noah story in all of its detail. Why? Because it’s only after the waters of judgement recede that the olive branch of grace and peace can be offered to a world in desperate need of, and hope for, renewal.

So parents, leave the naughty bits of Noah in the story, because if this present judgemental age is any indication, an age still full of injustices of all kinds, your kids are going to need something more than a fairytale to cling to.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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