The biblical story of the Great Flood, with its harrowing destruction, comes to us from the mists of ancient history. Scholars generally believe it to have come from an early account of a disaster that struck Mesopotamia centuries upon centuries ago. But the Hebrew and Christian traditions interpret the flood in the context of history made intelligible by God. It has moral and spiritual import, not only for the people but for the person.
This past year we’ve seen and heard of whole areas of different countries devastated by floods. Floods can strip us of everything, even the land to stand on. Water is one of those great impersonal forces of the earth, before which we, even in our technological abundance, can find ourselves abandoned and helpless. As someone once said,”Death by water or death for lack of it may symbolize our deepest dreads.”
And yet water, despite its chaos, is the promise of life. We cannot survive without water. We need it for sustenance and cleansing, refreshment and purification. We see that this story of the flood ends with a promise “There shall not be another flood to devastate the earth.” And so Noah, as the embodiment of Israel, the church and perhaps all humankind, is given a regenerating covenant in the midst of this utter loss. We are given another chance.
Earlier in the Book of Genesis we had the Covenant of Sinai, a bonding between and the people of Israel. I will be your God, you will be my people. The covenant with Noah goes far beyond one people; it is a covenant between God, the people and every living creature that shares the earth with us. It is a covenant that expresses our kinship, our affiliation with all living things upon the earth. It is a covenant that reminds us of our responsibility for the well-being not only of the human family but of our responsibility for the well being and survival of life systems of Earth.
This sense of kinship with the rest of God’s good creation is something we humans have lost. We believe that the goods of the Earth are there for our taking – everything is ours to use and abuse. Those floods that devastated the Philippines recently could have been avoided expect for the greed of corrupt politicians and big business. The trees on the mountains were cut down destroying the watersheds. The rain had no where to go except to rush down the hillside taking with it, homes and people. This has happened time and time again in many countries – the exploitation of resources and the suffering of the poor who are victimized by the greed of others. There is a Filipino saying that goes – “no trees, no land; no land, no food; no food, no children; no children, no future.” Actions like this break the Noah covenant between God and humans and all living things upon Earth.
As I’ve quoted before, “we did not weave the web of life; we are strands in the web and what we do to the web we do to ourselves.” When we deplete the resources of the sea and of earth our recklessness rebounds on us. What we do to the web of life we do to ourselves.
This Lent is a time for self reflection and by God’s grace, self renewal. Maybe we could use these weeks of Lent examining how our life styles honor or break the Noah covenant. May we could use these weeks of Lent resisting the temptations to buy buy and buy more. Maybe we could use these weeks of Lent trying to become more sensitive to the impact our life styles has on the poorer peoples of the world – we really are living on the backs of struggling men and woman working in sweat shop in developing countries. Maybe we could use these coming days of Lent trying to live simply so that our brothers and sisters around the world can simply live.