As we reach the end of this mini-series on Noah, I am reminded of the quote by LP Hartley in his book ‘The Go-Between’ in which he observes that “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”
So too, the world of Noah and others of that time. Indeed, for ourselves, like most people born since the Enlightenment (1800s+) with its emphasis on rational ideas and thinking, there is a dichotomy between the way people of that time understood their world and the way we understand it today. A world in which rational thinking was yet to be developed, understood and applied. Now, compare that with the world of Noah which was one of simplistic belief – not because God made it that way but because human development was at the start of its journey in which people would later move towards exploring, learning and understanding the world in which they lived.
On November 1st, 1755, Lisbon was rocked by a huge earthquake and subsequent tsunamis that claimed 90,000+ lives in a day. Prior to this, the Church who had encouraged the faithful to discover God through Nature found themselves between a rock and a hard place. The problem being the Divine seemed to be against His own as the majority of those killed in Portugal were Christian and devout worshippers at that. For the believing communities within Europe who learnt about the fate of Lisbon, they also were undone because their understanding of God as a kindly, concerned and loving Creator was no longer viable. If anything, the Divine appeared to be the opposite, wreaking havoc on people through wanton acts of Nature that were both lethal and red in tooth and claw.
No longer able to point to Nature as the source of God’s goodness to his Creation, the Church had to rethink whether the wanton acts visited on Lisbon were in fact directed by the hand of a Loving God (if at all?) In the end, what emerged was an understanding of a world in which earthquakes and tsunami’s come about – and this, independently of God and definitely not the whim of a dualistic mindset in which the Divine fluctuates between good and evil actions.
Okay, back to Noah and the Ark floating around on the water with no land in sight – and this is a man who neither understands geology nor how tectonic movement causing plates to shift and dry land to become flooded – be that by one sea tipping into another or territory being flooded by a giant meteor strike or whatever. Now, into this simplistic understanding of a world in which Noah believes that God is bringing about a flood, it is quite easy to see how he might conclude (in his mindset) that the only reason God would do this is to bring about the end of those people who are against God. The fact that God instructs him to bring animals is presumed that this is to repopulate the planet rather than the necessity of food for the saga that lies ahead. In short, Noah’s thinking is simplistic (as was the thinking of the fertility cults, sun-worshippers, etc) because their understanding of the world was limited during this period of time – and with that I think its right to cut Noah a little slack. Had we been born during this period it’s very likely we would have thought and acted in much the same way as Noah 🙂