The Underside of the Ark

I loved haircut day when I was a child. Haircut day was always a Saturday and was forever a father-son event. The trimming of hair, however, was but one element in the hour-long experience. Let me explain.
The barbershop was always full when my father and I would arrive. Most haircut days, my father would give me a quarter while we listened to the men’s banter and while we watched as hair was swept up between customers. You see, there was an old Coca-Cola machine in the corner full of glass bottles of the sweet, bubbly elixir. The machine was an engineering marvel. Below the coin slot was a narrow, vertical glass window. Inside were serval chilled pop-tops in descending order, held captive by a complex system of bars and levers. You could open the glass door to caress the tops of the refrigerated bottles, but you could not pull one out without depositing .25 in the slot. Of course, as a child I would yank on each bottle hoping that the machine was faulty and that it would yield to my tug, granting me a free drink. My father’s quarter, though, would provide me with the delicious sensation of pulling out a liberated bottle of Coke. And oh, the taste of those frosty, glass-bottled Cokes. Shasta. For me, haircuts and Coca-Cola just went together.
But that was not all.
Lost in a rack of newspapers and magazines was an oversized illustrated Bible for children. I loved that Bible and its pictures of memorable stories from scripture. The details in each picture gave rich insight into the stories I heard at home and at church. Adam and Eve were beautiful, shapely and discreetly covered by foliage. David’s diminutive stature was showcased by the gargantuan bully named Goliath. And the still waters and green pastures of the 23rd Psalm gave my imagination fuel to grasp David’s prayer.
But the story that I always studied more closely than others was The Story of the Flood. Time seemed to slow down when I got to the tale of Noah and his ark, and I secretly hoped that I wouldn’t be called for my cut until the illustrations had exhausted my scrutiny.
The ark in the pictures was magnificent. The animals were regal. Noah was wild-eyed, but stoic. The next page revealed the storm clouds and the nearby raging river. Then, in an inset picture was the ark surrounded by flood waters.
I could imagine the sensation of the boat being lifted off the ground. I could hear the wicked banging on the boat’s timbers. The animals would be nervous, of course, but well-cared-for. Noah and his family would feel vindicated and rewarded as they huddled together in warmth and safety as the world disappeared beneath the waves.
Then, on the following page there was a picture of Noah with a raven leaning out a window of the ark. Later, a dove was seen returning with a leaf from a tree. Finally, there was a solitary picture of Noah, looking wistfully off into the distance with no dove to be seen.  
The final picture always seemed rushed. In the illustration I remember, the ark is set upon a rocky mountain top. The door is open and animals are spilling out onto the ramp. An altar has been constructed to the right of the picture and a rainbow arches across the scene.
This well-known story is a favorite because it seems to have everything you want in a good story. There are animals, wicked naysayers, and righteous protagonists. The story has an extraordinary natural disaster and an apocalyptic aftermath that provides suspense. There’s resolution, too, right? A new beginning, a rainbow, and a thankful people.
Years later, I would see how the appeal of this story had spread. Noah and the Ark would become the theme for nurseries in homes, churches and at day care centers. Snappy songs were sung to tell of the animals’ salvation as they marched into the Ark, “two by two.” An entire line of toys would become available—a zoo with a boat, cool! The rainbow would become a symbol of God’s enduring love.
Yes, the story of Noah and the Ark from Genesis 6-8 is one of the best-known stories from the Bible. But like many of the stories we love to tell from the Bible, we tell only a portion of the story or turn down the volume on the unsavory, difficult elements. A keen eye and a close read of the text, however, will reveal a dark and tragic story. The story that helps to build the foundation for God’s relationship with His creation is about salvation, yes. But it’s also about holocaust. While it’s tempting to fawn over the animals and their lifeboat, we must also acknowledge the mass of floating dead that fill the waters around the ark. Where are they in our retellings? The story of the ark is not cute. It’s sorrowful and full of sadness, replete with remorse.
God regretted creating us. “And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. (Genesis 6:6)” So, God decides to start over, never mind that starting over meant “blotting out” mankind.
This is a hard, hard story complete with a foretaste of sobering themes that we later find in the Bible. Issues of God’s justice, divine violence, and selective love and preservation litter the Biblical landscape, here. But many of us don’t see—or don’t wish to see---the underside of the ark. And at some level, that’s understandable. My children played with a toy ark. I did not tell them that when they played with the animals and the boat that they were playing holocaust.
It is imperative that we read scripture as adults and that we revisit the stories that we thought we knew well. The Bible, and its collection of stories about God’s relationship with us, is full of truth. And that truth may be hard to hear, but it teaches us about the depth, complexity and richness of God.
Although it’s hard to illustrate and even harder to make into a play-thing, this well-known story introduces us to a God who gets angry, a God who is sad, a God who regrets, a God who loves, a God who apologizes, and a God who is full of promises that He keeps.
This is why we read the Bible. This is why we tell the stories of the Bible to our children.
But this is also why we should continue to read and reflect upon them well into adulthood. They may not go down as easily as a frosty coke from a bottle, but they will—with prayer and quiet reflection—be just as satisfying and fulfilling.