What do we do when we experience danger on the Path of life?
This has been the question that we’ve been holding these last few Sundays in worship. Peter found himself in jail, waiting for his impending execution. Paul kept getting blown off course on his way to Rome. Nehemiah and his faithful friends encountered sabotage when they tried to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
In each of these circumstances, God redeemed the difficult and the challenging. Thus, we are able--in the words of Paul—"To take heart and to be courageous!” in the face of the obstacles that spring up along the way.
But how about God? How has God responded when things didn’t go as He had hoped? What did God, Himself, do when faced with disappointment and heartache?
In a word, He overreacted. Let me explain.
We all know that God created the world and all that is in it. And he proclaimed it was good. But things did not go as He had hoped. God’s creation—namely, humankind—had grievously disappointed Him.
Genesis 6 reports that, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:5-6)
Let that last line sink in for a moment and feel the sense of despair God once felt: “I am sorry that I have made them.”
This was not what God had intended. His creation, says the author of Genesis, “had become corrupted and was filled with violence.” (Genesis 6:12) God had become disgusted with his creation, save for one person—Noah. He made a promise with Noah and his family and instructed him to make a lifeboat for humanity and the animal kingdom.
God’s response to this tragic set of circumstances is to eradicate the creation that he once called beloved.
“I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life.” (Genesis 6:17)
When faced with a significant fork in the road, God chooses to blow it all up which, of course, is His right. God is God, and we are not. Although we may find this demonstration of divine wrath particularly hard to imagine, we cannot escape the fact that God may do with His creation as He sees fit.
But God almost instantly regrets his decision to destroy his creation. Upon smelling the sweet aroma of the burnt offerings from Noah’s sacrifice, “The Lord said in His heart: ‘I will never again curse the ground because of humankind…nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.” (Genesis 8:21)
God seems remorseful for what He has done. He will not do again what he has done. Yes, God seems sorry for his decision to wipe out creation.
It’s true. This image of a sorrowful God is unsettling and dispiriting. We’re not accustomed to thinking of the God of the Universe with such decidedly human attributes.
There is something quite reassuring about this unnerving story. God reacts to a disappointment on the Path much like we do when we experience heartache, frustration and tragic changes of plans. We often respond to these circumstances and developments with harsh words, with debilitating sorrow and yes, even violence. And like God, we’ve also come to regret these gut reactions.
But like God, we can also learn from these moments. God certainly learned from what He had done. Upon seeing the power of his wrath as dispensed by His omnipotent hand, God chooses never to do it again. What’s more, he makes a solemn promise to the survivors of His apocalyptic actions, saying: “I am establishing my covenant with you…(that) never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” (Genesis 9:11)
God even creates a reminder--we’ll call it insurance for humanity--so that he will not unloose his wrath upon the whole of His creation. God creates a rainbow, not to remind humankind of his promise but to remind Himself of the promise He had made with them.
“When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant…and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.” (Genesis 9:16)
This statement is consistent with the great love and commitment that God demonstrates to His people throughout the story of Israel and also in the new covenant that He makes to us in Jesus. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17)
Things do not always go as we had hoped or as we had planned. Danger is definitely present along the way. And sometimes, sometimes, we do not respond the way we should. We react. We lash out.
But we can learn from these moments and promise never to react in that same way again. We have the capacity to learn, to be reminded of the consequences of our actions and to do better next time.
God, Himself, shows us how.