Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made. And Noah did all that the LORD commanded him. Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. – Genesis 7:4-7 (NIV)
A constant rain for 40 days and 40 nights. That is a lot of rain. This passage is problematic for me if it is interpreted in a strict literal sense. It is not possible to flood all the earth, there is not enough water. Could God have miraculously done this—sure but why use a natural physical force such as flood and rain? Why not just “unmake” humans?
This passage, and others in the bible describing events that are not possible from strict scientific perspective, create a philosophical conundrum for scientists who are Christian, and great “straw men” for non-Christians who would like to ignore everything else in the bible. As a scientist who has experienced the spiritual reality of God’s love and forgiveness and believes in God, Jesus, and the authenticity of the bible I am left with at least four possibilities: 1) the account is meant to be hyperbolic, allegorical, or poetic and not a scientific description of the events; 2) the event occurred as described but was miraculously (supernaturally) accomplished by God; 3) the passage was not captured accurately or was somehow misinterpreted during translation; and 4) the flood being described occurred but was only a regional event that affected the “world” known to the author at the time.
Of these possible explanations I favor a combination of #1 and #4. The region that is being described is populated by the rivers described in the previous passages as originating from the garden of eden. It is not too much of a stretch to think that these four rivers could have caused flooding in a very large part of this region, essentially flooding the “world” as it was known at the time. Large floods have been recorded in the geologic record originating from monsoonal rains, glacial dams breaking, volcanic eruptions, and landslide dam failures. Perhaps the flood was created by a combination or one of these mechanisms. It is of course possible that God acted in a supernatural way to create the flood. This would seem to me to demote God into a magician attempting to impress an audience rather than a loving father caring for his children.
Most of the supernatural miracles in the bible are related to healing or provision of food, both expressions of God’s caring for his people and his relationship with them. The very age of Noah when this event occurs, 600 years, is supernatural from our perspective today. Perhaps creation was operating in a different mode then — although Noah’s age is part of the relationship between God and Noah. Has creation been on a downward spiral of decay ever since the time of Noah’s flood? Did cancer and other diseases exist in the time of Noah? Certainly we have plenty of examples of humans not caring for each other very well — WWI, WWII, the holocaust.
Prayer: God give me eyes to see the miraculous today, even if it does not “make sense”. Help me to engage in discussions of hard passages such as this with both Christians and non-Christians so that we can better understand your love and care for us.