Faith and Floods


The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days. – Genesis 7:24 (NIV)

The verses that precede this verse describe the complete annihilation of the people and creatures of earth except Noah’s family and the animals on the ark. Once again the specificity in this verse is a bit striking.  This is a very long time for a flood to persist, it would certainly start to resemble a lake or a sea rather than a flooded river.  A literal reading of this part of the narrative is also hard to reconcile with the geologic record.  A flood of this duration would certainly have left it’s mark on the sedimentary record of the region and the globe.  No such regional flood deposits exist.

Evidence for large floods is present locally, but these deposits can almost always be linked to specific regional geologic events.  For example, the Missoula floods occurred in the Pacific Northwest of North America during the last ice age (~15,000 to 13,000 years ago).  The evidence for mega-floods in this region is overwhelming, but so is the evidence that the floods were generated by the failure of glacial dams near Missoula, Montana.  The glaciers moving from the north created a temporary lake several thousand feet deep which periodically was released when the ice dam broke.  These Missoula floods may have happened 10’s to 100’s of times.  As part of my PhD research on the Clackamas River I mapped and dated Missoula Flood deposits.  There was much rejoicing by some biblical scholars at the time these floods were described by J. Harlen Bretz in 1923.  Many were quick to point to these mega-floods as evidence for the flood of Noah.  In fact many in the science community did not accept Bretz’s theory because of the perceived link to the biblical flood.  This is a great example of how we must be careful with a literal interpretation of Noah’s flood, which I would argue is not possible from the scientific perspective.  Rigid adherence to a literal interpretation alienates many scientists who may otherwise have an earnest desire to explore their spirituality through Christianity.

Does something other than a literal interpretation change my faith in Christ?  No.  So what should we take away from the Noah account?  What does it tell us about God and his relationship to us?  I think it is saying God desires his children to behave in a certain way, when we do not behave that way there will be consequences.  Perhaps not as dramatic as Noah’s flood, but I do believe God could “unmake” us if he chooses.  In Christ we need not fear God will do this in a retributive way, he has reached out to us and clearly stated that he loves and forgives us even when we are disobedient and “strong-willed”.  This does not mean that God does not send storms and floods into our lives to get our attention.   I believe he can and will do this on occasion when we have grown complacent and lost our focus on him and Christ.

Prayer:  God grant me the grace you have given us in Christ Jesus when I am strong-willed and stubborn, wake me gently from my spiritual slumber with a gentle wind of your spirit rather than a deluge of water.



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