Ten generations after the creation of the world, it is so appallingly corrupt and violent that God can think of only one response – to wash it all away and begin again with the remnant of humanity that was the best of its generation. It is a terrible story to read – how, after such a short time, is the world so corrupt? How is God the Creator, able to become such a profligate Destroyer? What we have learned in the two weeks since we began to read the new cycle of Torah, is that human beings, created in the image of God, are able to both create and destroy, and also able to repent their behaviour.
It is clear that the flood was not the answer God wanted or needed to the problem of world violence. Noah, who had not ever protested God’s edict, nor had warned his fellow people of the impending doom, is not exactly the most promising raw material. Added to his passivity in simply following God’s command to build the ark and stock it, once the flood had receded, Noah’s immediate response was to build an altar and sacrifice a number of the ritually pure rescued animals. God, on smelling the smoke finally seems to be defeated, saying “I will not again curse the ground any more for the sake of humankind; for the imagination of the human heart is evil from its youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done this time, but the regular seasons and rhythms will never cease.
The whole sorry tale was one that need never have happened. The earth is once again going to become corrupt and violent – albeit within cities such as Sodom and Gomorrah rather than everywhere and all at once – but it is a necessary story in the process of God learning about people and people learning about God. God has already learned about the exercising of free-will by the inhabitants of the Garden of Eden, and people have learned about the cost of freedom of choice. Adam and Eve have already shown the difficulties that marital relationships can encapsulate, and Cain and Abel have demonstrated not only the problems of sibling rivalry but also the problems of the lack of fairness in the world. The early stories of Genesis can be seen as ways to deal with the problems we all encounter – unrequited love as well as loving too much; the need for independence balanced with the need for relationship; the power of nature that we cannot ever control; the fragility of our existence in the world.