When the Storm Hits, Just Stay
"WTF? (Why the Flood)" Part 6: Ancient Flood Myths were used to teach about people's understanding of God. Genesis 6-9 suggests that God cares, remembers, and saves.
Sometimes in life when things get really, really hard, your best move is to dig in, double down, and lean in with grit and resilience.
And then other times in life when things get really, really hard, your best move is to take a deep breath, stop trying so hard, and let go.
I don’t claim to know an easy way to discern the difference. But what I think I can say is that more often than not I’ve noticed that I erroneously think the situation calls for the first option (try harder!) only to settle into a realization that actually the better path all along was for me to stop the frenzy and choose to let go.
With that in mind let’s look at the third and final retcon found in the Genesis variation of the Ancient Flood Myth.
BUILD, GET IN, and STAY
In the Epic of Gilgamesh the plurality of gods awarded the hero Utnapishtim with immortal life in response to his bravery and courage in navigating the great deluge.
By contrast, Genesis 7 opens with, “The Lord said to Noah, ‘Go in to the ark (7:1),” followed by, “Then the Lord closed the door behind them (7:16).” Then it rained for 40 days, water covered the earth for 150 days, and chapter 8 opens with, “God remembered Noah (8:1).”
Question: So what was Noah’s role?
Build the life-saving-vessel. ✅
Get in. ✅
Then, as the storm raged, and the waters rose, and as the earth slowly got destroyed all around him, Noah was simply expected to,
Stay. In. The boat. ✅
TO NOAH IS TO REST
In last week’s article I mentioned that the word/name Noah—unlike most names in ancient culture—doesn’t have a clear or obvious meaning. Some scholars suggest this is meant to imply that “Noah” is merely an avatar for the “every-human,” a sort of no-name/non-hero (because the story isn’t about him, it’s about God).
But other scholars believe that Noah means “rest.”
Let’s think about that for a moment and see what might come in to focus for our third and final retcon.
To recap, so far based on the previous two retcons we can deduce that that the ancient Hebrew storyteller wanted to say the following with regards to their understanding of the kind of God Yahweh is.
First, God is a god who cares. Who sees and hears. A God whom the ancient Israelites believed would only ever consider something like a world-destroying flood if it had gotten that bad. As a measure to end or reduce suffering. Not a god who destroys because they’re annoyed or fickle.
Second, God saves and rescues and loves based not on the merit of humans, but based on God’s own inherent character of goodness.
Finally, recall the third retcon: the changing of names. Instead of “ship/boat” Genesis called it an “ark/life saving vessel.” And the name of the protagonist is “Noah,” possibly meaning “no man,” or “rest.”
Taken all together, what might the ancient Hebrew people have been trying to communicate about who God was to them?
I think it says that God is one who is steady and trustworthy. Unlike the gods in other Flood Myths who were terrified by the rising waters and who climbed to the highest mountain in fear, gods who “shrieked like women in labor” and “cowered like dogs,” the God of the Israelites remained calm.
And unlike the Babylonian gods who, when the flood ended came down from the mountain because they were hungry and they smelled the BBQ Utnapishtim was cooking up, the Hebrew God “remembered Noah.”
To say that differently:
Yahweh never left, and Yahweh never forgot.
BE STILL AND KNOW
More often than not when storms hit my life I’m shrieking and cowering like dogs.
Or, I grab ahold of the oars and start rowing like mad, determined to best the storm.
As I mentioned at the beginning, my propensity is to assume that the path through the storm is to double down, try harder, and make shit happen.
But when I read the story of Noah I read about
a God who cares,
a God who provides based on God’s own inherent goodness, and
a God who remembers.
I read a story that says to me, do not be afraid, and do not try and control everything.
Rather, I’m invited by this myth to trust that my rescue, my salvation, is found by just staying in the boat. For it is in the boat where God’s protection and care can be found in the midst of life’s tragedies and calamities.
Instead of a story about God destroying the world because he regretted making humans, can we read Genesis 6-9 as a an invitation to, as Jesus one day would teach, stop worrying about what tomorrow will bring and instead turn our focus to the safety of the love and presence of God (aka, the Kingdom of God)?
Or as the Psalmist once put it, may we “be Still and know that God is God.”
That’s the invitation.
Just stay in the boat.
“Noah” in the “ark,” if you will. Aka, rest in the life saving vessel.
And as I see it, “life-saving vessel” is a way of naming the presence of God in whom we live and move and have our being.
I don’t know what storms you’re facing right now. If you’re like me, you might be tossed by the wind and the waves, struggling to stay above the rising waters, gasping for air.
So maybe the word I need to hear is also the word you need to hear: God remembers. God cares. And God saves.
Though all we can see is chaos and destruction and fear, may we trust that our only job right now is to stay in the boat.
To be still and know and that God is.
To be still and know God.
To be still.
Want even more content like this? Including “Memoir Mondays” and “Comments on Comments Fridays?” Upgrade to a Paid Subscription today!
CATCH UP ON THE SERIES
PART 1: The Myth of the Great Flood