Monday, June 21, 2010

God's grace to Noah

The scene doesn't bear thinking about, but every movie portrayal I've ever seen of Noah's ark has included it. Imagine the preparation for the flood. Noah and his sons slaving over plans and planks, hammers and hardware for this behemoth of a boat. The neighbors have tailgate parties, drinking and laughing at the crazy man who thinks it's going to rain so much that he needs a ship to rescue all the animals and his family. Noah occasionally gets a fiery look in his eye and begins to rail at the neighbors, warning them of the wrath of God that will fall like a thunderstorm from the sky. They laugh louder.

The boat is finished, and the neighborhood becomes raucous with derision for Noah's foolishness. The only thing better than being a drunk is being a drunk with something worth laughing at -- and the neighbors have it. They mock and they sneer and they laugh at Noah and his sons, who righteously begin to load the animals -- all kinds of animals, two by two -- onto the ark.

NOTE: All this is based on the movies -- the Bible says very little about whether the neighbors laughed at Noah, aside from a couple obscure New Testament references.

In the movies, the scene changes as it begins to rain, and rain hard. Noah and his family and the animals are all shut up in the ark, and the neighbors suffer through torrents of rain. As the flooding starts in the low spots, they begin to become panicky, and finally they are beating on the sides of the ark in terror for their lives, but it is too late, too late ...

There is one tiny biblical detail in the story that is worth mentioning here. It appears in Genesis 7:16, where the Bible tells us that "the Lord shut them in." It was God who shut the door on the ark. Noah didn't have to bear on his conscience the weight of sealing that doorway, of closing off the way of escape to his neighbors. God did that.

Do you see what kindness this is to Noah? How terrible it must have been to think of his neighbors, even those who most deserved judgment, drowning in the flood waters. You can imagine Noah and his family shedding many tears over the consequences of wickedness, the judgment of God.

It's not so different for you and me. When God makes his covenant with you and declares you righteous, when he begins to work in your life to redeem those closest to you, there will be those around you who will resist his love. They may hear about your faith and sneer, or mock, or laugh. Or they may just go their silent way and reject the God who has found you. Depending on your style you may warn them, or try to persuade them, or pray for them, or just ache for them. In some cases they will join you; in most they will continue to reject the God you love. But you need never shut them out of what God is doing in your life.

You don't close the door on them. You don't speak judgment on them. If that sentence needs to be pronounced, God will do it. This is God's grace to you -- not only that your sins are forgiven, but that God spares you from having to bind them to their sin and pronounce judgment on them. You can live in love with God and let them see; you can speak a word of invitation to them when you are called to do so. But the final evaluation of their lives, the final closing of the door, is God's business. Because we know the grace of God, we grieve when we see a life ended by those who reject the love of God. For we know that their many sins (though no more numerous than our own) became the bars of the cell that held them back from Jesus. And we know that all the while, God was yearning to unlock the door and release them from the cell of their own making -- but in pride or in despair, they held the door fast shut.

When a life like this ends, we weep. We can be thankful that the consequences of a life squandered are not left to you and me. This is his mercy to us, even as others experience it as judgment. It is the same door. What matters is which side of the door you are on when the storm hits.

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