Thursday, June 10, 2010

Noah's ark

This story is such a weird mix. And the way we treat it is even weirder. This is one of the first stories children learn, I assume because we think it's like going to the zoo -- Noah and two of every kind of animal, so we have pictures of bears and lions and zebras and giraffes and water buffalo and they're all lined up waiting to go on the big boat and the kids just love it.

That's great. Captain Kangaroo plays Noah.

There is something charming about this story on the surface. You can just about see the newspaper headlines: "Local man rescues bevy of wildlife" or something. It warms your heart to think about it.

As long as you don't think too deep.

Because under the patina of Noah rescuing a bunch of animals there is a nasty dark side to this story. Namely, the earth has become so violent, so corrupt, so sin-infected (sinfected?) that God doesn't see a way out except to destroy it all and start over.

So how do you tell your kids that part of the story?

Mostly we don't. Mostly we just tell the kids' version and let it go at that. In fact, across the whole Bible we often stop at telling our kids -- or even ourselves -- the children's version of the various stories and never dig into the adult-level truths.

About the time your kids turn ten or twelve, as a parent you need to intentionally start letting them see what the world is like. This is tricky. If they haven't seen some of the dark underbelly of life by that time, you need to find ways to help them. Careful, now. This takes a delicate touch. You don't want to get them in too far over their heads. What about volunteering at a place like "Feed My Starving Children" or the Union Gospel Mission? Take them into an agency that is doing real things to help with real problems. Then -- and this is the important part -- talk about those issues at a level your kids can understand. Why are people homeless? Why don't people have enough food? What is a "refugee"? Why are there wars?

Lots of adults don't talk to kids about these things because they're not comfortable with the answers in their own minds. Guess what? Start this conversation and you might grow.

Noah pushes us to this growth. We would rather believe that sin is just what everyone does, and God winks and smiles and goes back to managing the universe. But Noah forces us to see that sin has terrible consequences. God does not wink at sin; it breaks his heart. He has to wipe it clean, scrub it away, drown it. God has not set up the universe so that sin can coexist with his righteousness. His holiness overpowers sin and destroys it.

But even in the midst of this terrible realization that God is going to destroy the world, there is a word of hope, a possibility of redemption. Noah wasn't perfect -- we'll see that clearly later in the story -- but God chose Noah. Noah obeyed when God came up with a crazy plan to build a giant floating box (that's what "ark" means -- "box"). So God used Noah and spared his life to repopulate the earth, to save the cute animals (and the not-so-cute ones).

No matter how sinfected your life is, God can wipe you clean, bring you through the flood, redeem you. This is the other truth that your child needs to hear and experience from you. No matter how bad you are, God's love is deeper. God's love will work to clean the sin out of your life, but he will preserve you and protect you and purify you because he loves you.

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