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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Back to the flood

Genesis 7:17-24 gives a detailed description of the destruction caused by the flood. All living things that breathe on land were blotted out by the flood. Only Noah and those with him on the ark were saved.

If, as I have asserted many times over the last few months, this is OUR story, what do we do with this?

One of Martin Luther's nuggets that has enriched the church for centuries now is the principle that we let scripture interpret scripture. In other words, if something in the Bible is confusing, let the rest of the Bible shed light on it. So interestingly enough, the Bible offers a perspective on the flood that deals directly with this story as our story. In 1 Peter 3 we read that the flood prefigures baptism; so just as Noah was saved through water, we also are saved through the waters of baptism. Peter clarifies that this saving happens not by the removal of dirt from the body (it's more than a bath) but rather as the pledge of a clear conscience toward God -- or as another translation puts it, "as an appeal to God for a good conscience". On what basis do we appeal to God for a good conscience, or pledge our clear consciences toward God? The phrase which immediately follows is the basis for the whole thing -- "through the resurrection of Jesus Christ."

Genesis 7:21 says that "all flesh" died -- some translations say "all living things" but I like the ring of the older translations that say "all flesh". This is another phrase that points out the connection between the flood and baptism. In baptism, the "flesh" of the person baptized -- their sinful nature -- is drowned. (See Romans 6:6 in context.)

Coming into a relationship with God through Jesus does not mean that I get a pat on the head and God says, "Good job! You have it almost right; here, let me help you with the rest." Rather, the Bible tells us that when we come to God he puts us to death with Jesus, crucifies us like Jesus was crucified. Not one shred of me gets to remain alive. Even that which is best in me has to die. Why? Because only that which is dead can be raised to new life. If I cling to something of myself, if I cling to my sense of humor or my standing in the community or the fact that I'm a good driver or whatever -- God cannot raise that part of me. Only when I surrender to Jesus, let him take me to the cross, can I experience resurrection.

This is terrifying. Don't you suppose Noah and his family and all those animals experienced some anxiety in the bowels of that giant wooden box? As they realized what was happening, they must have been terrified. But at that point, the ark was their best hope of being saved. So for us, the waters of baptism are a torrent that washes our life away, drowns us, destroys us. We cling to the cross in the midst of the flood and there God raises us to new life. Now what I am, the gifts God has given me, the talents and experiences of my life, can be brought to new life in Jesus. Now all these things can find their fullness because they are no longer mine, but God's. Now my life, too, can find its fulfillment because I am not my own, I have been bought with a price.

Before the rain started, all the people and creatures, as many as there were, were not a source of life for creation. They were operating in and of themselves, cut off from God's desires. When God finally washed the earth clean and saved Noah, his family, and a few animals, there was more life in the ark -- in that big box -- than there had been on the whole surface of the earth before.

It is the same in me. When I operate in my own strength, my own wisdom, my own understanding, there is little life in me. What life there is, is overshadowed and polluted by my sinful nature. But when I surrender and let Jesus have my life, when the cross becomes my cross, when I am united with his death, then I become truly alive. This is the shape of the Christian life. Surrender, death, and resurrection. My life is the flood in miniature.

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