Sunday, July 11, 2010

Noah's righteousness

It's amazing how little we pay attention to what the Bible really says. Stories we tell about Noah's Ark most often portray Noah as a gentle man, caring for his neighbors, heartbroken for the evil around him, in earnest conversation with God. The Bible doesn't show any of that. In fact, up to this point we know next to nothing about Noah.

It was God who chose Noah, and the Bible says that "Noah found favor with God" (Genesis 5:8). It does go on to say he was blameless and walked with God; but hold on to that for a minute. Have you noticed how quiet Noah has been so far? In fact, we haven't heard him speak a word. All we've seen is Noah obeying God's specific commands (see Gen. 6:22 and 7:5, for example).

Now the flood is over, and we see Noah freed from God's specific commands and having to figure things out for himself. What's the first thing he does after leaving the ark? He plants a vineyard, raises some grapes, makes wine, and gets himself passed-out drunk without a stitch on. (See Genesis 9:20-27) His son Ham sees him and jokes about it with his brothers, who respectfully cover dad up with a cloak. Noah wakes up, probably quite hungover, and the first words we hear him speak are to curse Ham's son, whose name happens to be Canaan.

Is this the guy you learned about in Sunday School? I don't think so. This Noah is a bit of an embarrassment, drinking and cussing like a sailor, verbally abusive to his grandson, playing favorites among his children. This from the man who is blameless?

Maybe it's post traumatic stress. After all, Noah has been through a lot.

Two things this story accomplishes. First, it gives us fair warning that the flood God sent to purify the earth didn't finish the job. While we learned in the process that God takes sin seriously, we also learned that sin resides in the human heart -- including Noah's -- and we'll need a better cure than just water to make us clean. So this story points us forward to the cross, where God washes us clean inside and out with the blood of Jesus.

Second, it reassures me. Because too often, I find myself acting just like Noah. Me and God, we're tight, and we accomplish great things, and then I turn around and disappoint my wife, or I'm too harsh with my kids, or I'm lazy, or gluttonous. Noah's sin doesn't change the fact that God used him to do an amazing thing that preserved life. But even after the flood, Noah is still a sinner.

It is God's grace that chooses Noah, just as God's grace chooses me. And you. God doesn't pick us for his team because we're the best players. Instead, he picks us because he loves us, even though we don't deserve his love. It's a gift, just like it was for Noah. And the gift of God's choosing you is intended to overflow through you and benefit all creation, just like with Noah.

So don't get obsessed with your imperfections. They're real, and they're not something to be proud of. But God has a lot of experience working with imperfect people. If you're going to get obsessed with something, how about the amazing grace of a God who chooses you in spite of those imperfections, and then works in and through you to do his work?

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