(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
Evil, Corruption and the Grief of God
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
Genesis 5:28-32, 6:5-8
Genesis seems to have blended two Flood stories. The Common English Bible translates the divine name in Narrative one as “the Lord” (Heb. Yahweh); in Narrative two as “God” (Heb. elohim). Different names for God and different story details notwithstanding, the two stories shared much common ground. Both indicated clearly that increasing human violence and cruelty caused God great pain and grief.
1 Peter 3:18-22
Paul and Peter, leaders of the early Christians, looked to the Hebrew Scriptures as one of the main ways God spoke to them. Yet that often meant something different than we hear in modern arguments about the Bible. The apostles focused more on moral values than historical or scientific accuracy. In today’s passages, they showed that they saw the key to the Flood story (and other texts) as “What does it teach us about God and us?”
The second Flood story began with a reference to Noah’s genealogy (which concluded in Genesis 9:28, with the entire Flood narrative in between). What God hoped for from humans had grown so rare that the phrase “in his generation” meant “that Noah was unique, the only one of his kind among all his contemporaries or people who lived at the same time he did.” (Translator’s Handbook on Genesis)
Many ancient peoples told stories of a global flood, survived by only one man and his family. Genesis’ “plot” was not unique; its picture of God was. In Babylon’s story, the gods aimed to wipe out humans. Only one dissenting god saved Atrahasis (their “Noah”). In Genesis, God sought out Noah, and made careful provision for human and animal survival so that the earth and its inhabitants could get a fresh start.
“Most people, as children, hear [this] story told as a delightful ancient adventure.” (LaSor, Hubbard and Bush, Old Testament Survey) But in the world of Genesis, this story was not “delightful,” but very grown-up and very serious. “The story of the flood (Gen 6–9) is a story of crime and punishment, cataclysmic destruction of the world and rescue. Later stories reenact this basic repertoire of archetypal plot motifs.” (Dictionary of Biblical Imagery) That is to say, the Genesis story is not so much their story as our story.
Read literally, this story would require a worldwide flood that covered even Mount Everest! In Making Sense of the Bible, Pastor Hamilton notes, “In my opinion, the evidence in favor of an old earth and against complete flooding of our earth in recent history seems overwhelming….Did Noah bring two of each of the millions of species that otherwise would not have survived a global flood onto an ark? No, I don’t believe so. Did water cover the earth to twenty feet above the highest mountains? Again, I don’t think so….the point of Noah’s story was not to teach history, or geology, but to teach us about God and God’s will for our lives.”
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
O God, Help us always to remember that we are safe with you, no matter what else may come. Thank you for building, through Jesus, a spiritual ark that can take us safely through the tumult of this life. Guide us as we seek to live as your light in the darkness of a broken world. Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
Have you seen the film Noah? If so, what grade would you give it on a scale from 0 (worst movie ever) to 10 (an all-time classic)?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY NOTE:
We encourage study groups to have several different Bible translations available for these readings. Reading aloud from the Common English Bible or The Message may help to clarify the meaning of some passages.
Read Genesis 5:28-32, 6:5-8. If you define “evil” in the broadest way, as anything that robs people of lasting well-being, can you imagine how ancient storytellers could picture a loving God choosing a worldwide Flood to stop evil from “taking over”? A contemporary praise chorus prays, “God, break my heart for what breaks yours.” Do human cruelty and violence break your heart, do you mostly shrug them off as just the way things are, or do you see them as necessary or desirable if practiced by “good guys”? In what ways did Jesus deal with evil differently from what the Flood story envisioned?
Read Romans 15:2-5, 1 Peter 3:18-22. Paul, in verses 4-5 of Romans 15, wrote, “Whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction so that we could have hope.” As you read the Flood story (and in last weekend’s sermon, if you heard it) what do you believe the story of Noah teaches about God? The apostle Peter used the Flood story as a symbol or archtype of baptism. What were the strengths and limitations of the way he wrote about the waters of baptism?
Read Genesis 6:9-12. The text described Noah as “moral,” a word that referred primarily to the way he related to other humans, and “exemplary,” a word that focused on the way a person related to God. The ancient Hebrew storytellers were holding together the personal and social dimensions of the gospel. In what ways are you holding those dimensions together in the ways you live your life? In verse 11 “corrupt” comes from a Hebrew word that meant “to be damaged, spoiled, ruined.” The original word behind “violence” meant “injustice, lawlessness, wrong.” In what ways can you as one of God’s people be a force for honor, justice and right practices?
Read Genesis 6:13-16. “What most concerns Genesis is the purpose of the ark, which was to keep…alive all species of living creatures” (New Bible Commentary). In what ways, even in a grim story like the Flood, do you see signs of God’s purpose to care for and nurture faithful human life? Noah, the story said, followed God’s directions in detail as he built the ark. Are you ever tempted to follow your own designs in building your life, rather than God’s?
Read Genesis 7:10-16. The ancient Hebrews feared the sea, even though their land had a Mediterranean coast. (Psalm 46:2-3 shows how they used large bodies of water as a symbol for life’s fearful chaos.) What kind(s) of chaos create the most fear in you? Note the last phrase of verse 16: “the Lord closed the door behind them.” The Translator’s Handbook on Genesis noted, “The Lord’s act of shutting the door behind Noah is to be understood as protecting Noah and not imprisoning him.” In the story’s imagery, it was not up to Noah to protect himself. Has God ever “closed the door” and protected you from some danger? How does that help you to trust God for your future?
Read Genesis 7:17-24. For the ancient Hebrews rampaging flood waters were one of the most frightening, powerful symbols of life spinning out of control and into chaos (cf. Psalm 46:2-3). So one of the most potent and poetic symbols in the whole story is in verse 18: “The ark floated on the surface of the waters.” Even in the face of the worst kind of catastrophe, they believed, you are safe if you are in the hands of God. Do you share their faith? What are one or two of the biggest concerns you currently face? As a group, in prayer place those concerns into the hands of the God who can protect and preserve you even if this life brings you utter catastrophe.
From last week: Did you prayerfully consider what it means to be “right with God”? What ways did you find to extend this relationship with the people you come in contact with? Share any experiences you had with your group.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon, May 4, 2014:
There are two ways to read the Noah story in Genesis. Some Christians read the Noah story believing the writer of Genesis was recording literal history, and if you add up the genealogies in Genesis it happened around 2348 B.C., give or take a year. Water literally covered the earth 20 feet above the highest mountain (which would be, if the mountains were the height they are today, 29,000 feet above sea level – 5 1/2 miles high. At least two, and as many as seven, of every kind of animal was placed upon the ark along with food for all the animals, and they remained on the ark for 150 days.
Geologist David Montgomery outlines the case against a literal reading of the story of the ark in his book, The Rocks Don’t Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah’s Flood. I read the book last year and it’s a pretty good read. Those who don’t see this story as literal history don’t deny that it is anchored in some kind of localized floods, as are other flood stories around the world. These may date back to about 10,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age as the ice sheets were melting.
Those Christians who don’t take the story as literal history note that the stories in Genesis 1-11 represent the Bible’s foundational stories. They are archetypal—teaching about who God is and who we are, and they are teleological—which means they point to our purpose in life. These stories were passed down from generation to generation for millennia, told and retold around campfires. They delighted and entertained in a time before movies and books and video games. But like the best stories, they formed and shaped hearers and readers and became part of their defining stories. Regardless of whether you read them as literal history or not, the point of the stories is the same….
So this story is an indictment upon humanity. Gilgamesh, in its earliest versions, said the flood came because the gods couldn’t sleep with all the noise humans were making. But the Noah story tells us something we already know but sometimes forget: Humanity can be evil both in our actions and in our hearts; we often abuse, misuse and ruin God’s world, the earth; and violence, cruelty and oppression so easily becomes our way of life.
So far there are no surprises in this story. The surprise comes when we read of the impact human evil and violence have upon God. Listen: “The LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” This is one of the most amazing verses in all the Bible. This is not a capricious God who decides to wipe out all human beings because he’s a bit irritated that he can’t get to sleep! This is a God who feels responsible for these creatures to whom he granted freedom and understanding, who have become evil and who are hurting creation and each other….
Even as God is contemplating the destruction of all life on the planet, he is still looking to find even one human being whose imagination is not evil, whose actions are not wicked, who doesn’t ruin God’s earth and who doesn’t act with violence or cruelty towards his fellow human beings. And God saw Noah, and Noah found favor with God.
God also saw something in Noah that made him stand out from his generation. He was righteous, a word that means to walk on the right path (as defined by God), to treat others justly, and to act ethically. Do you know people like that? Are you someone like that? Noah was blameless among the people of his day. The word in Hebrew means that he had sincerity, he was without defect, he had integrity. None of us are perfect or blameless, but are we striving for sincerity and for living with integrity where our faith and our deeds are one? Noah walked with God. To walk with God is both to share a daily and intimate connection with God and to walk in his path. Imagine God walking with you as you seek to walk with him each day.
In the end what stood out about Noah was that he did just the opposite of what the people of his day were doing. Their imagination and their deeds were turned to evil all the time. Noah abstained from evil and thought of others. They ruined the earth and acted with cruelty and violence towards one another. Noah sought to do good to God’s earth and to others. Others turned away from God. Noah walked with God.
This reminds me of the General Rules of the early Methodists: 1. Refrain from doing evil, 2. Do all the good that you can, and 3. Pursue the practices that help you walk with God. This is what God saw in Noah….
This is how Noah lived his life. He sought to avoid the evil that surrounded him. He sought to do what was right, rightly caring for God’s garden and acting with kindness instead of cruelty. And he walked with the LORD. That’s part of what this story is meant to teach us, and to call us to.
An Interview with Dr. David Montgomery (Sept. 17, 2012)
What could be more charged than the debate between “young earth” creationists, who believe the world was made by God less than 10,000 years ago, and geologists, who peg the age of the Earth at about 4.54 billion years? But Montgomery has written a thoughtful, readable book that respects both sides.
Q: Talk about your own religious upbringing.
A: I was brought up Presbyterian, went to Sunday school. I read the Bible cover to cover. … I went through a phase of reading the major books of the world’s religions. I’ve been curious about the relationship between science and religion for a long time. All religions look at humanity’s relationship to the world and to God.
Q: What made you want to take on this topic?
A: There’s my longstanding personal interest … given my upbringing and profession. I also have a fondness for old books. As I read many original sources on geology (from) the 17th and 18th centuries, I was surprised to find that they were all oriented around the theory of Noah’s flood. And I was always perplexed about the ideas of “young earth” creationism. Those ideas were refuted by geology a long time ago. The idea of creationism would have surprised some of the earliest theologians. With St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, there was a tradition of respecting what we could learn from nature.
Q: Most people probably think creationism is a pretty old belief system, but in the book you clearly lay out that it’s not. Briefly describe how it developed.
A: George McCready Price was the guy who championed flood geology (the theory that Noah’s flood was real) through the early 20th century. He was not a trained geologist, but he argued that geologists had the whole theory wrong. His arguments evolved into (John) Whitcomb and (Henry) Morris’ book, 1961’s “The Genesis Flood.” The thing that surprised me about that book was that the guys who wrote it had a really insightful critique of ’50s geology. They looked at the key flaws, the shortcomings, the things geology couldn’t address: How do mountains form? How do you get fossils of tropical organisms at the poles? In those days, nobody was buying continental drift. They said, geologists can’t explain certain basic aspects of geology; we have a better idea.
Q: I’m guessing that a lot of people have no idea how old the Earth is.
A: In the last few decades, polls have shown that the percentage of Americans who thought the world was created in the last 10,000 years has moved between 40 and 47 percent. People have never been taught the basics about the way the Earth works. In our experience, the Earth is pretty much static. But the glaciers that sculpted Puget Sound have been gone for 15,000 years.
Q: Talk about Harlan Bretz, who taught briefly at the UW and discovered the evidence for a massive flood in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana 12,000-15,000 years ago. He had a hard time getting his ideas across.
A: We all look through filters, whether it’s religious faith or the doctrines we are trained in as scientists. He’s one of the best examples there is. The field evidence kept pointing to the idea that there was a really big flood. But most geologists thought they had won that battle. Then this young upstart geologist came up with this idea that there was a really big flood. He was field-oriented, evidence-oriented. His colleagues were not similarly oriented. He was literally treated as a pariah for most of his career. Finally, other people found observations that backed up his theories.
Q: You conclude that Noah’s flood may be a story or legend based on actual long-ago events. Describe some of the likely inspirations for the Noah’s flood story — flooding along the Tigris and Euphrates, the filling of the Black Sea with saltwater.
A: Those are the two that make a lot of sense: the right events in the right place at the right time. You can go back to cuneiform literature (a kind of tablet writing found in what was Mesopotamia, now modern Iraq) for accounts of a great flood. It’s one of our oldest stories. (From http://seattletimes.com/html/books/2019178360_litlife17.html)
During the week, as a group keep praying for each other, focusing on the concerns you share in the final discussion question. Watch for moments when you may sense God helping with those concerns. Share any of those moments at your next meeting.