On the "Outrage" of the Flood and the Purposes of God

021715To the modern mind, the story of Noah and the flood is  a dark tale and one that is hard to equate with the “loving God” (i.e., the “kind” God of our notions). Why would God regret what He had done and want to kill everything He had made?

Now never mind that we do this all the time when we harvest a field, or prune our roses or slaughter animals to feed ourselves, etc. When we do these things, we understand why we do them and so we give ourselves credit for doing what is right and good. But when God prunes, or plows under one culture to bring forth another, or ends life here to nourish life there, we call Him despotic. The atheists like to call Him wrathful and vengeful.

But the Church has always understood the flood in terms of the language of baptism. God ends one life to begin another. In every baptism, even to this day, one life ends so that another can begin. The baptismal font is both tomb and womb. It is a tomb because the old Adam dies in us, and it is a womb because the new Adam (Jesus) is birthed in us. St. Paul says,

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin … So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom 6:3ff).

This may not seem like the flood, but it is. We are overwhelmed in the flood of baptismal water and lose our old life. But a new life is set forth in us. This is just as in the old flood, which ended the regime of sin and sowed the seed of new life on a washed-out world. It is an allegory of baptism, not the reality itself but pointing to the reality.

The Catechism references the blessing of Easter water, in which the Church speaks of the flood: The waters of the great flood  you made a sign of the waters of Baptism,  that make an end of sin and a new beginning of goodness.

Thus, in terms of baptismal theology, the flood was not a disaster, but a new beginning.

“But Father, but Father, so many died!” True, but we will all die and God decides when that will be. Further, He does not simply have my good or your good in mind, but also the common good. So God must sometimes end certain human projects, epochs, and empires so that others may emerge. He knows why He acts; we do not. We may think we are the “bee’s knees,” but God knows something better. So He ended antediluvian (before the flood) culture to bring forth something different. Do you judge Him for this? And if you do, on what basis do you do so? Is the Roman Empire better than what came later?  Is “Western Culture” better than what might come next? How do you know? Can you see the future? Are you sure of your judgments? Are they better than God’s?

In November, I pruned my roses from eight feet down to just one foot. Do you judge me for this? Today they poke through the snow awaiting the coming of spring. Have I done well, or was I just violent and nasty? Well, wait until spring and you might have a different perspective. My Crape Myrtle is also protesting and calling me a despot, for I pruned it severely. But wait until May before you condemn me. You might be surprised as vigorous growth bursts forth.

Well, I hope you get the point. We have often judged God based on very little evidence. He knows why He does what He does; we do not. If a flood or the collapse of a culture is needed, He knows; we have no idea.

Floods and other dramatic steps are sometimes needed. And we who protest such actions are not much different than rose bushes that protest pruning. We know not whereof we speak.

Let God be God. If floods are needed He knows. If lesser measures are adequate He knows. If more is needed He knows. Floods are “in his pay grade,” not in ours. He knows. Do not judge God. If you do, I am going to ask you why we kills tens of thousand of animals, or rip healthy ears of corn from their plants to feed ourselves. I am going to ask you why we prune roses. I am going to ask you why we wield scalpels to cut cancerous tumors from people and then throw those tumors in the trash.

If you will judge God, please answer first the prosecutorial questions I ask you. Is a flood too strong  a response to sin? Well, is reducing my roses by 7/8ths during pruning season too much? Is putting people to sleep so they can’t defend themselves and slicing open their bodies and forcefully removing tumors too extreme? Is wielding the sickle and harvesting grapes to feed the poor too much? Is it evil to take the eggs of chickens or to kill mature chickens to feed the hungry?

OK, the flood happened. Are you ready to sit in judgment of God as you munch on your Chicken McNuggets?

Who will judge the flood or the God who sent it? If you will, then never, EVER again plow under your summer marigolds to plant autumn mums. Otherwise, I will call you evil, despotic, and just plain mean. I realize that people are more valuable than mums or marigolds. But God has every right to decide that the season for marigolds is over and mums are now needed. Do you doubt His judgment? If you do, then never again pull weeds from your garden, mow your grass, swat a fly, or seek the repel the devourers of your crops.

Otherwise, let God be God and do not call Him to account for things you do not understand.

The flood was necessary. Do you deny it? Show that you know better than God and cease your own husbandry. Allow rats to infest your home and flies to devour your food stock. Indeed, you should never harvest at all; you devour plants and animals and follow your own designs, designs that those plants and animals cannot discern. How dare you, you devourer, you sender of floods, you user of oxygen. How dare you use precious resources the animals could use, you interceptor of natural processes!

You stand accused with God! How do you answer? Will you still prosecute God for the flood?

This song says,

Away way back in the ages dark
Old man Noah built a sea-going ark
Old man Noah had his nervous spells,
When he had to listen to the animals’ yells,
But when anything was doing he was there with bells,
He was a grand old sailor.

Old man Noah knew a thing or two,
He made them all play ball,
Old man Noah knew a thing or two,
Because he knew a thing or two, he thought he knew it all,
Some say he was an also ran,
He was the original sailor man,
Old man Noah knew a thing or two,
He was a grand old man.

Said old man Noah to his wife one day
There’s a big storm comin’ on the first of May
So he gathered all his family and made this remark:
The sky’s getting cloudy and it’s getting rather dark,
So gather all the animals, and beat it to the ark,
It’s gonna rain tomorrow!

The rain came down in showers cryin’
The ark made it out on a scheduled time
And every day at half past three,
Noah played poker with the chimpanzee,
Cried the ring-tailed monkey, I sadly agree,
Noah’s got a full house up his sleeve!

When Noah got the animals out to sea,
They organized a regular jubilee
In the middle of the night the elephant said,
There’s a couple of snakes crawled into my bed,
Shut up, said Noah, you’re drunk instead,
Now I’m gonna lose my license!

13 Replies to “On the "Outrage" of the Flood and the Purposes of God”

    1. My bible makes no mention of either global warming or climate change. Although I see global warming during summer and climate change every day….can of worms best left unopened, or a foregone conclusion?

  1. That’s the reason the prophet Isaiah declared ‘God’s thoughts are not our thoughts; His ways are not our ways”
    And that’s THAT. Thank you Monsignor!

  2. How is death by the slow decay of the flesh different from death by a flood?

    “OK, the flood happened. Are you ready to sit in judgment of God as you munch on your Chicken McNuggets?”–Oh no, oh, no, not on Ash Wednesday. Oh no, oh no.

  3. Well said! Yes, the non believer tends to see wrath and vengeance because they, in judgement, have taken God’s place. These projections come from within those who would create a god in their own image and likeness, imagining a creature while denying their Creator. If only they understood God’s Mercy and that death is not the end! And, as it is written:
    “For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that He might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, He was brought to life in the Spirit. In it He also went to preach to the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient while God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water. This prefigured baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into Heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.” (1 Pet 3:18-22)

  4. “For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matthew 24:38-39).


  5. I don’t know if this is relevant but consider watertight doors in ships. If a ship is holed below the waterline, the captain must order the watertight doors to be closed in order to prevent his ship from sinking. In doing that he knows that he is condemning many people to their deaths but he is doing it to save the lives of others. Who would condemn a captain who took such action? I suppose that one answer might be that the captain did not deliberately kill anybody whereas the flood was designed to destroy human life. That was its purpose. But nevertheless some people die so that others might be saved so maybe the analogy is not totally irrelevant.

  6. You always explain things so well. You help me to stop worrying about things and trust in God’s infinite wisdom.
    Thank you and God bless.

  7. “In baptism, (the deceased) died with Christ…” These are the words from the Mass of Christian Burial. And the white pall on the casket and the Easter candle are reminders of the white baptismal garment and the baptismal candle. I am never unmoved at this connection when I attend a funeral and these words and symbols are used. Lest we forget, holy water is sprinkled on the casket in blessing, the same holy water used to affect the sacrament of baptism.

    Fr. Mac always used to say, “We should cry at the weddings and rejoice at the funerals.” Maybe the connection between baptism and burial might be something to meditate on a little further as we begin the discipline of Lent.

  8. The point that we are not–as finite creatures–in a position to sit in judgment on the Creator is well taken, and the Flood–like the Binding of Isaac–reminds us dramatically of the strangeness of God, most astonishingly in the alien aspect of His holiness and the disquieting consequence of its confrontation with sin. The analogy of God’s destruction of most of humanity to a gardener pruning his roses certainly captures the distance between creature and Creator and highlights the jarringly uncanny quality of God’s priorities from a human perspective.

    These points notwithstanding, for Catholic Christians immersed in the discourse of the inestimable value of life against the background of a culture of death the analogy easily strikes the ear as glib. A rose doesn’t have the intrinsic value of a human life, but the analogy can suggest that God is “pruning” away less valued human lives for the sake of the flourishing of other, more valuable human lives. This utilitarian subordination of certain individuals to a “higher purpose” is not, of course, what God is going on. My point is that the analogy purchases the striking otherness of God’s holiness at the expense of our sense of God’s love and intimacy with humanity. “What of those who were lost?!” we want to say. Prunings are thrown on the garbage heap to be burned. And that is certainly the “right” of the Creator. But this is a pretty stark way of illustrating the Divine prerogative, and perhaps a bit more context about God’s plan could capture a bit of the value to God of each of those discarded buds.

  9. Very timely, at least for me. I was just wondering about this. The part I think we always forget is that God does not view our deaths the way that we do. I presume he must see it as simply bringing us home to Him, whereas we see death as tragedy or punishment. God has a way of bringing wonderful things from terrible circumstances, and although I am not hoping to suffer, if I do I hope I can offer it to Christ and hold onto the hope of eternal life after death. So it’s true, we all die sometime, and if it’s in our beds at age 90, in a tsunami or a flood all together, or whatever, that’s our individual fate. The big picture is up to God. It’s only tragedy if we don’t believe the resurrection. Thank you once again, Msgr Pope.

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