If we’re honest, Noah’s story would be easier left alone. It raises so many questions and gives us so few answers. But if we’re going to understand the Noahic covenant and the God who initiates it, we have to be willing to grapple with the reality of the flood. And grappling with the reality of the flood means grappling with the reality of God’s judgment.
God, “determined to make an end of all flesh,” instructed Noah to build an ark and fill it with his family, two of every animal, and “every sort of food that is eaten” (Genesis 6:14–16, 19–21). Noah did as God instructed and, at the appointed time, went into the ark with his family and the animals (Genesis 7:1). When Noah was six hundred years old, it began to rain, and it didn’t stop for forty days and forty nights (7:6, 11–12).
Humanity’s wickedness, their corruption and violence, led to a flood so great it cost the life of every living creature (Genesis 6:17). What we see in Noah’s story is a family, scared and living on a boat filled with animals, floating above a watery grave. Sin entered the world and made its home here, and there’s nothing serene about it. What we see in the flood is the consequence of sin, the judgment of God.
It can be hard to reconcile how God can be good while at the same time be the destroyer of life. And while it would be easier to simply skirt the issue by couching it in language about how God’s ways are not our ways, we would be better served by grappling with the tension.
Theologian Miroslav Volf tells a story about his own struggle to reconcile God’s judgment with God’s love. “I used to think that wrath was unworthy of God,” he writes. “Isn’t God love? Shouldn’t divine love be beyond wrath?”2 It wasn’t until he saw his home in the former Yugoslavia ravaged by war that he came to realize it is precisely because God is love that he pours out his judgment: