God's covenant with Noah
And God said to Noah and his sons with him, Behold, I am making a covenant with you, and with your descendants, and with all living animals with you, with birds, with cattle and with all animals of the earth with you, of everything what animals there are on earth has left the ark. And I establish my covenant with you in such a way that from now on all flesh will no longer be cut off by the waters of the flood and from now on no more flood will come to destroy the earth.
And God said, This is the sign of the covenant which I have made between me and you and all living creatures with you for ever: I have set my bow in the clouds; he shall be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. And when it happens that I bring weather clouds over the earth, one should see my bow in the clouds. Then I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living animals under all flesh, so that from now on there will be no more flood to destroy all flesh. That is why my bow should be in the clouds so that I can look at it and remember the eternal covenant between God and all living animals under all flesh that is on earth. And God said to Noah: This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between myself and all flesh on earth. Gen. 9: 8-17
God is learning?
The rainbow in a new light
What a beautiful story - popular with baptisms and children's catechesis; and indeed - the rainbow is a powerful picture. He fascinates us from an early age. “Look, do you see this beautiful rainbow?” - who doesn't shout that when he discovers it. For the flood tale in the Bible, it is the sign of God's covenant with man. God will never again do such a catastrophe to the earth! Thank God! At the same time, however, for some the question remains whether one can rely on this "never again" and others are constantly irritated: Why should God ever have done such a thing?
The image of a god who punishes humanity is still surprisingly popular today. How can you explain all the epidemics of history and currently the raging corona pandemic? Maybe the good Lord is not only good and does he intervene?
The Chur Auxiliary Bishop Eleganti made himself the mouthpiece of such a view at the beginning of March and claimed that there was an undeniable connection between the beliefs of a society and its being affected by war, epidemics and other catastrophes. Well, finally someone says it. The good Lord cleans up in these unbelieving days! But - wasn't the end of the flood tale saying that he never wanted to do that again?
The biblical texts of Genesis seem confusing and contradicting. In Gen 6,5f it says at the beginning of the flood story: “The LORD saw that man's wickedness was increasing on earth and that all thoughts and aspirations of his heart were only ever evil. The LORD regretted having made man on earth ... "
A few chapters before, after the creation of man on the sixth day, one can still read: “Everything was very good”! Then, unfortunately, the fall of man intervened; Paradise goodbye, but at least: Even Cain, the murderer of his brother Abel, is suddenly drawn by God and thus protected from being killed. The flood story follows only two chapters further with the irritating explanation: “All human thoughts and aspirations were always bad.” Now nothing was “very good” and yet at the end there is the rainbow, which promises that God will never again Deluge sends. This makes you wonder and even people like Mr Eleganti could get a little dizzy! What now?
Is God so fickle? Does he know the person he created himself so badly? At the beginning of the story, the text identifies the evil aspiration of the human heart as the cause of the flood. Then it seems as if a realization is ripening in God: There is such an unchangeable tendency towards evil in man that he can no longer simply destroy him and with him life on earth - precisely for this reason - in the future.
It sounds like God's learning in the face of man's wickedness. Punishing and destroying are no longer his guiding principles. Instead, he learns to see people and their possibilities more realistically and, as if after a disappointment, to do justice to them within the framework of their limits. It is obviously about this process of change of God himself. Change processes are fragile and sometimes need a memo. So, following this logic, God puts the rainbow in the clouds to remember this new covenant, not the people - as if he were worried that his old behavior would catch up with him again. He wants to remind himself for this case! Ergo: The decisive change in the flood story does not happen in humans, it takes place in God himself!
But what kind of god is that? Ambivalent in every respect, sometimes caring and loving, sometimes punishing and full of vengeance, sometimes disappointed, sometimes learning. Isn't it obvious? What is being described here, we humans are much more than God! If you allow this thought, a different approach emerges, not only when reading the Flood story. Then what about God in the biblical texts?
If, to use a picture, God is the light and our minds, our minds, our souls and our hearts are like church windows that fan out this light into bright colors, then the biblical texts are inspired, the divine light refracting and reflecting experiences of people with its light, captured in the words of their time. So if we discover God's path of development and learning in the texts, we would have to say more precisely: God does not learn, grow and mature - people do it, we do it and the texts reflect our paths of knowledge and growth. That is why the story of the Flood is an invitation to perceive ourselves realistically and carefully - with our ability to learn as well as with our ambivalences, desires for revenge and fantasies of omnipotence. God's light shines in our learning experiences. He is present in them and his love and wisdom are revealed in our experiences. They can be felt and yet elude because the mystery of God will never fully reveal itself to us as long as we live as humans on this earth.
Never again a deluge! This is a divinely inspired realization of the human heart, which says goodbye to vengeance and excessive punishment and includes all of creation in its concern for life. Those in whose hearts this knowledge found its way can perhaps withstand those who live according to the motto: After us the flood!
In the tradition of the Jewish scholar Rabbi Nachmanides (1194–1270), a 19th-century rabbi named Samson Raphael Hirsch interprets the rainbow of the flood tale as the sign of an inverted bullet, “a bow turned towards the earth with the sinew, thus a sign of Peace: no more arrow from heaven. "
What a beautiful interpretation! As can be felt in this interpretation, it is about discovering the light in the words and images of the Bible. Words and pictures always remain ambivalent because we humans are. But something shines in them that needs to be discovered. Whenever we discover it, we can stand under the rainbow - with all people and all of creation - and in the sun and light, clouds and rain of our lives an atmosphere can arise that allows us to grow: ourselves, our connection with creation , our knowledge and our openness to the mystery of the divine in our humanity: always different, new and surprising.
Text: Michael Hasenauer
Michael Hasenauer is the university chaplain of the Catholic University Community of Lüneburg. He is a spiritual guide and advisor.
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