How God Changes: March 3, 2024

March 4, 2024

9:8-17                                                Year B, Lent 3

            The story of Noah, the ark, and the
rainbow is immensely popular, especially with children.  Thus, it has come up in numerous
conversations with my son.  At first, we
were just getting the basic story across—but being someone whose job it is to
overthink the Bible, I have always been kind of uncomfortable with the
children’s bible version of the story. It glosses over the reason for the flood
and the destruction it created.  I
realize that doesn’t belong in a children’s Bible, but I have always wondered
how you transition from the children’s version, to the real version…without
just confusing and disturbing kids.   Recently my son asked me why more animals
weren’t saved.  It’s rare when I have a
clear answer for one of his Bible questions and here there was a clear
answer—which was that the ark had limited space.  That made perfect sense to him.  But because I am an Episcopal priest, I had
to add, “You know the really confusing thing about the story, why God sent the
flood in the first place.”  Joshua was
unwilling to engage on this theological topic and he was wise to do so. 

            Two chapters before our reading for
today, we read exactly why God decided to send a flood that destroyed the world
and killed everyone except one family.
The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the
earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil
continually. And the 
Lord was sorry that he had made
humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”  The reading isn’t confusing because God isn’t
clear.  In fact, this is one of those
times when God is clearer than we would like God to be.  The problem is that it doesn’t fit with our
image of a loving God.  Just the idea
that God would regret creating us is almost unfathomable.

Some people choose to deal with this
paradoxical view of God by dividing God into the God of the Old Testament and
the God of the New Testament.  And while
I hate to cause unnecessary consternation, I have to tell you, it’s the same
God.  We don’t get a new God between the
end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament. It’s the very
same God throughout the Bible.

            However, that doesn’t mean that God
doesn’t change.  There are a lot of
people who think that God has never changed—that God cannot change.  Their argument would be that if we believe in
a God who is perfect, how could God change? Why would God change? But the story
of the flood and the promise that God made after the flood is a clear example
of how God has evolved and how God’s relationship with humanity can and does change
for the better. 

Often, we look at the story of the
flood and think, “Ok, God was clearly very frustrated.  He tried something.  He got it out of his system, and promised to
never do it again. Let’s talk about the rainbow now.” It’s tempting to gloss
over the hard things, not just with the Bible, but in all kind of different
ways.  One thing that is helpful to keep
in mind is that this was very early on in God’s relationship with
humanity.  The flood story starts in
chapter 6 of Genesis—the very first book of the Bible. At this point we have
had the story of creation, Adam and Eve and their disobedience and then the
very first murder—Adam and Eve’s son (Cain ) killed his brother Abel.  After that Cain is cursed and then in chapter
5 we have the list all of the descendants of Adam.  At this point God’s experience with humanity
is limited, and not that great. The next thing we know, God has decided that
the earth is cursed and filled with violence and he decides to wipe the whole
thing out.  Fortunately one person found favor
with God. That one person, Noah, became the opportunity for a new

God decided to forge this partnership
with a human, allow that human to save representatives of the human race as
well as animals of every kind.  God knew
that there was something/someone worth saving. 
After the flood, and this is where we are today, God promises never to
do it again—God will never destroy the world with a flood again.  God even created a sign to help God
remember—a rainbow.  That rainbow would
not only remind God, but all humanity of God’s love and commitment to the
people he created.

The question is why—what changed God’s
mind.  Did God realize that humans were
inherently good? Did humans improve their behavior. No, in fact, right before
he made the covenant with Noah and his family, God said that
the inclination of the human heart is
evil from youth.  Humans were no less
sinful than they were before the flood. 
Humanity didn’t change.  God’s
relationship with humanity changed. God decided that this was not the way to
deal with humanity.  Instead, God would
restrain Godself and change his behavior.

Could God continue as a God of justice, punishing the wicked
and wiping out the earth every time the world turned violent? Sure, God could
absolutely do that. Instead God decided to find a new way to deal with sin and
evil, because he saw that this kind of justice wasn’t effective.  It didn’t change people’s hearts.  It didn’t make people good or more loving.
Instead God decided to create a relationship with humans and redeem the world
from within rather than punish from above and beyond.

God made this choice even though he knew that it would mean more
pain for him.   When God first observed
the violence of his people, right before he laid out his plan for the flood, it
says that the evil of humankind grieved his heart. God knew that in deciding to
be in relationship with the people of the world, that meant that God would have
to open his heart to a world of grief…for eternity.  Yet this is what God accepted.  God chose love and compassion even though it
would bring him ever ending grief.

Now this didn’t mean that God never reacted violently
again.  This doesn’t mean that human’s
never suffered again.  What it meant is
that God never cut himself off from humanity, no matter how much it hurt the
heart of God. God never gave up on humans….even, even when we give up on him.

Back in the early days of facebook, people would post their
relationship status and one of the options was, “it’s complicated.”  Sometimes I think that’s how I would describe
the relationship between God and humanity. It’s complicated. Yes, I believe in
a God of unconditional love and compassion, but I also believe that God’s
justice can sometimes see harsh when I read the stories in the Bible.  Sometimes that feels contradictory to me.  Yet God is consistent in what angers him.  Why did he say humans were evil at the time
of Noah? Violence.  Why did he condemn
the people of Ninevah? Violence.  Why was
Sodom and Gomorah (one of the most misunderstood stories in the Bible)
destroyed? Violence. Certainly God got angry about other things.  Idolatry always ticked him off, but God
really could not stand it when people hurt other people. It grieved his heart
and it still does. 

God’s relationship with humanity continued to evolve, never
more so than when he sent Jesus to the earth. That was when God took his heart
and opened it wider. He cracked it wide open. Yes, God was already in
relationship with humans.  He loved
humans.  But becoming human…that changed
everything.  That is when God learned
what it was to be truly vulnerable, to feel pain, loneliness and sadness.  God became a human so he could truly be in
relationship with humans. 

One of the things that Lent calls us to do is look at our
relationship with God and consider changing something so that we can be in a
closer to God.  Yet, I think that scares
us and we often avoid that opportunity Lent gives us.  Many of us have the same relationship with God
now, that we had has children.  God has
spent all of human existence evolving and finding ways to be closer to us. Lent
is 6 weeks long.  Maybe, just maybe if
God can spend an eternity changing, we can take this 6 weeks, to change one
small thing, to remove one barrier between us and God. If God can change—can’t