For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must endure much suffering and be rejected by this generation. Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking, and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed all of them. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot: they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and sulfur from heaven and destroyed all of them —it will be like that on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. (Luke 17:24-30, NIV)
In our house we have a children’s book version of the Noah story. When my daughter used to read it to her little brother, she would edit it. On the page that said God was so angry over the wickedness of humanity that he decided to wipe us all out, she would paraphrase anger and wickedness and death out of it. “One day, God decided to make it rain a whole lot.”
This morning, I was reading an excerpt from Adam Hamilton’s new book on the Bible. In discussing the historical basis of the Noah story, he raised some questions that are often asked: “How do we reckon the morality of God sending universal destruction such that every terrestrial creature, including every human being, was destroyed? This story seems harsh and unjust to many who read it.”
That question was still in my mind this evening as I was reading Luke 17 as part of my year-long devotional reading of Luke-Acts with Bishop Ken Carter and other United Methodists. In Luke 17, I found the question of what Jesus made of the Noah story suddenly right there in my face.
In Luke 17, Jesus does not shy away from the moral questions people sometimes raise about the Noah story. He does not try to edit the story to make it more palatable to us. Jesus here uses Noah as an object lesson. Just like all those people were wiped out by the flood, so will the coming of the Son of Man overwhelm the world. Clearly the implication is that a lot of people are going to be destroyed in that.
Our God, the Bible says, is a consuming fire. We sometimes don’t like that truth, but I don’t know how to read either testament of our Bible without coming to terms with that. Jesus Christ reveals to us the true nature of God, but we do not rightly describe God — as far as I can see — when we suppose Jesus stands opposed to the God of the flood.
NOTE: This post has been heavily edited from its original version. If you remember it being different, you are correct.