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Faith Comment published in the Petersfield Post

26 February 2014: Alistair McConville, All Saint's Church, Steep

Floods - ancient and modern

The recent semi-apocalyptic weather has put me in mind of the story of Noah and the travails of his imagined time. In that archetypal tale it is widespread human moral failing which provokes God's tempestuous judgment.

Modern Christians should distance themselves absolutely from any crass equation of natural disaster with divine wrath, but it is hard not to suspect, with most climate scientists, that our palpably miserable stewardship of the natural world has had a hand to play in our current predicament. In the mythical narratives of Genesis 1-11, which include not only the Eden story, but also Cain and Abel and the story of the Tower of Babel, it is clear that the great human failing is pride - a tendency to overstretch ourselves and think too much of our ability to master the universe.

In the face of strong scientific consensus that we face really serious global consequences for our relentless pollution of the atmosphere, there are plenty of optimists who promise solutions from technology. An ark perhaps? Or are these the modern equivalents of those who scoffed at Noah's warnings?

There are interesting differences between other Ancient Near Eastern flood narratives and the Judaeo-Christian one, which is a theological re-working of earlier, fatalistic versions. In the Atrahasis myth, for example, the gods flood the earth out of petty, bad tempered irritation at human noisiness, which was disturbing their sleep! In strong contrast, the Genesis version shows a God who is ultimately concerned for human flourishing because he loves them. The distinctiveness of the biblical account is in its emphasis on God's desire for us to live in harmony with our surroundings and enjoy the fruits of doing so, rather than suffer the inevitable consequences of our vaunting disregard for the natural order.

This article was submitted for publication in the Petersfield Post on 26 February; it is possible that it was published earlier or may be published later.

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