Monday, February 23, 2009

A Universal Covenant of Patience and Love

There can be no doubt that the God revealed in scripture is a God who hates sin. Story after story, text after text makes this abundantly clearly. God is constantly calling upon his people to be faithful and obedient and when they are not he takes action or proscribes some action to deal with that sin or disobedience. The story of Noah and the flood found in chapters six through nine of the book of Genesis is just one such story that demonstrates God's hatred of sin. Genesis 6:5 says that "the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil" and so God decides that he must rid his creation of humanity's abundant wickedness by destroying everything on the earth except for Noah, his family, and the animals who come on the Ark with him. If God is willing to wipe the slate of creation clean through the waters of a flood, the creation which God called good only a few chapters earlier, then clearly God regards humanity's sin as having fouled things up pretty badly

But in the midst of this story of corruption, sin, wrath, and punishment there is also a story of God's patience and grace. This is the case because after the flood God makes a covenant with Noah and his descendants and even all of the earth. This is the first of many covenants which God enters into in the Old Testament. (We'll actually be looking at each of the major OT covenants throughout the season of Lent. The only one we won't cover is the one with David which I preached about on the last Sunday of Advent. You can listen to the sermon here or read about the passage here.)

This particular covenant between God, Noah, and all the earth is a promise that God will never destroy the earth in this way again. This is a truly remarkable promise on God's part, especially when we consider how much God abhors sin and the ways it destroys his beautiful creation. Certainly, our world has seen levels of sin and evil at least as abhorrent as those in the days of Noah, if not more so. If God hates sin so much that he was willing to wipe the earth clean once just to be rid of it then certainly at times like the crusades or the holocaust or even with the gross injustices that exist today, it must be tempting for God to simply start over, to gather up a few righteous folks, the holiest of saints, and just be done with the rest of us.

But God doesn't do that. He has bound himself not to do so by this covenant that he made with Noah. Therefore, this covenant represents God's incredible grace and patience. It represents God's refusal to give up on his creation. It means that God is constantly working toward our redemption even if that means that for now he must put up with the corruption of his world while he waits for us to turn to him.

We might do well to consider this covenant with Noah the next time we ask ourselves how God can let all the bad things happen in our world that do happen. We say that we want God to come and right all of the world's wrongs but perhaps we don't realize what a cataclysmic action that would be. Perhaps the evil and injustice that exists in our world today is not a sign of God's absence or powerlessness but of God's patience. God suffers with us as he sees us and all of his creation suffer but out of his grace and patient love he refuses to step in and clean things up by sheer force as he did in the flood. Instead, God stepped into our world in the form of love made flesh in the hope that all of creation might never be destroyed again but redeemed and restored to be all that God intended for it to be. In his covenant with Noah, God proclaims to the entire world that even though there is nothing God hates more than sin, it will not ultimately be that hatred of sin which defines him. Instead, it is God's immense love for his creation which is God's defining characteristic.

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