Text: Gen 8:20-9:17
I wonder if you have ever experienced a state of emergency? I certainly hope that no-one here has experienced anything on the scale of the terrible Tsunami disaster. A few of you, however, may have lived through a time of war. More will have had lives disrupted by serious illness, family breakup, financial crisis. Most of us will have experienced at least a power cut or a burst water pipe.
A rather comical emergency occurred recently on board a luxury cruise liner. 1750 passengers paid up to £42,000 each for a 103-night trip to 23 countries. They were expecting by now to be sailing down the Panama canal, listening to tropical birds twittering and watching the monkeys doing their monkey business. But due to engine problems they spent 11 days travelling no further than the Isle of Wight. From time to time they received hopeful messages, “We think we’ve fixed the problem; we’re on our way…whoops, sorry, the engine’s conked out again.” Emergency measures were put in place: they were offered all the food and booze they wanted, on the house. They were kept amused by the cream of Britain’s entertainers -Elaine Paige, Paul Daniels and Jimmy Tarbuck.
In any emergency, be it small or large in scale, comical or catastrophic in its effects, something has gone wrong that leads to disruption, confusion, and uncertainty in peoples’ lives, and which requires special measures to cope with the situation.
Our Bible passage teaches that God’s wonderful creation has been plunged into a long-term state of emergency. Life in the Garden of Eden had been harmonious and peaceful. God himself pronounced it “very good”. The Creation after the Flood is tainted by violence, bloodshed, death. God’s verdict now is, “every inclination of man’s heart is evil from childhood,” 8:21. Notice the references to fear and dread, violence and bloodshed in 9:2-6.
This situation continues to the present day. We have to live with imperfection around us and within us: imperfect health, imperfect friends, imperfect husbands and wives, imperfect jobs, imperfect churches. In very large measure, we are not what we were meant to be. We are very different people, living in a very different world, than the people and world that God created. We are part and parcel of the most catastrophic emergency of all.
An emergency situation requires emergency measures to deal with it. Things should not have gones wrong. We should not have rebelled against our Creator. But since we have, new rules have to be set, new boundaries laid down, new instructions given to deal with it. 9:5f provides an example of this: murder should not be committed; but, since it is committed from time to time, laws are required that stipulate the just level of punishment.
In fact, a lot of the practical teaching of the Bible is by way of this kind of emergency provision. Take Jesus’ teaching on marriage and divorce in Mt 19. Marriage is a God-given blessing, and a sacred bond which God does not wish to be broken. But sometimes marriages do break down (Jesus puts this down to hardness of heart). The law of Moses allowed for divorce in such cases. Divorce is never God’s ideal, but sometimes it is the lesser of two evils. Or take Paul’s teaching on spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6. It shouldn’t be necessary for us to have to struggle so hard against temptation within and evil without. But it is, and so we have to buckle on the armour of God and fight daily against the world, the flesh and the devil.
Because of human wickedness, God once destroyed humankind by means of a world-wide flood, saving just one family. The human race continues to be so wicked that (as Calvin said) God might justly send daily floods to punish it. But in his love and mercy he has pledged otherwise. He has established a covenant with his creation, 9:11: “I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” Up in the sky, God has placed a reminder of this promise, a symbol of hope. What a beautiful thing this rainbow promise is: God’s hangs up his weapon in the sky for all to see. The rainclouds of God’s judgement are softened by the sunlight of his grace. The hostility is over. The weapon of war is transformed into a delight. Here is our Maker’s overarching care: the Creator God is the Covenant God, the God of justice is the God of mercy. He who made us loves us and longs for us to be his for ever.
This is only the beginning. The promise here in Genesis is, “I will not completely destroy.” The NT promises eternal life in his Son. These are the terms of the new covenant: the Son of God once gave up his life that we might in him live for ever. “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” ‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’
We are living in a state of emergency of our own making. We are dysfunctional people in a dysfunctional world. To face up to this does not lead us to despair, but to freedom. We might be tempted to reason as follows: “I ought to be perfect. But I am very imperfect. God must be shocked and angry at how wicked I am. He is bound to reject me. I am a failure, and there is no point in me even trying.” Whereas, we should reason, “I ought to be perfect. I am very imperfect. God knows this very well, and yet he has not washed his hands of me. If I confess my sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive me and purify me from all unrighteousness through the blood of Jesus. And his Holy Spirit will give me daily strength to become more and more the person he wants me to be.
Thanks be to God.