by Susan Trollinger
As readers of this blog know well, for Ken Ham and his comrades at AiG reading Genesis literally—as an accurate history of the origins of the universe (an “eyewitness account”, as they like to say)—is of paramount importance. To do otherwise is to fail to take the Bible seriously. To their way of thinking, if you do not read it literally, you might as well say that whole thing is just one big fanciful myth. In other words, to fail to read Genesis literally is to head directly down the slippery slope to secular humanism and atheism.
Fully embracing this position, Ham and AiG do not shy away from certain details in the story of Noah’s flood. Like the fact that it was global. Or the fact that, being global, it wiped out every living land creature that didn’t make it on the Ark—including (according to AiG’s statistical reckoning) as many as 20 billion human beings. Or the fact that the Ark was gigantic such that it could house Noah’s family, two of every “kind” of land creature, and enough provisions to keep them all alive.
Indeed, Ham and AiG have so thoroughly embraced their literal reading that they found it compelling to try to recreate it in the form of a life-size reproduction of the Ark.
It’s worth pausing to ask whether it really is necessary or wise to read this story of the Flood and Noah’s Ark in this manner. Of course, no Christian is obliged to read it in this way. Doing so is a choice.
We have written previously on this blog about a strange exhibit at Ark Encounter that features a display of lots of children’s books that tell the story of Noah’s Ark. As we pointed out, the exhibit initially inspires delight on the part of children who visit it. They enter with great energy and want to look at the books. After all, unlike so many other exhibits at Ark Encounter, this one looks like it’s for them.
But it’s not. It’s for their parents. And the argument is clear. Books like these that make the story of the Flood and Noah’s Ark seem like a happy story about a floating zoo are dangerous. They obscure the crucial message of the Flood and the Ark and that is that our God is an angry God. He willfully slaughtered as many as 20 billion human beings (including infants and children). And, never mind the rainbow. He would/will do it again just by way of fire this time instead of water.
Is it wise to read this story in this way? Does doing so make Christians better human beings? More compassionate? More loving? More full of grace for the other?
We seriously doubt it. Indeed, we have to wonder if there is great wisdom, in fact, in those children’s books.
The Bible is a strange text. And when it comes to stories in the Bible, like this one, that are tough to square with a loving God, maybe there is, in fact, wisdom in imagining that what’s important about the Ark is that they came two-by-two and, in the end, found dry land and a rainbow.