Righting America

A forum for scholarly conversation about Christianity, culture, and politics in the US
The Fundamentalist Quest for a Gentler God: Rewriting the Story of the Flood | Righting America

by William Trollinger

Diorama of the Great Flood with the Wooden Ark floating in water and people trying to climb up a pinnacle of rocks as the water rises to the top.
Photograph taken by Susan Trollinger. Righting America, p. 55. For more images and information about the museum, go to creationmuseum.org

In her blog post, “Death Outside the Ark . . . Made Vivid,” Sue Trollinger discusses the troubling contradictions found in the Voyage of the Ark room at the Creation Museum. On the one hand, the room – constructed as if museum visitors are actually on the Ark – is a beautiful and warm place, with “baskets filled with food for the journey,” and with dioramas depicting scenes of Noah and his family happily dining together amidst exquisite tapestries. But nearby there is another diorama, in which people and animals are frantically climbing rocks to escape the rising flood waters, and in which the humans are desperately trying to hail the Ark as it blissfully floats by. More than this, there is a video which depicts the Earth as it is being swallowed up by the Flood. Most disturbing, there is a scene in which a daughter and mother in vaguely Middle Eastern attire are in their house, happily playing a game. But through the window the museumgoer sees a wall of water rapidly advancing on the blissfully unaware pair. Within a matter of seconds, they will be desperately trying to keep their heads above the raging waters. Within a matter of minutes, they will be dead.

Sue sums up her analysis of the Voyage of the Ark room quite succinctly and understatedly:  “What a curious and callous juxtaposition.” But one reader of her post is quite dismayed by Sue’s interpretation. Written just a few days ago, here is his response in full:

People were warned, repeatedly. God begged mankind to repent. He still does. WithHis whole heart God pleads with us to turn to Him, to find Him while there is time. He was rejected then and most people reject Him today. We have many examples in which mankind refuses to heed His invitations to find Life in Him in addition to this One. Destruction of civilizations is a common theme throughout history and we are headed in the same direction right now. Less than one hundred years ago the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, killing tens of thousands of civilians, maiming millions. Nazis obliterated millions of Jewish people. Stalin killed 12 million Soviet citizens or more. The greatest annihilation is yet to come and is just around the corner. God makes clear how our world will be consumed with fire and destruction beyond anything we have ever seen or known. Regardless, many of us still ignore God. We won’t be able to ignore Him forever. Each of us will be held accountable for our lives, whether we have loved Him and our neighbors as He has loved us. 

Much of this fits very neatly with the interpretation one finds at the Creation Museum. This is particularly true when it comes to linking Noah’s Flood to the End Times of dispensational premillennialism, i.e., the global slaughter of the Flood prefigures the global slaughter to come (Righting America, 48-50, 168-170). Admittedly, connecting the Flood to Hiroshima/Nagasaki, the Holocaust, and Stalin’s Terror is a new twist, and a particularly perplexing (appalling?) one at that. Is the point that the Japanese, Jews, and Russians failed to repent and turn to God, and thus had to be destroyed? And were Truman, Hitler, and Stalin doing God’s work?

But it is the first two sentences I want to focus on: “People were warned, repeatedly. God begged mankind to repent.” This interpretation of the Flood is very much in keeping with the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter. The kindest response I can make is that this is an extrabiblical reading. There is not one word in Genesis chapters 6-8 – the chapters that describe the Flood – that suggest that God warned people repeatedly, and that God begged mankind to repent. Here is Genesis 6:5-7 (NRSV):

The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And theLORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created – people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

So that’s God. As far as Noah is concerned, there is also not one word in Genesis to suggest that Noah preached the impending divine judgment, nor any evidence that Noah sought to persuade others to join his family on the Ark, a point that discomfited some rabbinic interpreters (Righting America, 270fn18). While our correspondent does not go this route, there is much effort at the Creation Museum (and in young Earth creationism more generally) to fill in this gap with one verse from the New Testament:

And [God] spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly (2 Peter 2:5, KJV).

A “preacher of righteousness” is a pretty flimsy biblical reed upon which to rest the argument that God/Noah warned the inhabitants of the Earth and begged them to repent. As we note in Righting America (124-125), there is nothing here to suggest that Noah pleaded with people to join him on the Ark or that people across the globe – a population which, according to Ark Encounter, may have numbered upwards of twenty billion – knew about the Ark. Of course, there is also no suggestion in the Bible that the Ark could have accommodated an additional billion, million, thousand, hundred or even ten individuals! And none of this addresses the fact that the global Flood of Genesis drowned infants and toddlers and children and animals. In what sense were they liable for a failure to repent?

I understand very well the desire to soften the story of Noah’s Flood. I understand very well the desire to make the case that the wicked were given a chance to repent, they refused, and thus they were responsible for their drowning (just like the billions who end up in the fundamentalist Hell will be responsible for their eternal burning). I understand very well that our correspondent and the folks at Answers in Genesis and evangelicals and fundamentalists in general do not want to be understood as calling us to worship a genocidal God.

But it is very telling that, to get the Flood story they want, they have to move a fair bit away from the biblical text. Biblical inerrancy is the fundamental, except when it isn’t.