If only we could hit the reset button and start over, everything would be great, right? We may be thinking about work, a key relationship, marriage, or about parenting. I’m just now feeling like I am getting the hang of parenting, now that we are nearing the empty-nest stage!
You might be thinking of your entire life. Can I just start over?
We may be thinking about the entire world. Let’s just start over!
A new beginning would be a great beginning, right? We’d get it right the next time, we’d do it better.
But would we?
In the Bible we find a story about a great “reset,” and the opportunity for humanity to start over. So how did it go?
I’m guessing you are familiar with the story of Noah and the flood, but have you really considered the whole story of Noah, including what happened after the flood?
The way the story of Noah and the flood is written up, we are to get the point that this really is a new beginning, a hitting of the reset button. Bible scholars point to all the parallels between the creation story and the flood, things like the call to “be fruitful and multiply” and so on.
So how did it turn out? Did humanity get off to a better start with Noah than with Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel?
Well let us check out the part of the story of Noah we don’t hear as often. To summarise what happens next, Noah got hammered, as in drunk, and he passed out naked in his tent. One of his sons, Ham, saw his Dad in that state and went and told his brothers. We are not told the content of what was said, but reading between the lines, it was probably a shaming thing like “go look at Dad – what a loser!” Ham’s brothers did the respectful thing by their Dad and covered him up, walking into the tent backwards so as to not see him in such an embarrassing situation.
How did Noah respond when he woke up?
When Noah woke up and learned what Ham had done he cursed Canaan, Ham’s son:
“May Canaan be cursed!Genesis 9:24-27 (NLT)
May he be the lowest of servants to his relatives.”
Then Noah said,
“May the LORD, the God of Shem, be blessed,
and may Canaan be his servant!
May God expand the territory of Japheth!
May Japheth share the prosperity of Shem,
and may Canaan be his servant.”
Noah lashed out with a curse, not against his son Ham, but against his grandson, Canaan, who seemed to have nothing to do with it. Perhaps Noah was hungover, perhaps he had a splitting headache, but whatever his state of mind, the state of his heart led straight to a curse.
So how is this fresh start going?
Let us remember the original reason for the flood:
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. . . . Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. . . . And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them . . .Genesis 6:5,11,13 (NRSV emphasis added)
The earth was filled with violence. Following the flood, Noah and family had a chance for a future without violence.
In fact God showed the way to a future without violence. This fresh start was one in which God promised mercy instead of judgement. As we read the following, let us consider that the Hebrew word for “rainbow” is the very same word used for the weapon “bow,” as Bible scholars point out:
I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.Genesis 9:11-15 (NRSV emphasis added)
In hanging up a rainbow, the picture is of God hanging up his weapon of war. It is in God’s heart to bless and not curse.
What a contrast we see here between God and Noah. Where God renews the tone of blessing, of promise, Noah sets a tone of curse. Noah’s curse sets up one part of the family as as better than the other. Such disparity and discrimination will only lead to problems, and to violence. Great new beginning? Same old problems. Same old human hearts.
So what about us?
Anytime that we experience a new beginning, are we just setting ourselves up for the same old problems because we have the same old hearts and the same old hang-ups? Do we ever feel like every new beginning ends up being the same old?
Will we ever change? Can we ever change?
Change is possible!
We are called to change.
Jesus calls us to change when he calls us to pick up our cross and follow him. We may be used to thinking of “bearing our cross” as bearing whatever suffering comes our way, but that is not the call. The call is to handle things differently, to handle things in line with the heart of God.
Notice how at his arrest, trial, and crucifixion, Jesus did not respond to violence with violence. We are reminded of God’s promise signified by the rainbow, a promise to not destroy. God came to us in Jesus and we, humanity, killed him. Yet God did not flood the earth. God could have destroyed us, but instead loves us and offers reconciliation and a love relationship. God hung up his weapon. In fact, God, in Jesus, was hung on one of ours. God responds in love.
The call is to live with hearts that reflect the heart of God. When we are offended, like Noah was by his son, or way worse, as Jesus was by everyone, we respond, not with curse like Noah, but with love like Jesus.
We are enabled to change.
We have the gift of the Holy Spirit.
. . . the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control . . .Galatians 5:22,23 (NRSV)
Fundamental shifts in our character are a consequence of walking with God in Jesus, through the Holy Spirit. These fruit of the Spirit are not just changes in habits, or the correction of certain behaviours, this is deep heart work.
Let us remember that Noah was the most righteous person of his day, yet his heart was not right. That is kind of the point, that even the most righteous person on earth needed some deep heart work. We do too.
In our relationship with Christ, and through the work of God’s Spirit, we are called and enabled to change so that each new beginning we face has new possibilities. Let us be mindful though, that deep heart work takes time.
With Noah we see a new beginning, with new possibilities, and then we see the same old problems coming up because of same old hearts harbouring the same old hang-ups. Noah’s new beginning was not a great new beginning.
With Christ we experience a new beginning, and a new heart. Therefore each new beginning can be a better new beginning in Christ.