There’s a problem with how we often tell these stories from the beginning of Genesis, in the church.

We start with the story of the Fall, by which we mean the story of how two individual people, Adam and Eve, individually chose do to a bad thing. That’s a story in which we make sin personal, make it about the sin within our individual hearts, and then we go on to talk about Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior.  We individually realize how much we’ve been in the wrong, and we accept an individual forgiveness that guarantees our individual passage through the Pearly Gates and onto the streets of gold beyond the crystal sea.

It’s a problem, but not because sin isn’t personal. Anyone who has spent time examining their own heart knows that sin can be deeply personal. It’s just that personal isn’t all that sin is.

And then, a few pages later, we get to Noah- and we read that as a completely different story. Everyone else is making bad choices, but Noah makes good choices, so everyone else (and all the animals except the chosen few) deserve to die. But Noah is good, so he and his three sons and the four women who don’t get names are kept safe in the boat.

The actual text isn’t nearly that individually focused. It’s like seeing through schmutz on the lens of your glasses. Part of what we’re seeing as we’re reading is just part of our culture, part of what we’re bringing to the text with us. But, it’s not really what the Biblical story is about.

You remember that the first eleven chapters of Genesis, which stretch from the light-bringing words of God to the confusion of the languages at the Tower of Babel, are a spiraling descent from God’s good creation. There is a moment of right order, in which the world is made good and the creatures made in God’s image are caring for God’s creation while walking in unity with God.

Let’s say, generously, that it lasted for half-an-hour.

But then the people (who represent all of us) lay aside that calling to be priests in the temple of creation, to care for the other creatures and to bring praise to God. And because of that, all of creation suffers. There are thorns where there used to be smooth stems.

The story of Noah and the Ark is part of that collective focus on all of creation, on all of God’s good world, on what has gone wrong and how God plans to set it right.

You remember that when Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, they were given curses. Eve’s was pain in childbirth, and Adam’s was pain from thorns and thistles grown in his fields. In both cases, creation had been harmed and the result was pain.

That word for pain, in Hebrew, is the same thing that God feels at the beginning of today’s story. God’s good and very good creation had been overrun: it was full of violence and bloodshed and immorality of all sorts.

You know that pain that you feel when you find the cookies you’ve looked forward burning in the oven, or when the machine you’ve been working on unexpectedly fails, or when the move you’ve practiced just won’t come off right?

That’s an element of what we’re talking about, here: God, like Adam in his field and like Eve giving birth, is experiencing pain in the creative process. That wasn’t supposed to be part of the story! This was supposed to be a good world, right?

Look. God made a little world, like a dollhouse or a diorama, and then made these little clay creatures and breathed life into them and put them in a world that was just perfect for them. God then reasonably expects, perhaps because God has not made children before, that these little clay creatures will appreciate the gift of life, appreciate the gift of the garden, appreciate the little jobs they have in tending things, appreciate one another, and appreciate their creator.

A little gratitude goes a long way, right?

But it hasn’t turned out that way at all, and our story asks us to sympathize with God looking at this mess. God regrets making people at all, in chapter 6 of Genesis. God is grieved to the heart. God is in pain.

That’s interesting, to me, because we have this ideal leftover from ancient Greek philosophy of a God who is impassive, unchanging, perfect and stoic and unmoving. But that’s not at all the God of the Bible, and it’s certainly not the God of the Hebrew Scriptures. Here, God regrets and God rages and God grieves and God changes.

God regrets having made people at all. So just like you might prime over a canvas when the painting wasn’t going well, or like you might throw your first draft in the recycling bin and start over, God resolves to wash this whole mess away. Just plow it up and start over.

So when you read this story, and when you realize that it’s kind of a horrifying story to use as a nursery theme, painting the walls with this zoological Santa Claus and his little boat of the not-dead, you might be tempted to wonder why God didn’t choose something other than genocide.

Why not come reason with people, or set up a Sunday School to teach the children well, or just set off some kind of divine fireworks show and amaze people with godly power?

One answer, of course, is that this Flood story is ancient story in many traditions and the compiler of Genesis is giving us their spin on it. You can find it in the epic of Gilgamesh, and in the story of Atrahasis, which I love because the gods in that story decided to destroy humanity because they were making entirely too much noise.

I think those parallels are fascinating, but I don’t think that’s the best answer. I think the best answer comes from within the story, where what we’re seeing is God’s broken heart: regret and pain over this broken creation.

Why doesn’t God do something we would think of as morally “better?” Well, gods don’t really answer to those sorts of questions. gods do what gods want.  And also, of course, the story ends with God’s promise to never again do such a thing. So it’s possible, within the story, that not even God concluded that this murderous flood was a good idea.

But God’s solution here to the problem of human sin is right in one thing: it’s less like some wrong choices that we’re making, and more like an infestation. So if you picture yourself as a creator looking at a dollhouse that you’ve made, and you see mold growing and a spider nest in a corner, what would your response be?

When we talk about sin, we aren’t primarily talking about individual bad things that we do: like turning left on red, or cheating on partners, or turning to violence as they did in Noah’s day and they still do in ours, or worshiping idols outside of town.

Yes, there’s an individual aspect to it: you chose to break a traffic law, you chose to book the hotel room, you chose to break the peace, you chose to bake honey cakes and take them out to a booth at a harvest festival on the edge of town (or maybe that was just me).

But there’s also a communal aspect to it, every time. It doesn’t just stay here in your own little life. It seeps out. It infects.

Traffic laws are how we agree to keep one another safe. You break them, and you help build a world in which people are in danger more often. Similarly, if you cheat on a partner, it isn’t just about you. It’s also about helping to create a community in which we don’t trust each other, in which intimacy is cheapened.

And when we turn to violence – or when we pay someone else to do it for us, same difference – we contribute to the premature end of individual lives AND we push our society a little bit further away from valuing vulnerable lives in general.

And when we commit idolatry, when we bow down to our versions of the beasts and dragons in Revelation, when we worship money and power and approval and power rather than the God who calls us into spaces like these and then out into service, it isn’t just about us.

Our idolatry helps to build a world in which there isn’t room for the infinite. Worship is essentially communal, whether it’s singing hymns here in church or promoting idolatry like the piling up of treasures that moth and rust can destroy.

God looks at this whole creation, and it’s full of this infection that grieves the divine heart, that causes it the same pain as Eve feels in childbirth and Adam feels tending his fields, and so God washes it all away. God’s gonna start over.

And so God finds a righteous man named Noah, and God tells Noah to build a boat because the rest of humanity is about to be destroyed.

In stories to come, righteous folks like Abraham and Moses will argue with God about judgments like these, but maybe Noah doesn’t know that’s an option, because Noah has nothing to say to his God or to his about-to-die friends while he’s building this boat. Noah and his family and a bunch of animals go up into the boat, and then the hand of God shuts the door behind them, and then the storm begins.

Have you felt a storm before? Have you felt your foundations being washed away?

Have you watched as everything you’ve known – every signpost you’ve depended on – has been hidden in chaos, in darkness?

Jesus and his disciples were in a storm like that. They were on a boat, and the waves were crashing and sweeping over the boat. Jesus was sleeping through it, somehow, so the disciples woke him and told him of the danger they were in. So Jesus rebuked the winds and the waves, and then everything was completely calm.

Likewise, God remembered Noah and all the beast and all the cattle that were with him in the ark. And God sent a wind over the earth and the waters subsided.

The ground dried, and Noah and his family and all the creatures under theirs’ and God’s care came out onto dry land. Noah’s first choice, there on solid soil again, was to build an altar… and again, I suspect you can understand.

Noah has come through the storm, come through the flood and come out the other side. And his first impulse is to kiss the ground, to give thanks. He offers worship. Having come through the storm, Noah still doesn’t say anything but he offers his gratitude on an altar that he built from what he could find right there on the ground where he and his Ark first grounded.

And the Lord smelled the fragrant odor, and here the Lord begins to change the godly mind, deciding that springtime and harvest, summer and winter, would keep coming in their usual way – rather than being disrupted by a flood of judgment.

Which is a strange commitment for God to be making, perhaps, because with all the evil people washed away and only Righteous Noah remaining, you’d think that God would call this a success. If it were one of the other local gods washing away the people because they were too loud, maybe that’s what they’d say. But this God, who started off the story regretting having made people at all, now says that there will never again be such a flood. God will never again wash people away like that.

In other Mesopotamian myths, the god who causes destruction then reigns over the subjects cowed by his power. The destruction itself serves as a sign of what the god is willing to do to those who disobey. But in this story, at the end, God is unwilling to every threaten to do such a thing again. God is a dynamic character, in this story. God sees the result of the Flood and makes a covenant to never try again to fix this creation by priming it over.

Instead, God makes a covenant. Not just with the people, but with all the living creatures: with the whole world.

Imagine yourself, again, facing a diorama that you’ve created and that has run awry. You took some clay and the clay rose up against you, so you took the hose and washed the landscape clean.

But not entirely clean, because you could see that it needed to be washed but you couldn’t quite give up on the project. So, you put a few of your creatures in a boat, for safekeeping, and then you hosed it off.

And then your last few creatures staggered out of the boat, and what is this tenderness in your heart? You looked at their kind before with the intent to destroy, but having wrought that destruction you now can’t imagine commanding it again.

So instead, you make a promise. This is what God said, anyhow: here’s a rainbow. This is the sign that comes after the rain, out of the mist.

And here’s what that sign means: never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood. Never again.

Instead we have God’s promise, as an established covenant: that never again, no matter how frustrated God gets, no matter how wide and communal the effects of human sin might be, never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.

Never again. The Biblical way of telling stories doesn’t give us a lot of emotional detail, but something happens here to God. God primes over the canvas of creation, in frustration, and then sees the wreckage from that and promises to never try that again.

Never again will destruction be God’s response. That’s the heart of the story of Noah and the Ark. God makes a covenant with these little clay creatures, which is wild if you think about it: when was the last time that you made a covenant with your own creations?

So here’s the question that I’ll be asking over the the next few months: what does it mean, to us, to be children of the promise? Paul says that all creation is waiting in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed… and peekaboo, here we are.

All of this hardwon beauty is a result of God’s resolution to redeem, rather than to destroy, not just us but this whole world. How are we children of that promise?