Genesis 9-Scandal, Wrath, and Justice

Genesis 9:18-28

18 The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) 19 These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the whole earth.

20 Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded[a] to plant a vineyard. 21 When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. 23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.

24 When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said,

“Cursed be Canaan!    The lowest of slaves     will he be to his brothers.” 26 He also said, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Shem!     May Canaan be the slave of Shem. 27 May God extend Japheth’s[b] territory;     may Japheth live in the tents of Shem,    and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth.”

28 After the flood Noah lived 350 years. 29 Noah lived a total of 950 years, and then he died.

A Heart That Condemns or a Heart That Protects

I find my thoughts on Chapter 9 of Genesis relating to much of what we spoke about in terms of Adam & Eve and the Fruit of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

We read here how Noah takes up cultivating a vineyard and happens to have too much wine. It’s not a proud moment for Noah that he should end up naked after drinking so much–I admit this story conjures up images of frat parties and the poor decisions made when one is under the influence.

We hear that one of Noah’s sons catches sight of this poor state his father is in. His first response is to tell his brothers about it, though we don’t hear the tone nor do we know exactly what he said. What we do know is that his first action is to share this vulnerable sight with others and that he is nowhere to be found in the next part of the story…

Noah’s sons, Shem and Japheth, take action with this news…a very prudent and careful act. Not only do they take a garment to cover up their father, but they put forth the extra effort to walk into the tent backward, to not catch sight of their naked father. They cover him and leave without scandal.

Somehow Noah gains insight into what Shem and Jepheth have done for him, and of what Ham spoke of. Noah speaks curses against his son.

Is this fair?

This is perhaps a hard story to read, especially when we are employing some guesswork as to what exactly has transpired. We could reason in this story that Ham was trying to spur his brothers into taking some action of decency or perhaps prepared to host an intervention for their father. But these details and assumptions are missing, just as much is the tone of gossip from the story. 

That being said, Ham’s only action in this story is to tell his brothers what he has seen–he does not help with covering his father. Conversely, the brothers take specific action to cover his father, not to investigate to see if it is true but to cover their father’s shame. Ham’s lack of action to protect his father, to cover his father, and only to share this information versus his brothers’ actions to cover, respectfully, their father is a stark difference.

Another thought we might have reading this story is that the two brothers are conspirators and that only Ham is an agent of truth. Ham looks to expose his father’s shame by telling of this news, and perhaps the two brothers look towards sweeping this under the rug by covering their father, so no further accounts of their drunk, naked father might be shared. In this light, is Ham the hero of truth, a just reporter looking to expose filth?

This sentiment I believe harkens to our current feelings towards scandal. Whatever your political leaning, when a figure on the opposite side of the aisle is caught having spoken or acted indecent, our immediate reaction is to blast the truth, to put a spotlight and microphone to the scandal, to become indignant as though that person personally attacked us. We have a secret craving for these stories and scandals, an appetite for dirty laundry that I think is worth us calmly sitting down and reflecting on.

The Passions

This appetite for such truth and “gossip” comes from a passion: wrath. We should note here that the passions are innately positive motives in our being, things that move us towards something that is necessary or good. Gluttony is actually a healthy appetite, a realization we need to nourish ourselves. Lust in its purest form is communion and sociability, a need to find intimate and meaningful relationships with others, not necessarily carnal. Even pride, the highest and riskiest of all passions, is a holy drive to behold the image and likeness we are sculpted in, and to therefore treat our bodies, our minds, our image with dignity and respect. Any of these passions, when out of check or indulged in, spike into their namesake, into their vice that is detrimental to us and to others.

Take wrath for example. In its wholesome and proper form, wrath is justice, a righteous indignation against things that are unholy, cruel, or abusive. The proper action of wrath is one that intervenes, one that protects the abused, one that deposes unrighteousness, one that speaks the truth to power. That being said, wrath obviously has a dark side, and although we typically see it through the lens of violence, it manifests in other ways as well. Wrath can be wielded with our words, using our disappointment of others’ actions to humiliate, to expose, to chastise. 

Consider the adulterer brought before Jesus who was to be stoned. The men who brought her to Jesus to be stoned were likely none of those offended by this woman, though they were indignant with her unchastity, hungering her defamation, chastisement, and death. Jesus does not respond to the crowd’s indignation, but rather looks for this woman to be restored, for her shame to cease, seeing within her the weakness that had led her to be unfaithful as well as seeing her potentiality of repenting and becoming someone new. Jesus counters the crowd by writing their sins in the sand and says, “go ahead, any of you who is without sin: cast the first stone and get on with it.” The crowd is trapped, realizing they themselves have shameful deeds, and as they consider their own imperfections and embarrassing secrets, they drop their stone, as though petitioning for the rest of society to drop their stone against them should their shame ever be exposed.

Another place we might look in the Gospels to this end is how Jesus instructs us to correct one another and settle disputes from Matthew 18

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

The Lord instructs us to a kind of progression of redemption and accountability. He does not inform us to proclaim the sin to the court or broadcast at all in the first step. The sin, the shame, is to be handled with discretion first with the individual. It is only when the person does not listen that another witness is brought into the fold, but this step is really only done as a proper intervention, as a means of providing more objectivity for the sake of that person’s repentance. Should this intervention not work, it is brought to the “gathering” or church, but it should be noted that this was a religious community to be aware of the sin as an act of helping that person transform rather than to indict. Only after those steps have been navigated and not proved to save that individual are they treated as a “gentile or tax collector” which perhaps implies legal action.

I imagine there is some hesitation seeing this passage of the Gospel presented next to this topic, especially the story of Noah. Would Jesus have informed Ham to speak to Noah first before speaking to Noah’s brothers? Perhaps, though it’s hard to say if Noah would have listened in his current state. Still, to address the problem immediately before broadcasting the shame would perhaps help Noah see his error instead of his shame being multiplied.

The Fine Line: Justice Vs Wrath

There is a fine line between exposing someone’s sins and giving truth and justice its proper podium. Casting light on the abuses of organizations and individuals is important so that we do not repeat the sins of the past. Doing so to demand a pound of flesh in return goes beyond the scales of justice. To imprison someone who is a threat to society for their deeds is an opportunity for society to heal and an opportunity for the individual to repent. To incite the population towards disgust and dehumanizing an imperfect individual by stoking the fire of said scandal does not progress humanity at all, but rather makes us into appetitive beasts.

Again, there is a very fine line between justice & truth vs wrath & gossip.

For us to return to Noah, we can see in his weakness–perhaps out of despondency or stress from enduring the crisis of the flood–turned to strong drink to ease his pain; this is not an excuse, but rather some perspective so we can understand Noah rather than put him at our feet for his shameful deed. Noah gets drunk and gets naked, and this weakness does not deserve to be broadcast. 

Yet too often we see the poor decisions of our youth being broadcast, text chains, and online bullying that makes one bad photo or post into a lifetime of regret…and that person and their shame is devoured like hyenas on a fresh carcass. Don’t our hearts break for our youth who are pressured into such compromising situations and make poor decisions in the crisis of their circumstances, and if we are inclined to feel pity, mercy, and compassion for them can we not do the same for Noah and for all our neighbors?

Our culture seems fixated on justice and broadcasting the shame. But which of any of us, were we to become a public figure, would not have a skeleton waiting to be shown the light of day? Which of us would come clean after the scrutiny of a reporter, after immense pressure of whatever flood we have endured?

Our culture continues a witch hunt against the drunk and naked Noahs, though it does not at all care to examine the times it has been drunk and naked. We salivate over scandal, but we are all starved of mercy, shivering for a cloak of empathy.

Today, consider the following:

  • Who is the drunk and naked Noahs of our time, and of our own lives? Who do we gossip?
  • Who do you think is in need of a cloak of dignity/compassion? How would you extend this?
  • Who have you gossiped about this past week and to whom? What did speaking about this help you with? What could be a productive way of sharing with someone else your feelings without tearing someone else down?
  • What do you find yourself focusing on the most? Do you look for shame, nakedness, or scandal? 
  • What is your drunk and naked secret (contemplate that to yourself)? What skeleton do you keep locked hidden up? Can you think about that next time you consider lashing against someone else for their poor decision?

Genesis 7-Life is Full of Floods

Genesis 7:1-10

The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth. Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.”

And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.

Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah. 10 And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth.

Humanity’s poor trajectory

In the last reflection, we spent some time discussing the cyclical nature of violence. Humanity seemed to calcify into a feedback loop of cruelty which attributed to wickedness. Then the flood came. Humanity was destined to self-immolate itself, and instead God washed it all out, quickening the process in a kind of baptism. The world would be made anew, and hopefully humanity would have a fresh start to repent, to be clean, just like any bath or baptism.

But this is not what I’d like to spend too much time focusing on in this chapter of Genesis. We have read about the conditions leading up to the flood, and we will read what takes place after, but for now I think it important to give some credence to the thing that saved humanity from the flood: the Ark.

The Ark is a vessel, and vessels are more remarkable than what we give them credit for. Imagine how long it took for us to discover the principles of buoyancy, and imagine having to describe this principle to a child. I once taught a Bible Lesson on the concept and found myself so ignorant and speechless, unable to convey something we take for granted.

The great reset

Water is a symbol of death and chaos. We typically think of it as life because we need it, but drinking from the ocean doesn’t bring life, and being stuck underneath it for any extended period of time drowns us. The sea is a tumultuous thing, seemingly with a life of its own, and the waves we admire and surf upon from the beach or an entirely different thing when we are rocked upon them by them on a boat.

Water is a fitting symbol in this story to illustrate what can and will happen for all of us. Perhaps we will not live through a literal deluge or tempest that will take out everything we know, love, and found comfort in, but we will all experience a surge, a storm, a long period where we feel robbed of sunlight and hope. The flood might be a break-up, a death, a dire consequence, physical or mental malady, the list is inexhaustible. Not to make these experiences of sufferings a kind of utility, but much like the flood, such deluges and tempests will put an end to old cycles and habits, washes out the sullen dirt of our sins, and the salt of the rising sea is akin to our tears of repentance. What I have noticed in suffering is that a change can emerge, a new human is born, priorities shift, and there is a sense of a “fresh start” that happens when one enters, dwells within, or exits such trying times.

a foundation, a boat

Nonetheless, suffering is trying, and sometimes the waters of life do seem to rise up above our heads without respite. Not everyone makes it out of grief and sickness unscathed or transformed. Too often the suffering multiplies as the misery is taken out on others or ourselves, quickening our own demise.

Such was the case for mankind, a boat is required of us. Our boats in life come in many forms. Sometimes its people. Sometimes its work or a vocation. Sometimes its a dream or personal goal. Having worked with individual suffering from depression especially after loss, I have seen many kinds of boats built/prepared for such types of floods, and the two qualities of these boats seems to remain constant: transcendent and everlasting.

Too often we fail to consider our purpose or inappropriately assign our purpose to tangible things that will not last forever: affluence, comforts, people, a job, etc. Too often we stake our happiness or confidence within ourselves, our dream of becoming something without any consideration that we on our own perhaps are insufficient and not built to stand alone. What is left when nothing outside or in is sufficient to hold us up in these storms is the only thing that is transcendent and everlasting: God & His Church.

The Church is often described in nautical terms, involving rules called by a “rudder” and a sanctuary wherein the people gather together in a “nave”. But the Church is not merely the rules and the books, not merely the place to worship; it is those elements, and MORE. It is those who are with us rowing on earth, and those who are spiritually rowing from us–the saints and the blessed reposed–that have gone before us. Prayer is the mast, and the virtues are the floor boards. This is our only hope to brave the storm as we are told, for in faith and in the Lord is our only chance at miraculous buoyancy.

And yet, we see many faithful people crumble under grief, walk away from hope after sickness. It’s painful to see when strong men and women of faith crumble under these pressures as it hurts our own sense of hope, that people we might regard as stronger than us falter to the storms of life.

A judgement call should not be made in regards to “did they really believe” or “were they really good people”. Instead of prescribing to anyone how to “make right” in the face of a storm, I think we ought to stay with Noah and his Ark, and realize the answer to any storm is rather simple.

It is a kind of obedience, a deliberation, a labor, and a perseverance. Noah followed God’s orders to build an Ark when there was no sign for a storm–he prepared for it. Noah had to do quite a bit of work creating such a marvelous piece of technology, a feat that could withstand against nature. Noah had to endure the long days and nights of constant clouds and downpour, perhaps battling seasonal affection disorder to some degree, stuck up in the smelly confines of a rickety, feces ridden boat.

What kept noah afloat

I think it important to keep these virtues in mind that Noah exhibited in the face of total catastrophe, but even more than that I think we ought to take some stake in his primary action: building.

Noah built himself a structure to the right dimensions that he was given. He didn’t try to make the boat on his own, but rather rose to God’s challenge to make this giant thing. How often do we receive instructions from our leaders, our pastors and priests, our friends and family to rise to a challenge of goodness, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and we find ourselves short of said instructions. How often do we piece together this boat of ours, putting off the work of responsibility, mercy, and prayer until we find ourselves in a storm with a half-made boat? How often do we overlook the pitch needed to plug the holes, forget to consider our own weaknesses, personal flaws, ticks and neuroticisms without any careful introspection or quiet contemplation?

What is guaranteed in life is that each of us will be met with a storm, of one kind or another. We should consider this our warning and give some thought as to what we have already built for ourselves to withstand the deluge, what we can do to keep reinforcing its hull, and if the thing is really sea-worthy.

Today, consider the following

  • When have I been in a time of great sorrow or suffering? What did I do to get through it? Was that helpful?
  • When have I seen someone else in such a time of great sorrow or suffering? What I do? What didn’t I do? What do I imagine I’d like someone to do for me in such a scenario?
  • What habits, rituals, schedules have I laid out for myself that help me grow into a better person?
  • What is one quality of myself that could be “washed out” before life takes me by storm? What are some reasonable steps I could lay out to scrub that out?
  • What is my life’s vessel? What is my purpose? Will it stand against a flood? Will it float?

I’d like to thank Dr. Jordan Peterson for instilling a great deal of inspiration in this reflection of the Flood. You can watch his lecture on the Flood on Youtube.