The God of Abraham loves to punish humanity for not playing by His rules. He throws regular temper tantrums, especially in Genesis. They’re epic stories, perfect for Hollywood, with potential for big visuals and as star vehicles. In March, Russell Crowe will star in a new version of a fan-favorite divine meltdown: Noah and his Ark. The movie has highlighted a surprising, non-standard interpretation of this story.
Noah–for all of you who didn’t study your Bible–was the single righteous man who followed God’s law, unlike the rest of humankind. The Lord, regretting His human project, decided to wipe the slate, resembling not so much a rational being than a tempestuous two-year-old. But He had enough rationality left to warn Noah, instructing the patriarch to build a giant barge for himself, his family, and a male and female representative of every animal. (Domesticated plants aren’t mentioned, which has always mystified me.) An endless downpour sent by God floods the landscape, destroying everything and everyone, apart from Noah and his kin. Jehovah, in a fit of guilt for losing his composure, promises never, ever to do that again, and sends a rainbow as a token of sincerity.
The Biblical story of Noah probably originates in Mesopotamia, perhaps as a historical memory of a devastating natural disaster. As a boy in parochial school, the story of Noah carried this message for me: Cross God, and you’ll pay for it. But if you’re a good boy, you’ll get a second chance.
But what if the 21st century presents an opportunity for a radical re-interpretation of this story? Scientists predict global warming will result in a new kind of epic flood. If all the ice on earth, on the mountains and at the poles, melted, sea levels would rise by several feet. Low-lying coastal areas and whole island nations would disappear. Millions of people would be displaced. The effect would be gradual, but devastating nonetheless. In this view, the new flood is God’s revenge on humanity for its thoughtlessness with His creation. The Ark, as a piece of technology, symbolizes efforts to redeem humankind’s mistakes, and prevent the worst from happening.
Blogger and climate activist Dan Bloom first suggested this interpretation on his blog and an article on The Wrap. Dan also sees Noah the movie as part of the trend of “climate fiction.” I’m not aware of any religious scholar or pastor challenging this view of the Biblical Flood, though they’re sure to come out of the woodwork at some point. Whatever the viewpoint, a climate change interpretation of Noah’s story is worthy of discussion.
What do you think? Is the story of Noah a warning on climate change?