The Murderous God - Part 1: Noah's Ark
“Jesus loves me, this I know…
…for the Bible tells me so.” Right? Just like a children’s lullaby, the sweetness of the chords and rhythm of this staple of Sunday School singing ushers in a sense of gentle love and strength that is so important to a child’s need for safety and care. Yet even young children are likely discerning enough to spot the jarring contrast between messages like this when placed beside the pictures of violence so replete throughout the Bible. Ironically for a community that is so often found bemoaning the brutality of video games and shows on the big and small screen, Christians turn right around only to desensitize their children to unconscionable atrocities within ‘God’s Word’. And it’s not that the savageries witnessed within the pages of Scripture are merely descriptive of sinful mankind. No, for a God who commands his prize creation to “not murder” (Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17), he seems to excel at doing exactly that.
And that brings us to the purpose of this series, The Murderous God. In each part, we will look at a narrative from the Bible that is among the most popular when it comes to adult Christians teaching their children about God. With each story, we will be exposed to a God whose apparent comfort at the ending of human life, either directly by his own hands or through other human beings acting on his behalf, should give any rational and moral person great pause.
I’ve chosen to highlight five stories, each of which is included in the Bible App for Kids. It should be noted that this app is not alone, as even a brief scroll down Google Play lane reveals a profuse number of apps designed to educate children on ‘the Good Book’.
But the Bible App for Kids is truly in a league of its own with over ten million downloads. This tool for raising the next generation of godly (i.e. obedient) human beings is brought to you by YouVersion, the minds behind The Bible App that itself sports over one-hundred million downloads! As it says on the ‘About’ screen, the Bible App for Kids is “Designed specifically to engage children with stories from the Bible…” Their vision is to, “help your kids fall in love with God’s Word…”
What I find interesting is that at least one quarter of the 40 stories currently featured on the app include instances of God killing human beings. How could we not want our kids to “fall in love” with that!?
the good ship ‘genocide’
This brings us to our first tale, commonly referred to as the story of Noah’s Ark (you can read it in its entirety here). In the Bible App for Kids, it has the cute title of “Two by Two”. Now I have come to see a significant number of major scientific and historical problems in this story that squarely push it into the realm of fantasy. But I’m going to be giving the benefit of the doubt to Bible-believing Christians who are certain that this and other biblical events actually occurred and that they happened precisely as they are described within the pages of Scripture. The question we are wrestling with here is not the historicity of the Bible but the moral and ethical character of the God revealed in its pages.
Setting the table
Before we tackle that issue, let’s try to set the statistical table. Of course you will never find 100% consensus among even a like-minded group of people when it comes to ancient dates and data. That certainly is true among those who hold a very high view of the Bible, to include the proposition that the it is completely accurate in any historical information it provides.
When it comes to the date when the flood occurred, even a cursory look at the kinds of charts that are standard inside most ‘study Bibles’ show significant variances of opinions or lack thereof. My parents gave me a New International Version Study Bible my first year at Multnomah Bible College in 1994. Then in 2003 my brother and sister-in-law gifted me a New American Standard Charles Ryrie Study Bible. The biblical timelines covering the early chapters in Genesis are clearly not ‘on the same page’. Ryrie takes more of a detailed stab at possible dates of events prior to Abraham while the NIV study Bible intentionally leaves it vague.
With that said, most conservative theologians—particularly creationists who adhere to a very literal reading of the Bible and unequivocally reject any understanding of the book as myth—will place the flood somewhere between 2400 and 2300 BC. You can find this understanding on popular creationist websites, such as this page on creation.com that is dedicated to identifying the historical timing of the flood. So just so we can continue to keep this moving forward, we will go with the date that is proposed there—that being, 2304 BC.
The last number we want to try to identify is that of the global population at the time that the rain started to fall. Widely accepted secular historians estimate that there was approximately fourteen million people on the planet at the start of 3000 BC, with that number increasing to twenty-seven million by the time a new millennium started in 2000 BC. I calculated a projected rate of growth in each century and was able to determine a global population around fifteen-and-a-half million by around 2300 BC.
But given we are intentionally going with the beliefs of those who hold the Bible as not only spiritually authoritative but factually flawless as God’s history book, what do they have to say on the matter? Well there is the mathematician and self-proclaimed ‘Bible Science Guy’, William T. Pelletier. After crunching a number of factors, including the extremely long life-spans and average numbers of births according to biblical genealogical records, he concluded that the global population could have been as high as ten trillion. Thankfully, his theory appears to be an outlier among more serious creation ‘scientists’.
To this we turn to arguably the modern era’s ultimate Christian home-schooling celebrity of creationism, Ken Ham. An article on the pre-flood population found on his Answers in Genesis website says the following:
If the growth rate in the pre-Flood world was equal to the growth rate in 2000 (0.012), there could have been about 750 million people at the time of the Flood. However, given the extremely long lifespans prior to the Flood, the growth rate could have been much higher. Increasing the rate by just 0.001 would put the population at close to four billion at the Flood.
Now we have already alluded to the fact that the Bible shows people prior to the flood living very long lives (see additional chart below). Assuming that is accurate, it seems like four billion is, as the above quote implies, very conservative. So let’s just go with that number, shall we?
a body count of truly biblical proportions
So there you have it! God, through the execution of his divine right to be judge, jury, and executioner, killed four billion human beings minus the eight he found worthy enough to save. Actually, it should be noted that the text only indicates that Noah, “was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God” (Genesis 6:9 NIV). It doesn’t say anything about the seven other family members. This glowing praise appears to have not been warranted for one of his sons, Ham, who according to some traditions would later sexually assault his father when he was passed out drunk (Genesis 9:18-28). I guess when it comes to God’s corporal punishment, the old maxim proves true: “It’s all who you know.”
But maybe Ham ‘fell away from the Lord’ during that long year bobbing around on the water. It happens! Surely at the time of the flood, the rest of the four billion deserved the death penalty. After all, we are told when it came to these wicked masses, “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5). Yet I have to wonder, what about the unborn?
According to Ken Ham, Adam and Even were created approximately around 4000 BC. That means the global population grew from one man and woman to four billion within 1,700 years. How many women were pregnant outside of the ark when Noah and his crew shut the doors?
While it is far past my math abilities or even patience to figure it out, I did identify that in 2014 there was 128,845,000 babies added to a then global population of 7.2 billion. That’s almost 1.8% of the total population. If that percentage held in 2003 BC, that would mean that there was seventy-two million babies born that year. Given the average term of pregnancy, let’s say that 3/4 of that number were actually unborn during those weeks and months that the water kept rising. That’s 54 million expecting mom’s drowning to death by God’s hands. That means that God terminated almost the same number of pregnancies in one act of ‘justice’ as the total number of abortions in the US since the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision over forty-five years ago. If conservative Christians (Protestant, Catholic, etc.) believe that life begins at conception, what does this story do to their image of God being ‘pro-life’?
Oh and by the way, if you reject the creationist’s figures and accept the secular historians data, that’s still twenty-seven million people that God holds under water, with around 209,000 of those being pregnant moms (using the previously mentioned 2014 birth rate).
(Note: I personally am supportive of a woman’s right to determine whether or not she wants to continue a pregnancy, but I am playing out the argument to show the hypocrisy that Christians must flippantly embrace in order to maintain a biblical argument for a ‘loving God’.)
now let’s get personal
So far we’ve only dealt with numbers. But let’s bring this down to a very personal, visceral level and talk about what it must feel like to drown.
When I reflect on drowning, all I can think of is Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee who died on September 2, 2015. His name and story would have likely never been widely know had it not been for the decision of the photo-journalist, Nilufer Demir, to capture the moment the young boy’s lifeless body was discovered on a beach in Turkey.
At the time I was the Director of the Sacramento field office of World Relief, which was rapidly growing to become the second largest refugee resettlement agency in the nation by 2017. And in fact just nine months earlier I had traveled to Lebanon to personally visit a few of the million plus Syrian refugees in that country. So it wasn’t as if I was just being exposed to the grim realities many refugees face. Yet like so many, the image brought my heartbreak to a new level. Certainly being the father of six and one-year-old daughters added a sense of emotional proximity.
In the field of social work, we often discuss the very real possibility of workers experiencing ‘secondary trauma’. Looking back, I can now see that I was evidencing the signs and symptoms of this psychological diagnosis. Fits of depression and sleeplessness were not uncommon. Unbeknownst to the people with whom I went to church back then, one of the triggers was a video loop which would play as the backdrop to the lyrics of our ‘worship’ songs. The film showed an ocean beach with the waves gently coming ashore. No one knew that all I could see was the image of Alan while we sang about the love of God.
We’ve likely all had the experience of having a little water go down the windpipe. Perhaps we were swimming with a friend who surprisingly dunked our head under water. To not be able to breathe can be a horribly panicky feeling, if even for a couple of seconds. This is especially true for very young children who have not learned how to swim yet. I vividly recall taking each of my girls into the swimming pool for the first time. The looks on their faces said it all; these moments represented a real test of courage to overcome a very genuine fear! And this is within the comfortable confines of a highly monitored situation with multiple life guards looking on.
Now replace that with cold darkness in the context of a desperate attempt to stay alive.
The internet is full of scientific descriptions of the process of drowning and the recounting of what it felt like to those who nearly died this way (click here and here for a few examples). Of course, all of the latter came from young adults or older who had at least some modest ability to fight to keep their heads above water and to get to a place of safety. A young child doesn’t even have these tools. They are entirely dependent on a grownup in those kinds of situations. A raw cry for help is their only recourse.
I don’t want to think about what it was like for three-year-old Alan as he drowned. And how many times did an experience like that play out during God’s great act of retribution? Today, about 25% of the people in the world are fourteen and younger. If that was true in Noah’s day, that number would have been around one billion. How many of these were younger children who couldn’t swim? The answer is likely hundreds of millions. And what was it like for their parents to try to save them only to then face the horror that they were going to fail?
There is a brief but powerful scene in director Jame’s Cameron’s Titanic where a young Irish mom, knowing that it is inevitable that she and her two young children are going to drown, decides to tuck them into bed and tell them a story instead of expose them to the class-driven battle to survive that was raging above deck.
As touching as that scene is, a realistic depiction, had it been played out, would at some point have had to show the children waking to their cabin being flooded with the near freezing water of the north Atlantic. What would the mother be saying to them then as they prepared to go under? But at least the film depicted part of this dreadful situation that was faced by the fifty children who died on the Titanic.
Not so for the Bible App for Kids’ rendition of the largest act of genocide in biblical history! Their cartoon images safely cut away from those realities.
In contrast is the art I featured at the beginning of this piece, Gustave Dore’s The Deluge (1866). It far more accurately captures the pure desperation and terror of those desperately seeking safe ground. Over the apparently several months it took for the flood waters to reach its zenith above even the tallest mountains (read here and here), moments like this would have repeated themselves over and over again until the last of four billion people (not counting an incalculable number of animals) was snuffed out.
“Little ones to him belong…
they are weak but He is strong.” Yes, remember that kids, especially next time you hear the story of Noah’s Ark. Parents, pastors and priests, and children’s ministry directors and volunteer teachers, perhaps when you again recount the perilous journey of Noah and his family, you can integrate into the story the depiction of billions screaming in their final moments. Maybe you can have children act out the involuntary convulsions that are experienced as the body is starved of oxygen and the heart goes into cardiac arrest. Adults and children can lay still on the floor so as to depict the multitudes of swollen and rotting carcasses that likely surrounded the ark for days if not weeks after they expired.
And above all, remember that this is entirely the result of a loving God. For as the song concludes…
Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me
The Bible tells me so.