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Some people roll their eyes at the story of Noah as just another Biblical tale that isn’t true and makes no sense — but I don’t think rolling our eyes or poking fun does us any good.
Literal interpretations of Bible verses too often serve as veils that keep us from seeing eternal truths, which don’t make for good punchlines, but do provide spiritual nourishment – something we could all really use.
Let’s consider the case of Noah, who Russell Crowe plays in a movie now showing in a theater near you. God instructs Noah to build an ark, welcome various human and animal couples of all species on board, and then they all set sail upon the sea when God sends his flood to wipe out all the evil in the world – all literally impossible. But spiritually, this story has a few lessons to impart, and can serve as a template for how to see deeper truths in more abstruse parables.
The story of Noah, then, is not about wiping out humans, even corrupt humans; it’s about creating a haven so the human heart is not flooded by corruption. This is eternally true. And eternal truths are inherently more important to the human condition than the temporal truths based on literalness, tradition, and superstition. Eternal truths are universal.
So, why does this matter?
It matters because we humans remain at war in all kinds of ways, and corruption is drowning us — political corruption, economic corruption, governmental corruption, individual corruption. We forsake our inner beauty for materialism. We live in a world where we allow monsters to kidnap girls for the sex trade, to persecute those different than us, to devise illegal schemes to get richer with impunity.
How have we humans decided to live in a world where such extreme wealth and extreme poverty prevail? What does it say about us that we spend so much money and time on trivial nonsense, and on our new national pastime of tearing each other down while millions of people suffer needlessly?
To me, Jesus was right when he said the end time would be like the time of Noah. Literalists think this means that at the end of all things God will drown us all with another flood of water. It doesn’t matter if this strikes you as the truth or as ridiculous, because, in the meantime, we’re most definitely drowning in corruption.
Actually, the “time of the end” has come; because “the end” refers to an end to superstition and the end to reliance on literal stories as scare tactics.
By alluding to Noah’s story, Jesus was referring to a few things, one of them being the corruption of the human heart that keeps our ultimate goal of peace out of reach. The story of Noah, then, beseeches us to board a new Ark, to pursue a new way forward toward the true peace all good-hearted people desire.
We all crave peace. Many of us work day and night in small and big ways to establish peace in our communities, our nations, and throughout the Earth. The Baha’i writings say that peace and unity go hand-in-hand:
My hope is that through the zeal and ardor of the pure of heart, the darkness of hatred and difference will be entirely abolished, and the light of love and unity shall shine; this world shall become a new world; things material shall become the mirror of the divine; human hearts shall meet and embrace each other; the whole world become as a man’s native country and the different races be counted as one race. – Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 37.
One of the many things that keeps this noble sentiment out of reach is an attachment to the literal view of scriptures that were destined to be taken metaphorically.