The Rainbow Over
Traditional evangelical theology is rather selective in ending the primaeval story at the fall. Mankind is lost, fallen from an original state of perfection, we are told, the next best thing for us being the advent of the Messiah. One could be ultra pernickety and suggest that by keeping us in a depraved and fallen state, we are more easily controlled since we have to do what we are told in order to receive salvation. Church doctrine is then about power and salvation is administered by those in power. It is in the church’s interest therefore to end the primaeval story at the fall.
To be generous though, perhaps we are all just simply deceived and are blind, unable to see what is plainly in the inspired texts. The primaeval story does not really end at all and proceeds smoothly all the way to the no doubt historical Abraham. No doubt this smooth transistion is the writer’s way of suggesting the perfect validity of the primaeval history as an explanation of the real, historical world we are alive in now.
But one aspect of the primaeval history that sits rather badly within the theology of orthodoxy is the flood. Relegated in recent years to the demeaning debate between literalists and atheists, this story carries both a violent beauty of its own and stands in utter derision of the simplistic orthodoxy of the fall. For we find, when taking the fall in the light of the flood, that mankind did not suddenly change from being in fellowship with God to being by nature out of fellowship but rather mankind was simply sliding inexorably to destruction due to its own propensity to be wicked. Man was no more wicked after the fall than before it. If this were not so, God would not have regretted that he had made man. He would have regretted that man had fallen.
The flood recognises man’s propensity to wickedness but at the same time shows God as a God of mercy: God accommodates himself to man’s wickedness and promises to refrain from further judgement against him. This gives the lie to the simplistic orthodox assertion that man is destined to eternal torment unless he believes in the Messiah. God has already promised not to visit man with global judgement again. As a species, we are simply born, live and die like every other living thing. And of course we are subject to death ever since the primaeval act of Adam and Eve.
But the curses were not the judgement, the judgement came later in the flood after many generations of God holding back. Death was not a judgement, simply the result of making the wrong choice at a pivotal moment in primaeval history. Perhaps it is even the story of everyman today rather than just one pivotal primaeval man, that we must all choose knowledge over innocence as we grow into adulthood. Whatever, the flood is not just another event that happened later but describes the relationship that present man has with God, such that we are living under his mercy, mortally and prone to wickedness. The promise of the Messiah is given in that context such that individuals are offered a gracious alternative, to be saved and inherit God’s glory and immortality.
And of course the primaeval history is no more than the Biblical way of explaining why we are what we are now. Other cultures have other methods and literary themes and we should not be overly focussed on the historicity of such events. We can be thankful that one man, however primaeval, found favour with God and perhaps if we ourselves have faith, God will also accept that as an offering of universal worth. The literary explains the real: if the universe is open (not predestined) then the flood never happened, Adam and Eve never happened, but it is a real explanation just as Jesus is a real Messiah, the real image of the invisible God, the real hope of resurrection and salvation.