April 18, 2007

Flooded by Grace

2007 1511 page8 caphen I say the name “Noah,” what is the first image or thought that comes to your mind? An old Bible story? A white-haired old gentleman? The National Organization of Albinism and Hypopigmentation? OK, that was a stretch. For most of us the first thing that comes to mind when we think of Noah is his famous work constructing the only watercraft ever to perpetuate the human race. The ark.   
Getting Our Feet Wet
Genesis 6–9 holds the world-famous story of how God looked down and saw such wickedness that it makes the stories on CNN look like children’s programming. God was so flustered at humanity’s heinousness that He determined to dismantle it with a deluge of destruction. BUT—says Genesis 6:8—“Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord!”
God remembered His one faithful servant in a world of wickedness. In Hebrews 11 God has His “Hall of Faith”—a group of people who displayed an unforgettable faith. Noah is third on the list. “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet . . . prepared an ark to the saving of his house . . . and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith” (11:1-4, KJV).
2007 1511 page8By faith Noah built a floating box and filled it with animals; by faith he preached 120 years and experienced constant rejection; and by faith he survived not just 40 days and nights, but more than five months in an ark—with family! If you have ever traveled and stayed with family for long periods of time in close quarters, you can appreciate the faith it took to endure it all without jumping out the window.
Then in Genesis 8:1 it says: “God remembered Noah.” Noah emerged a hero, his family repopulated the earth, and his fame made an unforgettable impression all the way down to the present day. I searched for the phrase “Noah’s ark” online to get a sense of the impact Noah’s ark has made on the world. Here is what I found:
Noah’s Ark Pet Store; Noah’s Ark Car Wash; Noah’s Ark Water Park; Noah’s Ark Deli, Paintings, and Shirts; Noah’s Ark High Chairs, Diapers, and DVDs; Noah’s Ark Cribs, Stuffed Toys, Expeditions, Books, Articles, Aromatherapy Necklaces. And my personal favorite: Noah’s Ark Scented Candles and Bath Soaps. The man has made an impact! In Genesis 9:1 God blessed him and his family and inducted him into the Hall of Faith.
What would you do after such an accomplishment? Famous actors, musicians, and sports figures upon retirement use their influence to start charity organizations, restaurants, and scholarships that benefit society. What would you do? Would you write your memoirs, or start a nonprofit organization? Or would you do what Noah did? After he got out of the boat, he looked at the rainbow memorial—and got drunk.
Noah’s Vineyard
This is the untold story—the one they didn’t want you to hear as a kid. You’ve heard of Noah’s ark; now it’s time for the story called Noah’s Vineyard. “Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent” (Gen. 9:20, 21, NIV). 
So let’s look at this man associated with an ark, righteousness, and faith.
The dusty wind is blowing the tent flaps open for all to see. Noah’s robes are strewn about. He’s lying on the ground amid sand and bugs buzzing around his head. His beard is wet with drink.
What do we do with a picture like this? What does it mean? How does something like this happen to a Bible hero? Perhaps more important, how does it happen to us? One minute we are God’s number 1, and He is ours. The next minute we fall—hard and fast into a stupor of shame and embarrassment.
Why Noah Fell
It would be nice to be able to blame circumstances for our messes, wouldn’t it? I had a bad childhood. I had a bad relationship. I have chronic halitosis. My neighbor’s cat never played with me.
2007 1511 page8We paint this picture of Noah emerging from the ark with a rainbow overhead and happy animals surrounding him. But the very experience that saved Noah haunted him: the screams heard outside the ark, the pounding on the sides of it, and then the horrible silence. While it would be a blessing to emerge from the ark, what would it feel like to look out over a world knowing everything is gone? I imagine that loneliness, depression, and boredom practically planted the vineyard, crushed the grapes, and poured the stuff down his gullet.
Sadly, even though we are influenced by our circumstances, the Bible is clear we are left without excuse when it comes to sin. “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Even if we are the only one doing righteousness at all, the Bible says: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). 
As we take a closer look, I want to share a subtle principle that emerges, however indirectly, from Noah’s account. Noah left the ark and planted the seeds that produced the fruit that created the environment that caused him to fall. It’s a sowing and reaping issue. We perform it as well.
I once heard Adventist preacher Floyd Bresee liken Noah’s ark to the church. And as I’ve thought about this, I’ve wondered if Adventists have a special way in which we plant the wrong kinds of seed that lead us to fall.
One of our favorite “proof texts”—as we call them—about the Sabbath is Matthew 12:8, which states that “Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath.” I wonder with all the attention we pay to this day’s importance, when we leave church or after the sun sets on Sabbath, is Jesus Lord of anything else in our lives? Is He Lord of our conversations? Is He Lord of our faith? Do the words we use during the week plant good seeds?
We put money into the offering plate for missions on Sabbath morning, thinking Benjamin Franklin, Abe Lincoln, and George Washington will do our witnessing for us as we resume behaviors that affirm worldly culture instead of God’s. We revel in our Bible knowledge: we have sermons that preach it, and classes that teach it. But do we also use it to rationalize the things we acknowledged were wrong in church? It’s like drinking a glass of water once a week, and wondering why we are always thirsty. Noah, once he left the ark, reverted to the same practices that helped lead the world to the Flood in the first place. Do we practice our Christianity outside of Christian circles?
Some of us have been passed out spiritually for years. Some of us who started with so much promise have now overgrown vineyards of spiritual failure. And instead of being remembered as one of God’s faithful, we are one of God’s used-to-be’s, one of God’s has-beens, one of God’s little embarrassments who just couldn’t get it together. If we compiled all the failures, mess-ups, and fools who have blown it for God, we could fill a million arks.
Is there hope?
What God Says
You would think that God would hold up Noah as an example of failure. But as you read the Bible you realize that he is held up as an example of faith! Hebrews 11 doesn’t even have a footnote saying “By the way, he then got drunk and shamed Me and his family.” It ends with Noah as a righteous person. It appears that God has a selective memory—which shouldn’t surprise, in light of what He promised: “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jer. 31:34). God clears away the vines of our little vineyards, and we get to start over as we receive His forgiveness.
In speaking of the feelings we get when we come to understand our struggle against sin and our need of forgiveness, Ellen White offers these words: “It is peace that you need—Heaven’s forgiveness and peace and love in the soul . . . you can never hope, by your own efforts, to secure it. But God offers it to you as a gift. . . . It is yours if you will but reach out your hand and grasp it . . . and ask that He will wash away your sins and give you a new heart. Then believe that He does this because He has promised” (Steps to Christ, pp. 49, 50).
What Noah Did Afterward
2007 1511 page8Once we obtain forgiveness, what should we do to help avoid falling again? What are some practical ways I can respond to God’s grace? Noah did some very practical things in Genesis 9 that are easy to miss if we aren’t looking.
1. “When Noah awoke from his wine . . .” (9:24). It seems to me a lot of Christians want to be asleep in Jesus even though they aren’t dead yet. It’s easy to pull the covers, or the pillow, over our head when we wake up in the midst of failure. We need to wake up and look around instead of ignoring issues.
2. “. . . and found out what his youngest son had done to him . . .” (9:24). At some point Noah had to ask, “How did this blanket get here? Where are my clothes?” He had to ask the hard questions. We avoid hard questions because it’s easier to blame than accept our responsibility for the way things are. It’s easier to die inoculated on ignorance than to discover the source of our dilemmas.
3. “He said, ‘Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers’” (9:25). Noah had to confront some unpleasant consequences that his drinking caused. This is where we throw a red flag on the spiritual football field! In order to deal with consequences, we must become vulnerable, admit our wrongs, hold ourselves and others accountable, and even make changes.
4. “He also said, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem!’” (9:26). It’s here we find what I believe is the truly unforgettable exercise of faith. That is, believing, in the middle of failure, that God can give us a new start and remember us for something other than failure.
Washing Away Failure
Noah was an unforgettable man of faith despite an unforgettable mistake, all because our God chose to have a selective memory. May God give us His grace as we acknowledge His ability to forgive our faults, and remember us as faithful servants as we commit ourselves to living for Him again and again and again . . .
Seth Pierce studies at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. He lives with his wife, Angela, in Berrien Springs, Michigan. He is the author of Pride and Seek, published by the Review and Herald Publishing Association.