Wednesday, October 20, 2010

God and the Flood: Creation Untamed II

In chapter two of his book Creation Untamed, Fretheim looks at the first natural disaster recorded in the Bible, the flood. Having established that creation is "good" not prefect, Fretheim begins to unpack the question: does "good" include natural disasters.

Since the flood is often understood as the judgement of God, Fretheim explores the notion of God punishing sin. What he discovers is interesting. Rather than viewing punishment as something that God "sends" in response to sin, it is quite often understood as the effects of sin. The punishment is the result of the sin not something that God causes. As Fretheim notes, the "consequences grow out of the deed itself rather than being a penalty imposed from without." (p.49). The point is this. God has established order and systems within creation. When that order is abrogated there are consequences which "punish" the offender. The issue is a complex one and Fretheim explains more than I want to post here. But his point is important. We often think of punishment as God acting against humanity when quite often it is the results of our actions that punish us. In the context of the flood this becomes an important point.

In Genesis 6:11-13 the problem is that "all flesh" had succumbed to violence. In 6:7 God regrets that creation and vows to wipe it out. This certainly sounds like punishment. But the next verse also mitigates that vow when we read that Noah has found favor in God's sight. Fretheim suggests that this represents a change in the divne strategy. God's punishment is mixed with God's emotions. God has sorrow and regret.God's mind is changed and rather than destroy all of humanity, Noah, his family and representatives of the animal kingdom are saved (p. 59) God decides to continue on with the less than perfect creation.

In the case of the flood, Fretheim argues that God does not introduce the judgement. Rather, the destructive effects from the violence were already springing forth. He views the flood not as God's action but the natural consequences of human misdeeds. God does warn Noah that the destruction is coming. But God does not trigger the flood. The flood waters and the bursting forth of springs upon the earth are all the subject of the verbs. "The seeds of destruction are contained in the very nature of the situation, and God mediates those consequences." (p.55)

Fretheim outlines a view of creation that understands everything as interconnected. Natural disasters are not a result of sin, he argues, but are part of God's creation. But when sin is introduced into this equation, it generates "snowballing effects" (p.53). While Fretheim is careful not to absolve God of all responsibility for these disasters, he does suggest that God's world is "unpredictable, random, and wild." Human suffering may sometime come because of the reality of that world. On the other hand, human wickedness can make those disasters even worse (p. 64).


  1. This seems to reinforce much of what we have been discussing in Romans 1. There we have discussed that the actions of humanity that are contrary to nature may be evidence of humanity not seeking God and giving God glory rather than God's punishment for specific actions. Perhaps Dr. Fretheim has a point.
    (Looks like another trip to for me)

  2. Isn't global warming an obvious example of this? Did he touch on that?

  3. Yes, he does suggest that. He refers more to Katrina and how both the effects of global warming as well as the lack of preperation both contribute to the disaster and make it worse.