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).