Genesis 6

The beginning of the Flood story cycle (continued in the next two chapters) is found here, prefaced by a somewhat bizarre and probably truncated version of a larger fable regarding an origin tale for the “Nephilim” who were “heroes of old” (verse four). That this entire narrative is an adaptation of an older and quite widespread Mesopotamian myth is well known and we need not dwell on that, nor on the implications of such cultural borrowing (and we certainly do not need to discuss the ark). Rather, what is intriguing to me from the perspective of someone interested in the phenomenological ramifications of a “weak” theology is found in verse six, which serves as at least partial cause for what follows in the text. The verse reads:

6.6: “And the LORD regretted that He had made man on earth, and His heart was saddened.”

I wrote that this is given as “at least partial cause” because the case could be made that retributive justice was also reason for the destruction listed in these chapters, but however one may wish to make a presentation for this or that what remains is this very peculiar and quite striking description of God’s/“God’s” emotional state and frame of mind, as it were. God/“God” regretted what it had done and was additionally made to feel a very human-esque grief at such (one could “regret” in an intellectual and non-emotive way, after all: e.g. “I should not have done X” stated flatly, or the like). For some it might be easier to think on God/“God” as an angered judge meting out deserved consequences than to imagine it as regretful. Why so?

The enactment of punitive measures has no direct and necessary connection with a failure on one’s own part or an acknowledgement of something having been done in error: a mistake. To regret a deed, however – and especially when that regret is conjoined with sadness – is to admit not only that one should not have done X but that doing X was itself wrong: such was not only an act that ended up badly – perhaps this was purely circumstantial, for which one could not be blamed – such was an act that in hindsight was erroneous to start with, that was flawed in its essence. To think that God/“God” could have committed such is not only to infer but to actually state an imperfection on God’s/“God’s” part, in conjunction with a lack of a particular sort of omniscience. If God/“God” knew what would result then obviously God/“God” should/would not have committed the blunder. (On another understanding of omniscience – where all the various possibilities are foreseen but not which specific one will ultimately come to fruition – God/“God” could have suspected that humanity might go astray but been willing to give us a chance; note however that this does not reduce the important corollaries of the regret and the sadness.) In reading this verse we must conclude therefore that God/“God” did not know – maybe not even in the sense of one possibility out of many – just how humanity at large would set about behaving, and that is why God/“God” was capable of the ascribed regret and sadness; much as you or I may feel if we do something that results in what we did not suspect and which is displeasing, harmful, or unfortunate. Imagining God/“God” like that is a startling event.

Allowing ourselves to trace our own reactions to thinking God/“God” in such a way could be instructive. We might learn what it is that we want from our ideas of God/“God”, how the ancients may have thought about that themselves, and moreover how the scriptures they produced are reflections of those concepts and lifeworlds. They evidently considered – and therefore no doubt felt – God/“God” in far more human ways than how many do today; is such right or wrong? Need it be “right” or “wrong”? These are proddings, and if we are aware of how they push and pull us we may discover entirely unexpected horizons. Such journeys, I think, are well worth the effort.

No comments: