Last week, this article outlined the Biblical foundations for the 40 days of Lent. This article will address the first of these foundations, the Great Flood. As described in Genesis, civilization had
become corrupt, resulting in the rise of the Nephalim, who had great power, which they wielded for evil causes. Noah resisted that corrupt generation by justice, innocence and “walking with God,” indicating an active prayer life. Warned by God to prepare for the coming flood, Noah patiently built the ark, and no doubt endured the ridicule of neighbors, as he waited for the time to be fulfilled. After a long time, 40 days of rain was followed by 40 more days of increased flooding in a deluge that destroyed everything except Noah’s family and the animals with them.
After the flood, and a final 40 day time of waiting, this family then launched a new civilization, one branch of which would lead to the Chosen People. The most likely historical basis for this account is either flooding that occurred in Mesopotamia about 4000 B.C. or flooding that occurred in the Black Sea region about 7500 B.C., either of which would have been enough to destroy an entire civilization.
As with other events in the Bible, the account of the Great Flood speaks to us here and now. On one level, one can see in Noah’s ark, as St. Augustine did, an image of the Church, which carries people through the tumults of history into successive new eras, and in fact brings each faithful soul through the waters of death to new and pure realms. One can also, as the liturgy of Baptism does, draw an analogy between the Great Flood and the waters of baptism, and the grace of God generally, that “make an end of sin and a new beginning of goodness.” We can also take from Noah an inspiration to stand fast with God, who alone can save, rather than give in to the prevailing tastes of the world.
The flood can be a sign of God’s judgment, but it is also as an example of how human sinfulness leads of its own accord to chaos, which destroys civilization, unless the grace of God intervenes. In these and many ways, this narrative supports many themes of Lent, including cooperation with the divine grace to purify us of sins, courage and patience in prayer, justice and purity, and trust in God to guide us through the storms of life to the new heavens and the new earth.