Two dear friends of mine reject the God of the Bible because of passages like this one. It don’t blame them. Over the years I too have grown fatigued with callous doctrinal academics or simplistic Christian clichés. I feel like a child trying to describe mysteries, like an adult grappling with God amid the beauties and true horrors in the world.
And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.”(Genesis 6:13)
Does the God of the Old Testament need anger management? I have no easy answer. But I do know that we must take the text as it actually presents itself. If we let it stand on its own terms, we begin to find clues.
1. The entire tone of Genesis 6 is lament. Repeatedly, we are told that God is sorrowful. The situation “grieved him to his heart” (Gen. 6:6) Likewise, what made God sorrowful was the sexual and physical misuse that neighbors were making of one another. We too cry outrage when persons are victimized by violence. We grapple with death penalty questions, but none of us doubts that such perpetrators require judgement and incarceration. At minimum, Christians and thoughtful non-Christians can agree that this passage does not provide a picture of a deity lustful with vengeance that “gets off” on making innocent people suffer. Nor are we dealing with “small sins” of stealing candy bars when we were ten years old. Men, women and children are joining in and committing violent crime.
2. God is not presented as throwing a tantrum. Typically a tantrum arises from a spoiled heart that does not get what it wants. A toddler who wanted ice cream and was told to wait until after dinner; a man who was fired from his job, buys a gun and then kills his co-workers before turning the gun on himself; or King Triton in the Little Mermaid who in a fit of rage destroys Ariel’s room only to say to himself later, “what have I done?” this is the stuff of tantrums. But the text reveals God as patient, measured, expressing his mind on a matter that is of trouble to Him, and having a plan that must be adopted because to Him there is no other way. This scene reveals one doing something that one does not want to do but feels there is no other way forward. Those who tantrum avoid the hard road of difficult thought and measured feeling. Tantrums are easy. Entering the mess of our condition with heartfelt and reasonable conclusions is not.