In a way, we are called to see our story in the whole story of Scripture.
That certainly must include the story of Noah’s flood. The elements of the story well lend themselves to our moral edification but most of us tend not to see ourselves in it. We forget that the story is, at its core, about weathering the storms of life by an act of absolute trust in God—a message we all need to hear.
In particular, we can discern three key stages to the spiritual life according to the Genesis account of the flood.
In Genesis 6, God commands Noah to build an ark in advance of his coming judgment in the form of an epic flood. Consider how much faith this took. Noah built a boat in presumably a landlocked area in the face what we can imagine were the condescension and ridicule of other men. It’s kind of like the inverse of going out into the desert in search of a Garden of Eden.
There were actually two dimensions to Noah’s faith. First, he had to believe that there was a coming judgmental flood. And, second, he trusted that God would save him from it. In other words, his trust in God was total. Noah trusted God to save him before he even had evidence that he was in need of saving.
Of course, all this required Noah’s extensive cooperation with God’s grace. Remember, he had to build an entire ark. Call it the biblical version of ‘if you build it, they will come.’
For us, the lesson is that the spiritual journey begins in faith—a kind of waiting coupled with trusting action. We ought to build up spiritual houses for God within our souls in advance of His arrival.
While the storm raged all about him and the floodwaters rose, Noah was shut in near darkness with the rest of his family.
Key details of the Genesis account warrant this conclusion. According to Genesis 6:16, there was a single opening for daylight near the top of the ark. A single ‘window’ would have been hardly enough to light the interior. And, besides, it rained for 40 days, meaning there was no daylight at all during that period.
There was only one other possible source of light—the entrance into the ark, and God ‘shut’ that after everyone had entered (Genesis 7:16).
Noah had to continue to trust God amid the literal darkness. Consider what great faith was required of Noah: He had to believe the ark would hold up. He had to believe that there would be an end to the storm. And he had to believe that there was a future for him and his family—that eventually the flood would subside and dry ground would appear.
In allegorical terms, we could say that the flood event itself illustrates the need for both exterior and interior purgation—something that is universally recognized as an essential step in the spiritual journey, regardless of how many steps you count or where in the sequence of steps you put it.
At the end of the flood, God gives a command to Noah: “Be fertile and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1). This is repeated in the seventh verse: “Be fertile, then, and multiply; abound on earth and subdue it.”
This is the Old Testament precursor to the Great Commission Jesus gave to His disciples:
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19-20).
Just as Noah was supposed to ‘subdue’ the earth, so also the disciples were commissioned to bring all earth in subjection to the kingdom of God. The essential impulse to joyful fruitfulness is the same, as different as the circumstances may at first appear to us.
Of course, we all as individual persons are call to participate in this missionary activity. All of us, upon receiving the joy of the Gospel, must share it with others. This is a fundamental truth of human nature: that our ‘possession’ of something is most assured when we ‘give it away.’ Grace builds on this natural principle (see, for example, Matthew 16:25). Our faith and love therefore are strengthened when we bring God to others, rather than attempting to ‘hoard’ Him for ourselves.