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Sunday, 13 April 2014

Come Unto Me...

This has been quite a week. Last weekend Alex and I went to see the movie Noah, and since then I have given a lot of thought throughout the working week. But it was the Biblical Noah which stuck on my mind, not the Darren Aronofsky's version which has populated cinemas across the UK. But the Scriptural account which drew much of my attention was the drunkenness which followed sometime after the Flood. We as Christian believers tend to frown at such behaviour, tut-tutting with either a threat of losing salvation and facing the prospect of Hell after death, or proving that one was not really saved after all, and that despite the devotion shown to God and the church over the years. In other words, whether you believe in Probational Salvation or Once Saved Always Saved, it is impossible to imagine a believer in such a state without involving the issue of sin.

But by taking a closer look on the lifespan of Noah, (i.e. the Biblical version) it is not difficult to read that for the first six hundred years of his life he had supportive family members. For a start, he had his good old grandpa, Methuselah, who died just a week before the fountains of the deep burst open. Just five years before that, his dad Lamech died. But he had his wife and his three sons, and their wives. Then his mother and grandmother - were they still alive when the Flood was ushered in? Probably not, for it looks likely that by God's grace, they were laid to rest some time earlier. But the parents of the sons' three wives were most likely still alive, along with their brothers and sisters. Then not forgetting Noah himself had brothers and sisters from his parents, and aunts and uncles from his grandfather Methuselah. For all this, just read the fifth chapter of Genesis, where we assured that Noah was by no means all alone before the Flood as one might first suspect.
However, Noah was by no means the first to know of the coming Deluge. Rather, God had already revealed this to his great-grandfather Enoch, who in turn named his eldest son "Methuselah," meaning When I die the waters will arrive. So Enoch knew of the future catastrophe, obviously Methuselah did too, and of course, so did Lamech, Noah's father. Yet all of them had "other sons and daughters." Enoch was a father of many, his son also, so was Lamech, by seeing how old his father was becoming, yet had other sons and daughters who would all drown in the deluge. Odd, I would have thought. So with all those relatives - the numbers unknown but they seemed many - only eight finally made it into the Ark and were saved.
This led me to conclude one of two ideas, or both may apply to a certain extent. One was that all family members loved Noah as one of their own, but believed him to be rather delirious, or a bit of a nutter, and very eccentric with the revelation of the forthcoming catastrophe. They looked with wonder and stunned unbelief as the Ark was under construction. The other idea was that they had followed the way of Cain's descendants, and therefore turned hateful and violent, even among themselves. Which ever way, I can't be sure, but the fact of Noah's drunkenness seemed to have indicated the former attitude. They loved him, and proper support was given to him by his parents and grandparents.
And according to 2 Peter 2:5, Noah was a "preacher of righteousness." The Greek word used for "preacher" in this verse was keruka, a herald, which seems to indicate that during the building of the Ark, Noah was warning the antediluvian world that the Flood was on its way, and this was enforced by the ageing of Methuselah, and if anyone wants to be saved, he must enter the Ark with him and his family in order to be spared. This was a matter of believing. The Ark might have been ready for use sometime before the Flood, maybe by weeks or even months. The vessel was open to anyone. Any family, either from the line of Seth or of Cain, could have gone in. But this required faith, the believing in the coming judgement was necessary, and such faith acted upon. Noah's answer for the cry, "What must I do to be saved?" would have been, "Believe in the revelation of the coming Flood and enter the Ark, then you shall be saved, you and your house." (Acts 16:30-31.)
Noah would have welcomed anyone who had faith. This is the proper meaning of repentance. A change of mind from unbelief to believing. The same is true at present. God has already reconciled the world to himself through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. A change of mind from unbelief to believing is all that's required for salvation. Once having believed, he is safe in Christ and no threat of eternal death awaits him, just as anyone inside the Ark cannot be touched by the waters of the Flood. That is the wonderful thing about the Gospel. Just as the structure of the Ark was strong enough to protect all those inside, so Christ, who is even stronger, is able to protect us and keep us safe as well, for God is a strong tower where all the righteous run into, and they are safe. The enemy forces cannot touch them.
Yet it is an unfortunate reality that the common belief among Christians is that our lives must be blameless and without sin, regardless of the circumstance, or either he is in danger of losing his salvation, or mere proof that he was never saved in the first place. Both are nonsense! If you are a believer in the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, then you are eternally safe in him, just as all those in the Ark were safe from the deluge outside. Later, long after the waters had receded, the narration states that after planting a vineyard, Noah drank of the wine (fermented grape juice) and became drunk. It is worth looking at his set of circumstances that brought this on him.

For the first six hundred years of his life, Noah had support from his family, perhaps including his wider family of brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, and maybe the brothers and sisters of his three daughters-in-law, along with their parents and wider family. It was certainly a crowd, and despite the evil and raw wickedness and violence among the descendants of Cain, it was likely that Noah was loved. But instead of believing his message, they probably thought that Noah was crazy, and no flood will occur. After all, no rain had ever fallen in the last 1,600 years or so since Creation. So why should it rain now? So although he was in the midst of Methuselah's wider family, shortly before the Deluge, none of them believed the revelation except Noah, his grandfather, his wife and his three sons and their wives. With the death of Methuselah, there were just eight believers among Seth's family line altogether, and no believer at all from Cain's descendants, which by then, most likely would have numbered into the billions in world population.
What crushing loneliness Noah must have suffered, perhaps while still in the floating Ark. Like with many Christians today, it would not have been unnatural for depression to have set in. Such emotion was likely present even when Noah offered a sacrifice on a makeshift altar after disembarkation. Noah's first grandson, Canaan, was born from Ham's seed maybe even during, or shortly after, the flood. It was during this time when sons and daughters were soon to be born to all of his three sons, but none of this soothed his depression. It must have been a few years later, when Canaan was growing up, when Noah fell into a drunken stupor, and probably, while the rest of the family were out and about, young Canaan sexually molested him, while his father called his two brothers, Shem and Japheth, to his attention, and the two sons of Noah acted appropriately in honouring their drunken father.
Noah woke up, and found out about his grandson's misdeed. He cursed Canaan, taking away the birthright and the Messianic lineage from Canaan and giving both of these to his uncle Shem, to be passed down through Arphaxad, one of Shem's sons and Canaan's younger cousin. So we see a righteous man lying in his tent, drunk out of his mind, perhaps mistaking Canaan's assault for his wife's endearments. Yet no one, as far as I know of, had ever condemned this man to Hell for such a misdeed, on the contrary, he is included in the faith hall of fame in Hebrews 11:7.

In the last forty years as a believer myself, I have not come across any other Christian in a state of drunkenness. As for myself, I have hardly ever allowed myself to become intoxicated, although I am not a teetotaller, I like a tipple on certain occasions. Christians, especially advocates of Probational Salvation, tend to quote 1 Corinthians 6:10 - ...nor drunkards...shall inherit the Kingdom of God. And whether verbally or by writing, such a quote is usually wrapped in a judgemental attitude. This to me, does not present a pleasant atmosphere, nor emphasise the love of God, especially to someone who is depressed. And here is the irony, by the looks of it. If an intoxicated unbeliever was to stagger into a group of Christians, chances are that he would be lovingly approached and counselled to receive Jesus as Saviour. But if an established believer with one too many is seen staggering around, he would most likely be reprimanded and quite possibly be questioned whether he is saved. It would have been interesting if a typical group of church-goers were transported back in time to witness Noah in such a state. How would they have re-acted?

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:12:
Everything is permissible for me - but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me - but I will not be mastered by anything.

In other words he did not allow "horrible religious restrictions" get in the way in his walk with God.  If he wanted a alcoholic drink, he did not allow himself to be judged by the Law, nor allowed anyone to condemn him or to pass judgement. But if he did not see anything beneficial in alcohol consumption, then he refrained rather than risk dishonouring Jesus Christ, whom he so fervently loved. Paul's mission was to expound the love of God to a helpless, sinful world, yet at the same time warn of the coming judgement. Since mercy had triumphed over judgement, his emphasis was to exhort people to repent, to change their minds and embrace the risen Jesus.

But to portray God in a punitive manner is a big turn off from conversion, and from the faith altogether. While this blog was written, I had a chance to watch a short movie about two black teenagers in South London who wanted to band together to produce their own Rap music. Ah, Rap! Not very church-like with its traditional hymns and spiritual songs, and already some Christians would be tut-tutting over such an idea. So did the mother of one of the lads, who was a devout believer. At the dining table she delivered Christ's disapproval of his project in front of his siblings. The look on the adolescence's face was so thunderous, that it would not be any different had a husband received news of his nagging mother-in-law's sudden and unexpected arrival.

The vast majority of the unbelieving world perceives God in exactly the same way. Punitive, picky, constantly watching our performance, very much like how Santa is portrayed to children - that he only gives presents to good children for Christmas, while ignoring naughty children. It would be enough for the child to angrily respond that Santa can keep his presents! Isn't that familiar? Let's face it, if God was portrayed in the true character of love instead of the punitive personality he is often portrayed, then there wouldn't be so many influential atheists such as Bertrand Russell, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and others who had swayed the public general thinking by their theories. I personally think that Christians who advocate Probational Salvation (known better as Arminians) have done enormous damage to the minds of many. And I dare say that the doctrine of Lordship Salvation had always been equally damaging. But even among those who believe in Once Saved Always Saved, or Eternal Security, are not let off the hook either. If they see a depressed saint on the bottle for instance, they would poo-poo with the idea that perhaps he wasn't saved after all. What psychological damage such thinking could bring.

Jesus always preached a message on love. Just a short while before his crucifixion, he stood on the Temple porches and cried out to the blustering crowd during the Feast of Tabernacles:

If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Who ever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him. John 7:37.

Earlier he also said,
Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30.

One particular day, Jesus found himself sitting opposite a Samaritan woman at a well. Feeling thirsty, and having no vessel of his own to draw, he asked the woman if she would draw for him as well. It was a simple request any person with a small amount of decency would have happily obliged. But instead, she looked at him with a startled expression and asked,
"Who are you, a Jew, to ask of water from me, a Samaritan, a woman at that, and the lowest of the low?"
In other words, You Jews have always been judgemental and punitive pigs towards us for centuries past. Are you expecting me to show you kindness now? (See John 4.)

The woman had a point. Despite her previous five husbands, none of whom she was able to keep an ongoing healthy relationship, she was looked down upon and condemned by the Jews, who believed that they alone held the oracles of God, and kept his laws. Really, it wasn't too different from the attitude of many Christians today. But Jesus loved her as she was and she could see it. His exposure of her past life was not to condemn, nor even to convict, but to demonstrate to her that he was the Christ. When she believed, she went out, deliberately leaving the water jug behind so he could have a drink, and encouraged others to come and hear him. Such was the wonderful display of love.

Jesus said, "Come to me." To this day, his plea to everyone is, "Come to me, and live."
If only those who stood at the Ark in unbelief heeded the message of Noah, who would have said the same thing:
Come to me and live, you with your wife and children. Who knows. Their distant descendants might well have been with us to this day. It only needed faith in God's love.


  1. Great post, Frank.

    The book of I Corinthians is primarily about walking in and being filled with the Spirit. It is amazing how many of the beliefs and practices in the modern church are listed by Paul as indicating an unspiritual condition in the church.

  2. Great post, Frank! Our pastor points out that despite Noah being a Spirit-inspired preacher, only 8 people (those aboard the ark) in his 120 years of preaching. Add that to the scorn of his community & family, and his likely doubt regarding the sanity of what he was doing, given the fact that it had never rained, and it would not be surprising for him to be depressed. It appears that we are once again in the "days of Noah," and scoffers abound. Hopefully the Rapture will occur soon, which will be a long-awaited moment for believers, yet will usher in tribulation and judgment for those left behind. Praise god that once we are saved, we are eternally secure and do not have to worry about being left behind, even if we sinned the day before.
    God bless,