As a young child I had a Fisher Price Noah’s Ark Toy. It had a plastic boat and figurines of Brother and Sister Noah. There were pairs of zebras, tigers, giraffes, elephants and camels. The male animals were big and masculine looking and the females had lipstick or a bow on them. Looking under their tails revealed no gender specific characteristics.
I would play with the set in the bathtub. Turning on the water would cause a panic and Noah and I would throw all the animals into the ark to save them from destruction in the Great Flood. With Noah and the animals safely into the boat, I would relax (and get my gender specific parts washed).
The Story of Noah and the Great Flood is a simple Bible story that nearly everyone knows. It also gives Mormons a clear connection to traditional Christianity. The children’s version has drama, cute fury animals and faith all mixed in with lots of really bad guys who die in unseen ways.
The LDS Church has embraced the Noah’s Ark Story fully. The LDS Bible Dictionary says, “During Noah’s time the Earth was completely covered with water.” and as recently as 2011 President Thomas S. Monson referred to the “days of Noah, when the Lord cleansed the earth by flood.” The Church is also dependent on the Ark journey to explain how humanity got from Jackson County, Missouri (where Mormon’s believe the Garden of Eden to have been) to the Middle East. In dozens of General Conference talks I’ve read, not one refers to any part of the Noah story as myth or symbolism..
While watching the 2014 movie Noah with Russell Crowe, I watched with horror as all those “wicked” babies and children were killed by the rising waters. The idea that only Noah’s family was worth saving is troubling. Didn’t most people just have a few goats or sheep and gathered food in the hills to survive? This wasn’t Las Vegas or Rio de Janeiro at Carnival. Was there reason for God to justify a mass genocide?
All of this becomes even more difficult when you consider the teaching that Jesus Christ is the God of the Old Testament. The Deseret Book paintings of a Way-too-White Jesus holding little children doesn’t quite match the vision of a vindictive, heartless God that drowns babies.
The story of the Flood has continued to unravel as I’ve looked into the science of it. Where did enough water come from to cover the Earth as high as Mt. Everest? How was Noah able to collect a million species of insects? Did he have private cages for each beetle pair for their honeymoon cruise? Did no animals die on the ark? Who cut down the 150 acres of forest needed to build a vessel that large? How do you supply 20 pounds of fresh meat daily to the grizzlies, polar bears, lions, tigers and cheetahs? How big were the storage tanks to hold fresh drinking water for the herd?
Even a mix of fresh and salty water would kill every fish, all but a very few plants and every other sea creature like, whales, urchins, clams, crabs etc. And the geologic record of a catastrophic global flood would be distinct: a massive, worldwide layer of sediment mixed with billions of fossilized plants and animals.. God himself said, “and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth.” Where are the fossils?
In spite of all this contrary evidence, the church does not, or cannot back away from the Global Immerse-the-Earth Flood Story. An Ensign article in 1998 said, “Latter-day Saints believe that Noah was an actual man, a prophet of God, who …. gathered his family and a host of animals onto the ark, and floated safely away as waters covered the entire earth.”That statement does not leave a lot of wiggle room.
The flood story appears in many cultures, and I think that each version of the myth can be taught in a way that encourages valuable lessons about obedience, hard work, repentance and family. It is concerning, however, when the Church leadership, comprised of many that are educated and successful, cannot let go of global flood as historical event.
In recent years the LDS Church has been willing to back away from statements made by many of the prophets. In the recent essay on race, Brigham Young was thrown (somewhat) under the bus for denying temple ordinances to African Americans. Statements in the Book of Mormon claiming that the Lamanites are the PRINCIPAL ancestors of the American Indians have been removed. We no longer teach that Catholics are the Great and Abominable Church. And it isn’t even taught anymore that we will all get our own planet someday. (This last one is a bit disappointing. I had plans to make brussels sprouts taste like candy corn in my world.)
Stubbornly, and even to their detriment, the LDS Church still officially clings to polygamy, the Tower of Babel, Kolob and The Three Nephites while teaching that a love-one-another God would drown millions of children (including Noah’s grandkids), pregnant mothers, puppy dogs and panda bears.
Thanks Fred, for the article. The flood story also parallels the
devastation recorded in the Book of Mormon, following the crucifixion. What do we teach our children about the meaning of these God-sponsered mass killings?
I think we need to let go of such literal readings of scripture. This is an artifact of the protestant reformation that just doesn’t hold water (no pun intended) with the modern understanding we have of geology, genetics, and a host of other knowledge. These are stories that God uses to teach us. I exercise faith to believe that God delivered these stories to me to teach me truth. I don’t find it necessary that they are literally, factually true, especially when the weight of all other knowledge strongly indicates they are not literally true. I really loved the Russell Crown movie because it shows this story for what I believe it is, an allegory about calling, faith, cleansing and redemption.
The Jews that wrote down these stories did not write them to be taken literally and do not read them literally. Ask a modern Jew to talk to you about justification of genocide in The Torah. Even if they are not offspring of Holocaust survivors, they will look at you like you are crazy. Latter day saints can learn a lot about from Jews about their non-literal reading of stories in scripture.
Deacon. I appreciate that comment. After the flood God sent a rainbow saying he wont drown everyone again. But later he found new and more cruel ways to punish thousands of people: Tower of Babel, Earthquakes, armies, fires, tornados etc.
If the purpose of life is to be tested, how do you judge a 9 year old Arkansas wagon train rider who is hacked to death by Mormons?
I think the Church is really going to have a hard time getting away from scriptural literalism. It’s truth claims are too dependant on it – Joseph and Brigham just built it that way.
Getting away from literalism will mean getting away from the One True Church paradigm – and what follows that is a whole lot of questioning why we should give 10% of our income and x% of our free/family time to a religious organisation that’s no more “true” than any other.
Did no one on earth have a boat at the time of the flood? This does not make sense too me. Certainly there had to be other sea worthy vessels at the time of the flood.
It may have been really, really tough (impossible) to build a boat that could last through 40 days of it raining ~8700 inches a day each and every day everywhere on the planet, and the total amount of water at the end would have to be 3 1/3 times more than the total volume of water on the entire planet (where did all this water go after?) (The amount needed to cover all the mountains/Everest) To put that into perspective, the most rain in a single day on record anywhere in the world is 73.6 inches.
The story is very difficult to take literally, but I don’t find any issue with what it is trying to teach personally.
Good people have been dying in unpleasant ways for a long time. It’s part and parcel of the package deal we get with mortality. The Millennium is held to be a blessed, wonderful period of mortal history because Satan is bound then. How? By the righteousness of those willing and capable of living at least the Terrestrial law, the wicked having been completely and forcibly removed from the planet, killed en masse, at the time of the Second Coming. Kind of like the Flood.
Millennial conditions to not currently obtain because Satan has not been bound and wickedness flourishes. The wheat and the tares, intermingled, share to more or less degree the common mortal conditions that so obtain. So good people, including pregnant women, die in famines, floods, droughts, earthquakes, wars, epidemics, tornados, heat waves, blizzards – you name it. Some of these may be the result of natural consequences on a telestial world and others as a “direct” decree of God, although I am not sure how to draw the line. Some children die of cancer. (In fact, the infant mortality rate and the death of women in childbirth have been historically much higher than what we see now.) Even as we approach the Second Coming, Joseph Smith, elaborating on DC 63:34, explained “that it is a false idea that the Saints will escape all the judgments, whilst the wicked suffer; for all flesh is subject to suffer, and ‘the righteous shall hardly escape;’ still many of the Saints will escape, for the just shall live by faith; yet many of the righteous shall fall a prey to disease, to pestilence, etc., by reason of the weakness of the flesh, and yet be saved in the Kingdom of God.” (DHC 4:11)
Those choosing to follow Satan rather than God impact the entire mortal environment and experience:
“And he [Enoch] beheld Satan; and he had a great chain in his hand, and it veiled the whole face of the earth with darkness; and he looked up and laughed, and his angels rejoiced.” (Moses 7:26)
Welcome to the earth at the time of the Flood. Welcome to the 21st Century.
Into this world we are assigned our place and time by our Father who, simply put, knows what He is doing. Some of us die young, others at 101, and the “whys” are usually withheld from us on this side of the veil. God is just as well as merciful. Those living past childhood experience the contrast between good and evil, pain and pleasure, sickness and health, hot and cold – a whole slew of opposites; but we are here only temporarily. We also learn about the consequences of our choices. All losses and injustices are made up for in the permanent world, the one that follows this mortal one. Not one soul will find themselves by mistake in the Telestial, Terrestrial or Celestial world.
The Flood is but one event, albeit a dramatic one, in the mortal mini-series. The righteous followed Enoch and escaped. Between their escape and the Flood, others were “caught up by the power of heaven into Zion.” (Moses 7:27) Kind of like the Second Coming. If the Flood, whatever its nature, origin and scope, is a historical event (as will be the Second Coming), then the Church should not demote it to the realm of fiction to placate sophisticated moderns.
The solution has ever been to follow righteousness, not willful rebellion:
“Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments” (DC 1:17)
Following those commandments is the way to go. Let’s end with this cheery forecast:
“And thus, with the sword and by bloodshed the inhabitants of the earth shall mourn; and with famine, and plague, and earthquake, and the thunder of heaven, and the fierce and vivid lightning also, shall the inhabitants of the earth be made to feel the wrath, and indignation, and chastening hand of an Almighty God, until the consumption decreed hath made a full end of all nations” (DC 87:6)
So don’t worry too much about the Flood. Keep faith with the Restoration.
I think we can draw the line where Jesus specifically admits and states in the OT that he is killing everybody off the face of the earth during the Flood. It wasn’t just a “wrong place at the wrong time” instance of being caught up in a natural disaster like famine, blizzard, war, etc. Jesus had to pull some strings and tweak the laws of physics to get enough water to destroy “every living substance that I have made…from off the face of the earth.”
I have really enjoyed the discussion you started here. It is brings such a spectrum of perspectives. You have crazy literalist fundamentalists on one end of the spectrum and depressed “I’ve given up on God because somebody lied to me when I was a kid” Debby Downers on the other end.
Now having said that, please don’t tell me the church is going to back away from Kolob. That is just fun. It’s really one of my favorites. Particularly Brigham’s teaching that Adam and Eve were teleported from Kolob to our planet (which is why they had belly buttons). I have already lost my own planet this year and have had to face the fact that I really was no more valiant in the pre-existence that those rioters in Baltimore. Literally… I’m just not getting what I used to for my tithing dollars.
Yes, this is clearly the case, and has been also the case in more localized instances (Sodom) and will again be the global case at the Second Coming. The scriptures so testify of all these. I was thinking more of the other cases I mentioned – earthquakes, famines, wars, etc. Some 60 million were killed during World War II; that’s a lot of people in the wrong place and time. There has been, of course, a long running (and frequently heated) argument about the degree to which God is responsible for such occurrences and their victims.
Yeah good point. Everybody leaves Noah alone except Mrs Brown. Destruction was always attributed to Gods. The most likely truth was a random catastrophic local flooding in line with the error margins of a delicate cosmic system that triggered some marine rescue responses. Now explain that to your children and write a book.
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Great post!!! Why did god have to teach them how to make ships?. Couldn’t he have taught them how to make airplanes? Or some even more futuristic form of transportation?