Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (Genesis 6-7) transports me to the alternative universe of Camp Half Blood in New York, where the sixth grader Percy Jackson, who has always had trouble in school, discovers that the source of his problems is that he is indeed a half-blood, with a human mother and an ancient immortal Greek god as his father. Percy is skeptical at this news, as he doesn’t believe in all those Greek legends he has been learning in Latin class. He protests to Mr. D, the camp director, But they’re stories. They’re myths, to explain lightning and the seasons and stuff. They’re what people believed before there was science. Mr. D. proceeds to demonstrate to Percy that those so-called myths are indeed real, truer than the contemporary scientific theories which would no doubt be discredited and replaced by new theories in another hundred years, as often happens with science.
I don’t know what Mr. D. and Percy Jackson would do with stories like the one we find in today’s passage, the famous story of Noah’s ark and the great flood. Some folks no doubt find it mythological in the way Percy understood the genre – made up stories that were invented to explain something. They would point out that the ancient Hebrews were not the only culture to have such a flood story; the Sumerian/Akkadian epic poem Gilgamesh pre-dates the Genesis account by a few hundred years and has remarkably similar features. Even to say “the Genesis account” is a bit of a misnomer, as the Hebrew scholars demonstrate that what we have in Genesis 6 and 7 is actually a harmonization of two different flood stories, told by different camps within the faith community, with different perspectives. An example, one camp described the problem with humanity using language of wickedness and evil hearts, while the other camp used language describing systemic corruption and a culture of violence (sounds a lot like our contemporary ideological divide between those who focus on individual and personal responsibility for sin and those who focus on structural, corporate sin). On the other hand, we have people who do their best to read Genesis as a literal scientific text, refuting the notion that the Noah story is a pre-scientific explanation legend. These folks use the modern scientific method in their efforts to prove the existence of a real ark and a real catastrophic flood that took place in real biblical times.
I think the folks on both sides of this biblical debate are missing something important here, like the main point of the story. Moderns, like Percy, often have a limited understanding of mythology – believing it to be a set of made up stories, invented to explain some phenomenon in the observed world. I am more drawn to the way Carl Jung understood mythology, as a set of stories that convey deep truth, not so much to explain natural phenomena in a pre-scientific way, but to reveal the world of the human heart, the interior world, in a way truer than can be explained by science or any other world view. In Jung’s view, the world of myth, of dreams, of stories, were neither false nor unreal. They were the most profound of truths, bringing understanding of what it means to be human. And so, we can read the Genesis flood story from a Jungian perspective to say that the world of the human heart is highly susceptible to a level of personal wickedness as well as systemic corruption that cannot be sustained. The world of violence and evil invades the heart, both the individual heart and the heart of the human community, and creates its own world there, a world that the Holy cannot abide. And so there is a need to destroy that world, that world system, to drown it, creating the conditions for a new life, for a new world, to be born. The goodness of God’s creation is salvaged within the ark of covenant love – two by two – so that life in all its glorious goodness can be fruitful and multiply and once again cover the world, that is, the heart. The Genesis flood story, in this reading, is a baptism story writ large. The world of corruption and violence and wickedness and judgment and greed and prejudice is immersed, totally perishing under the forty-day floodwaters of grace and mercy. Then a new world, filled with the possibility for new life, is raised up, with clouds parting and choirs singing here comes the sun. For any of us who have experienced our hearts and the heart of our community held captive to a world of corruption and violence and addiction and greed, this is a hopeful story, to be sure. There’s even a dove showing up to confirm the good news. And like Percy Jackson, we discover the truth that we are living this story both as children of human parents and as children of God. Going to church, then, is our experience of attending Camp Half-Blood, where we learn and grow and prepare for the challenges that lie ahead.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.