So says the ancient mariner of Samuel Coleridge’s poem. The mariner, for no particularly good reason shoots an albatross with his cross bow then spends the rest of this life (and the remainder of this very long poem) wearing the weight of his guilt.
Human guilt. You can’t escape it. To have the glory of the choice — offered in the garden — is also to bear the consequences of that choice. As we said on Sunday, (Who are You Listening To? the prohibition against not eating the fruit of the tree is an important commandment of self-restraint. Use your freedom well, God commands. Your choices matter!
By the time we get to the flood story of Genesis 6-9, human iniquity is so great the world can no longer bear it. Or more to the point, God can no longer bear it. We get one divine answer to human iniquity: the devastation of the world.
One man, Noah, is chosen to ride out the deluge. As Peter Pitzele notes, Noah is the first of a type we will meet repeatedly in the book of Genesis: a survivor-savior, the preserver-provider, the chosen son.
It’s through one that many (down the line) will be saved. He will provide the link between the world that was and the world to come; the memories of the lost world and the ancient stories of creation will be carried by Noah. If the destruction was complete, then who could carry the lesson learned? There must be a survivor – the one who remembers.
But at such a cost! The recent film Noah illustrates the weight of being a survivor. What do you do with such overwhelming loss? Who do you become when you have lost almost everything that mattered to you? This is a theme Genesis will turn to repeatedly: Esau losing his birthright, Dinah losing her virginity, Joseph losing his family, Rachel weeping for her sons.
But back to the terrifying God, the one capable of destroying the world and everyone in it. Noah also preserves the knowledge of this face of God. He is the one who knows something of this God’s mercy and this God’s judgment. Noah gives witness to the complexity of this God.
No wonder Noah’s first act upon the newly restored earth is to make an offering of worship (Gen. 8:20-ff), But his second act is to drink himself into a drunken stupor (Gen. 9:20-ff). Because at the end of the day, Moses is both righteous and a man. No sooner has one world died than another one begins. There is another abuse of freedom. Another choice to be made. Another victim and another survivor.
Human guilt. You can’t escape it.
The difference is that in Jesus, God now shares that guilt with us. And offers us a new starting place. A way of putting the guilt behind us by accepting that forgiveness starts today. Or in the language of 1 Peter 2, so that we might “die to sin and live to righteousness.”