“And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” Genesis 6:6 ESV
For me this is probably the saddest verse in the whole Bible. Humankind’s wickedness had got to a point where it had made God actually wish he hadn’t created us. The NLT actually says, “it broke his heart.” If we look at the Lord’s reaction from a human point of view, we might be tempted to say that this was God giving up on us, or that the flood which followed was a murderous act, or one comparable with abortion – a discarding of life, or of potential. But this is to fundamentally misunderstand the character of the life-giver, and just how far we had devolved.
I say that because God does not act on his own broken heart in order to assuage his own feelings or mend his own hurts. The love that spoke the universe into being simply doesn’t work like that, because it is not self-centred. The Lord’s deep sadness was not only for himself, but for us. For we had been given the gift of life and turned it entirely over to evil. The previous verse tells us that,
“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5)
I believe the Lord’s deep sadness and broken-heartedness at this point in his relationship with us, was not only that we had chosen this path, but that he knew what he was going to have to do in order to save us. He knew he would have to prune life on earth back to one solitary shoot. We were like a tree gone almost entirely rotten. There was no potential for good or for life or relationship with our creator anywhere except in the heart of Noah and his family.
At the time of the flood, our descent was so marked and irredeemable that even the animals had to die with us, famously two of each kind (more of the “clean” creatures) were also to be a new beginning, and the rainbow promise made as a new covenant with Noah was made also with the world’s fauna.
The mass destruction had to happen. There simply was no other way of reaching us, no words that we would hear, since the evil was continuous, unceasing. All we were doing was breeding more and more death in our hearts. There are plenty of instances in the Old Testament where death seems sweeping and at the hand or command of the Lord, and I do not pretend to understand why this might be, but I do observe that it is often implicit that sin is being destroyed, and that God is always for life, not death:
“For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezekiel 18:32 NIV)
Our wickedness today I am sure continues to break God’s heart. But although we might sometimes wonder that he doesn’t wish to start over again, we know that we serve a God who keeps his promises, and that the covenant made anew through the blood of Jesus, redeems us whilst we are yet sinners, and that it is now love and life, not death, that begins to flood the world, changing all to a heavenly landscape, albeit slowly and less tangibly sometimes, than we would like.
Photo from Morguefile.com