10I have seen the task, which God has given to the sons of men to be occupied in it.
11He has made every thing beautiful in its time: also he has put eternity in men’s hearts, so that no man can find out the work that God does from the beginning to the end.
12I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life.
13And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labor, it is the gift of God.
14I know that, whatsoever God does, it shall be forever: nothing can be added to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God does it, that men should fear before him.
15That which has been is now; and that which is to be has already been; and God requires that which is past.
What does it mean for something to “picture” something else? Most people will take that term in a literal sense, i.e. a picture is a material representation of a reality or an ideal that exists in the mind of a human being. The picture in the header of this blog, for example, is a representation of Noah’s Ark. It reflects the actual Ark, the historical event of the Flood and perhaps a few theological implications of that Flood. That kind of picture certainly carries a lot of meaning and value to those who view it.
However, the picturing of Christ goes much, much beyond the meaning and value that any literal process of “picturing” (etching, carving, sculpting, painting, etc.) could ever hope to convey. The best way I can think of to describe the material, spiritual and theological picturing I am concerned with on this blog is to call it God’s way of using real history to accomplish an immediate purpose, but also to simultaneously provide instruction, guidance, truth and prophetic wisdom to all future generations of His human children.
To truly comprehend the power of these pictures, we must understand the nature of God in whatever limited human capacities are available to us. He is a Spirit of perfect actuality and infinite potential – like the perfect, circular whole that could theoretically divide itself into smaller and smaller halves forever, without ever being reduced to nothing, and therefore always encompassing everything that exists. This eternal Spirit does not lack any knowledge concerning even the slightest details of what has happened, what is happening and what will happen in the dimension we call “time”.
Please note that I’m not talking about the importance of predestination over free will or anything of the sort (that particular discussion will have to wait for another day). What I’m really talking about here is the way in which God uses the accidents, mistakes and blunders of an imperfect world to masterfully sculpt invaluable lessons for His creatures (primarily human beings, but also angels); it is the quintessence of using “crisis as opportunity, “making the best of a bad situation” or “creating something from nothing”.
Those descriptions of God’s involvement in human history will often lead the atheist or agnostic to become even more skeptical of the Bible than they were before. After all, it seems way too perfect that some spiritual being would be able to orchestrate events in a way that allows future generations of humans to look back at the pictures and parallels in sheer amazement. The atheist would say that it must be humans creating elaborate fictions after the fact, so they have the appearance of prophetic coherence and consistency. If you get enough people with enough knowledge and creative faculties and enough time - voila! - there are all your Biblical stories.
But maybe we should unpack that chain of logic and see where it truly leads us. Are we willing to attribute such perfect and prophetic “pictures” to the same ancient humans who were raping, pillaging, enslaving and killing each other on a regular basis? And, if so, why would these humans (the tribes of Israel) create fictions in which they often look just as horrendously wicked as everyone else in the story? For argument’s sake, let’s say the writers of the Old Testament were instead involved in the business of “pious fiction” – using all manner of non-literal, non-historical descriptions to paint a genuine theological message for their readers.
Then what about the writers of the New Testament? Did they simply adopt all of that painstaking theology and extend it to create the mother of all “pious fiction”, centered around a Messianic figure named Jesus? This would truly require a level of historical knowledge, theological creativity, life-long motivation, dedicated cooperation with others and dumb luck that is unheard of in any modern human society, let alone any ancient ones. The fact is that all of this “pious fiction” logic starts to rapidly unravel as soon as we start pulling on any number of loose threads.
Once we accept the sheer improbability, beauty, complexity and structural integrity of our material Universe, it is not much of a stretch to intuit the work of an omnipotent intelligence. And, once we accept the existence of this omnipotent intelligence, it is an even lesser stretch to say that the intelligence also created patterns and pictures in the world that transcend human abilities and human lifetimes. This intelligence saw the end of the world as we know it from before the beginning of the world as we experience it, and He realized that, while words are critical for communication, it is pictures that truly impress themselves on our collective memories.
When someone starts talking about the global flood and Noah’s Ark to unbelievers, those people typically won’t start thinking about chapters and verses from the KJB version of Genesis, let alone the original Hebrew that Moses used. Yet, many of them will have a pretty clear understanding of what the story entails in their minds – at least in a few broad strokes. And what better way for a perfect God to work with the undeniably imperfect minds of human beings? Noah’s Ark is a story of evil deeds, of judgment, of revelation, of grace, of faith and of salvation.
5And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. 7And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. 8But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.
13And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth. 14Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch. 15And this is the fashion which thou shalt make it of:
17And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die. 18But with thee will I establish my covenant; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons’ wives with thee. 19And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female.
22Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he. (Genesis 6)
23And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark. (Genesis 7)
Can anyone reflect on the wickedness that must have been present in the time of Noah to so grieve God’s heart, and NOT think about the evil we see all around us today? The situation was bad enough to justify God’s destruction of all living things on Earth, save for Noah, his family and a few “pets”. However, there was 120 years between the time that God gave His revelation of the coming judgment to Noah and the actual beginning of that judgment. We all understand that an omnipotent God wouldn’t actually need any time in between…
So, naturally, we conclude that the purpose of this delay was to give Noah time to prepare by building the Ark and warning everyone who had “eyes to see” and “ears to hear” (Eze. 12:2) of what was to befall the Earth. Another consequence of this time was that it gave Noah a clear chance to demonstrate his faith in God’s word. Even for people who lived to be 600-900 years old on average, 120 years was nothing to sneer at. Noah would have been toiling and preaching away all this time while others gave him strange looks and ridiculed him, yet he would have never doubted God’s promise of judgment.
He also never doubted God’s promise of salvation. It was this unconditional faith which truly saved Noah, because, without it, he never would have been motivated enough to complete the arduous task of building an Ark, while others indulged in the pleasures of life. There is no way Noah could have known that this boat, ridiculously large as it was, would have been adequate to shelter him from the coming storm without God’s assurance that it would. So when believers and unbelievers alike think about this story of the global flood and Noah’s Ark, they are picturing the Gospel of Christ in their minds.
The Gospel is God’s revelation to humanity about a coming judgment of evil, one even greater than that of the Flood, and of the shelter we must seek to avoid the judgment in the Ark that we now know as Jesus Christ. That there was no set number of years given to the earliest Christians on how long it would take before this final judgment would occur simply magnified the level of faith we all must have in God’s promises. As long we heed God’s commands and enter into His Ark before the appointed time, Christ will graciously float the righteous among us, and even our “pets”, towards a brand new creation.
To walk in faith with Christ is hard work, just like Noah’s building of an Ark was hard work, and we will be ridiculed for it by our peers, just as Noah was ridiculed by his. Yet these are never excuses for slacking off or giving up. God has given us clear pictures of His justice and His grace in Christ throughout history – the Flood story being just one among many. He has given us exquisitely crafted evidence that His word is His bond, and that His promises are always kept. Now, it is the task of human beings to understand and appreciate these pictures for all that they are truly worth.