As it so often happens in preaching, to make one point from the text of Scripture, requires glossing over another. This is especially true when working with large chunks of Scripture.
Yesterday, I did that as I preached the Flood narrative (Gen 5:28–9:17). In that section, Moses records that God was ‘sorry’ that he had created man (6:6), which raises a whole host of questions related to God and his relationship to the world: Can God suffer? What does it mean that he is sorry? Does God change his mind? Does God know the future? Etc.
As I mentioned those things in the message, my mind was thinking: “I am not spending enough time explaining this.” But since the goal was not verse-by-verse exposition but the exposition of the whole narrative, I pressed on.
Still important questions remain about what Moses meant in Genesis 6:6. Whole revisionist theologies have been created on the basis of those questions. Open Theism, a view that denies God’s absolute knowledge of the future along with his foreordination of contingent events, arises from the emotional problem with evil and passages like Genesis 6:6 which on the surface insinuates that God changes his mind or grieves over mistakes in history.
In yesterdays sermon, I did not get a chance to answer some of those questions, but here are a few places where I or others have addressed the subject of God’s impassibility and his relations with the world.
This message kicked off a series on the holiness of God in the Old Testament. Admittedly, the message focuses more on God’s justice and mercy than his holiness per se. Nevertheless, as the first major display of God’s action in redemptive history (post-fall), it displays a vital reality: In his holiness, God is dreadfully severe towards sin and awesomely gracious towards his covenant people (cf. Rom 11:22).
In his commentary on the Noah story, Gordon Wenham observes a number of ways that Noah and Moses are typologically related to one another. In a section that asks how God’s mind was changed towards mankind after the Flood, he rightly suggests that the sacrifice of Noah had a propitiatory effect on God’s anger (Gen 8:20–22).
In developing this point theologically, Wenham posits two things: (1) the acceptance of every sacrifice requires the antecedent grace of God and (2) the sacrifice of Noah serves as a “prototype of the work of later priests.” (Genesis 1–15, 190). In other words, Wenham deals with both the character of God that is both holy and gracious; and he contends that in order for sinful man to enjoy God’s mercy and avoid his wrath, a priestly sacrifice is necessary.
Assigning to Noah a priestly role, he then relates Noah’s function to that of Moses another priest of God (cf. Ps 99:6). He cites R. W. L. Moberly with approval.
The striking similarity between the flood and Sinai, between Noah and Moses, is of great theological significance for the interpretation of each story. . . . The world, while still in its infancy, has sinned and brought upon itself Yahweh’s wrath and judgment. Israel has only just been constituted a people, God’s chosen people, yet directly it has sinned and incurred Yahweh’s wrath and judgment. Each time the same question is raised. How, before God, can a sinful world (in general) or a sinful people, even God’s chosen people (in particular), exist without being destroyed? Each time the answer is given that if the sin is answered solely by the judgment it deserves, then there is no hope. But in addition to the judgment there is also mercy, a mercy which depends entirely on the character of God and is given to an unchangingly sinful people. (At the Mountain of God, 92; cited by Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 191)