The 6th chapter of Genesis has one of those classic Bible stories that every church member knows and most non-churched folks also know. Noah and the Ark. This story has been absorbed into our culture. The typical version is about a wise, faithful, God-fearing man is given instructions by God to build a large boat and put his family, two of every creature and every kind of food on the ark. This story has been enmeshed into our world:
- Evan Almighty – Steve Carrell: A newly elected congressman is commanded by God to prepare for a flood
- Playmobil Noah’s Ark – children’s play set with animals and a boat
- A favorite book “Noah’s Ark” by Peter Spier – picture book from my childhood
- Bill Cosby’s stand-up routine: “What’s a cubit?”
- Walt Disney retells the story with Donald Duck in Fantasia 2000
We seem to love this story, but if we read the text and reflect upon it, we realize that this is a difficult story. Why does God kill all the people? Why does God destroy all the animals? Why does God choose to end the world? This is a serious puzzle for us to wrestle with today? It seems like we enjoy puzzles and challenges. We enjoy “Escape Rooms,” and solving puzzles, but what about Genesis 6? Is it too much of a puzzle to unravel?
Today’s fifth toy in our sermon series, Toy Box Faith, presents us with a puzzle. In some ways, we’re Rubik’s Cube people at heart. We’re trying to figure out the unsolvable puzzle. We’re trying to twist ourselves, our spouses, our children, our friends, and even strangers to fit just precisely into the colorful blocks we’ve created. We’re hoping to solve life’s puzzle.
Of course, the Rubik’s Cube isn’t entirely unsolvable – there are very special, talented, smart, and incredibly patient people who can solve it. I am not one of those people.
Has anyone ever successfully solved the Rubik’s Cube? Anyone who can solve it quickly?
The Rubik’s Cube is one of the hallmark toys of my generation: children of the 80s. It was introduced in the U.S. in 1980 and has been frustrating children and adults alike ever since. The Rubik’s Cube was invented just 6 years prior in 1974 by a Hungarian architecture professor named Erno Rubik. Rubik’s Cube was one the first inventions to break through the Iron Curtain and be marketed worldwide, making Professor Rubik the first self-made millionaire of the communist block. After designing his “magic cube” as he called it, he came to realize that even though he had invented the code, he himself could not solve the puzzle.
Can’t the same be said of us? We’ve lived all the years of our own lives and still feel like we hardly understand our own heart or mind. Or as followers of Jesus: I made this commitment, why can’t I figure them out?
In today’s scripture lesson, that is exactly the dilemma God is posed with. The people God had created were corrupt and sinful. So God tries to figure out how to solve the puzzle of making humanity good and faithful again. God sees Noah, a “righteous man,” who “walked with God” (v.9), and gives Noah his own puzzle to solve – if he can get all the pieces together, he could save all living creatures. God gives Noah a manual to solve the puzzle: “the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits” (v.15).
And this is where the Bible presents one of humankind’s biggest puzzles of all time: what in the world in a cubit? Now, I cannot solve this puzzle, but I do know what a cubit is! A cubit is the distance from the point of your elbow to the tip of your middle finger. So….actually we don’t really know what a cubit is, because my cubit is a different length from your cubit. So how long was the ark? It was 300 lengths of Noah’s elbow to middle finger. And I don’t believe we will ever have the answer to exactly how long that was.
Therefore, God gives Noah a puzzle that only he can solve. And God gives us a puzzle only we can solve. We are each offered a life, and we must fit the pieces God has given us in just the right place. Yet, our pieces will fit differently from everyone else’s. There are 43 Quintillion possible moves for the Rubik’s Cube, but only one solution. There are quintillions of moves you can make in your life, but only one God who guides you. God may not give us cubit by cubit instructions, but God does give us commandments – an instruction manual for following God.
The Original Rubik’s Cube had an instruction manual. This Rubik’s Cube, I ordered from Amazon, did not come with the instruction, but in 1980: “Mastering Rubik’s Cube: The solution to the 20th Century’s most amazing puzzle” was included with the puzzle. This book guarantees to teach you to solve it in under 5 minutes. So… I wish I had that instruction book.
Noah could not have built the Ark without God’s very detailed instructions, without time to concentrate and build, without an ability to strategize how to fit all those animals in, without strategy and reason and mathematics, and without a whole lot of patience and faith. God gives Noah the instructions, but it’s Noah who must figure out what it means. Noah must put the pieces together to solve the puzzle, put all the planks on the right side, and fit all the pieces in just the right way. God sees the big pictures, but Noah must solve the cube-it picture.
And there is a right way and a wrong way to solve it. If Noah hadn’t followed God’s instructions, the Ark would not float. If he had cheated and cut corners, the boat would collapse.
Now to solve the Rubik’s Cube, you could cheat the cube. You could pull it all apart, match the colors up and put it back together. You could also peeled off the stickers, most likely to “solve the puzzle” by rearranging the stickers. Sure that might work, but you wouldn’t fool anyone: once you pull the sticker off it never goes back on the same way again. There is a right way to solve the Rubik’s Cube: that takes time, patience, thought, skill. There is a wrong way to solve the Rubik’s Cube: that takes cheating, deception, and ruining the cube for good.
There is the right way to build an ark. And friends, there is a right way and a wrong way to follow God. We in fact have an instruction manual for that too. Yet, sometimes the Holy Bible is puzzling and confusing. To understand how these ancient words speak to us today takes time, patience, study, prayer and a faith in a God who still speaks. For we have faith that the God who gave cubit by cubit instructions to Noah is the same God who speaks today. The same God who made a covenant of life with Noah is the same God who makes a covenant with us. The same God who brought order out of a watery chaos is the same God who brings order to our chaotic lives. For God can take the chaos of the world, the puzzle that seems unsolvable, the people who seem irredeemable, and twist and turn the world back to the proper order.
The Rubik’s Cube is all about taking the chaos of colors and blocks and twisting them into patterns and order. Friends, we all know that many people can easily create chaos, but only One has the power to but it back in order.
Our nation has been heavy in chaos recently. With threats of nuclear war, white supremacists marching with torches on a college campus’, politicians resigning over ethics violations and fake news. The world feels like this unsolvable cube of chaos that can never be put right. And yet…and yet… amidst the images of hate, anger and chaos – there are place were God’s people are working to faithfully follow God’s instruction manual: offering groceries at food pantries, going to Staten Island to repair homes damaged by flood waters, keeping our baptismal vows by caring for children and loving our neighbor.
Friends, there is a right way and a wrong way to follow God. Following God does not come with taking the easy road, with cheating the system, with hatred, or with trying to twist the world into conforming to your way. While God did give Noah stipulations for building an Ark, God does not give us stipulations for love. To live a life of faith we are to love, no exceptions or conditions. When the flood was over, God sent a sign to Noah that never again would God destroy the world. That sign was a rainbow: where all the colors come together to make something beautiful. For God twists chaos into order. God gives instructions for unsolvable puzzles. God turns ugliness into rainbows. God is found in the midst of our puzzling lives, if we would take the time to listen, if we would have the patience to hear, if we would have the courage to love.
Commentary from Mark Throntveit, Eliza Cramer Jaremko and Geoff McElroy.