Does God’s promise to Noah mean we needn’t worry?

(Colin Bell)

One argument sometimes put forward by Christians is that the promise made to Noah after the flood means that global warming is nothing to worry about. A recent example by a US politician is referenced here.

It’s argued as follows: in the book of Genesis, God sees considerable evil on the earth and decides to destroy all of it, save for one righteous man, Noah, his family, and enough animals and birds to restock the planet afterwards. Once the waters subside, God makes the following promise:

Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. (Gen 9:14-15)

… and so, it is reasoned, whatever we do, life on the planet will continue, contra the worst predictions of the global warming alarmists.

There are plenty of interpretative difficulties to overcome here, such whether the flood was world-wide or just local, whether God’s promise can legitimately be extended from just floods to other potential forms of extermination, and indeed whether he is promising protection from such extermination, or just saying that he won’t bring it – but that we might bring it on ourselves.

Even if we concede these points for the sake of argument, this view still has a couple of issues, one from inside Biblical theology, one more pragmatic.

Those arguing for it want to use it in support of “business as usual”, that we can continue on without fear of the punishment of God. But God has promised only not to wipe out the entire human race. Individual civilisations and societies are not immune from destruction, or at least major collapse. This is not just a pedantic distinction: the latter part of the Old Testament tells of how God’s chosen people, Israel, turned away from him, and he permitted their enemies to overthrow the two Jewish nations and take their land. They did get it back, but had to essentially rebuild from scratch, and without ten of the twelve constituent tribes who disappear from history at this point.

The same clearly applies throughout history: for instance, the Roman Empire is no more, and the short-term consequences of that were severe in many places. While the term “the Dark Ages” has been shown to be a misnomer, there was certainly a loss of many of the technological and other luxuries experienced in Roman Britain compared to what followed.

What many environmentalists and others fear – a collapse of modern Western civilisation as we understand it together with the deaths of hundreds of millions, and having to start again at a lower technological base – is thus not in any way ruled out by God’s promise.

The pragmatic issue is simply this: if we are ruling out climate change as a punishment from God for our environmental and other sins (which seems not unreasonable in any case) then why it is happening? It seems only to increase the likelihood that we are responsible!

So the Genesis 9 argument seems to be a total non-starter – on any reading it doesn’t preclude any but the most extreme doom-laden predictions (which nobody is seriously making anyway) – and if it says anything about human action at all, it supports our need to do something, rather than lessens it.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Does God’s promise to Noah mean we needn’t worry?

  1. As far as I can read the situation those driving the current alarmism over climate do indeed desire the collapse of Western civilization (eg Maurice Strong) along with the death of countless millions in the developing world. Their obsession with population control is just eugenics and liebensraum coming back on the agenda. The Earth God made is very robust and is well able to survive the various messes humans are wont to make (we may not survive our mistakes I grant!). The seasons will continue unabated by any puny human efforts or mistakes. Of course we are stewards of the earth and will be held to account for that stewardship, but trying to reduce the amount of the food making gas (CO2) is a lousy way to look after the planet and, more importantly, our fellow human beings. As a useful rule of thumb: 1 ton of aviation fuel burnt makes enough CO2 to grow wheat to make 1500 loaves of bread.

  2. Colin Bell

    Perhaps you might like to read a little wider – or come to our conference – to get a more accurate feel for what people desire! A lot of people do fear collapse but few desire it. What most want instead is a transition as painlessly as possible to a new sort of civilisation which can be sustained on the planet, since our current one clearly cannot (for all sorts of reasons, not just climate-related). This has some helpful side-effects, from a Christian point of view anyway, of necessarily lessening the obsession with materialism and greed which pervades the West currently. The interesting debate is what we want such a civilisation to look like. Unsurprisingly there are plenty of different ideas.

    Your own view is rather perverse too, since you seem to be happy to see humanity destroy itself, together with, presumably, a good proportion of life currently extant! Yes, I’m sure the Earth can survive what we can throw at it, but ending up with a planet unable to sustain human life would be considered a miserable failure by all but the most misanthropic environmentalist.

  3. Maybe I did not express my meaning clearly: when I said we might not survive our mistakes I merely meant that human beings do things which they do not survive from: making war for example, or believing pseudo-science (such as that of Lysenko) and causing millions to die of starvation.
    People, particularly the poorest in the world, have already paid a terrible price in lives for the whimsies of the likes of ‘Friends of the Earth’ et al.
    A group of us may well decide to attend the conference, if only to give some voice for those people facing the consequences of the ‘green’ agenda.

  4. Colin Bell

    That is a very interesting interpretation of the situation, one which I cannot remotely share. I’m sure Friends of the Earth would be flattered to think that anyone believes they have that much influence.

  5. Since I had never heard of this author before, I’m not really sure why I ordered this book, but I am glad I did. I read several excellent reviews, and decided it sounded interesting.

    This book has three distinct parts. The first part, “God on Trial”, is about who God is. The second part is “Emotional and Spiritual Healing”. Part three is titled “Principles for Freedom-Living”. As you read from one section to another it is almost like starting a new book each time, and each section is loaded with helpful information.

    Fr. Morris talks about the many different types of suffering and gives suggestions on how to deal with them. Sometimes we wonder why God allows bad things to happen. Fr. Morris reminds us that God creates good, He does not create evil, but because of free will, He allows it. Sometimes this is hard to understand, and when we suffer, we can become bitter or better.

    If we handle it right, we will be better people for having suffered. I know it is not easy. Many years ago our youngest son died as an infant. You never forget, but you can go on and be a better person because of it. I still read anything I can to help me learn to help other people with loss. I also recommend Rabbi Kushner’s book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, which Fr. Morris quotes in this book.

    “The Promise: God’s Purpose and Plan for When Life Hurts” is a great book for all who believe in God. It is written by a Catholic priest, but it is not just for Catholics.

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