The Flood narrative in Genesis 6-9 teaches us that the violence of humans is the problem God is seeking a solution to, and that violence itself cannot be a solution to violence. Something else is needed. The story even teaches us that God himself has forsaken violence as a means of ridding the world of violence, and if God, who alone is able to see into and understand the human heart, has forsaken it, how can we take it up, we who so quickly yet so poorly judge the human heart? Part of the problem that Genesis 1-11 presents us is not only that humans keep trying to take for ourselves responsibilities, rights, and actions that rightly belong only to God, but also that we refuse to forsake those rights and actions that even God has forsaken. We are really some messed up dudes.
That’s part of the story of the Flood as well. Who among us are really righteous? God thought he had found a righteous man in Noah. To be fair, the text says that Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord, not that he was righteous. But coming on the heels of stating the wickedness and evil of humankind and God determining to destroy them all, the implication is clear: Noah was somehow innocent of the wickedness and evil that characterized everyone else.
There’s a brief episode after the Flood that often gets passed over, but it’s an integral part of the story. After God makes a covenant with him, we are told that Noah, being a man of the soil, plants a vineyard. And one day, Noah drinks some of the wine from his vineyard. OK, more than some of the wine, he drinks a lot. He gets drunk, so drunk that he passes out in his tent. I don’t know a lot about getting drunk, but I know that if you drink so much that you pass out, that’s pretty drunk.
Noah, the one righteous man on the earth, is also the earth’s first drunk. The gap between the two is apparently not that large.
But Noah is a closet drunk. He doesn’t get drunk out in the open where everyone can see him. Out in the open Noah is the Righteous Dude, the One God Found Favor With, the Holy Remnant and New Father of Humanity. If Noah were to get drunk out in the open, he’d no longer be the Righteous Dude, he’d be the Drunk Dude.
So Noah goes into his tent and gets drunk. His tent is dark. His tent is private. No one can see what goes on in his tent. He’s safe to do whatever he wants in his tent. In his tent, he doesn’t have to be anything to anyone; he doesn’t represent anything. He’s not Righteous Dude or Favored One or Father of Humanity. He’s just plain ol’ Noah.
Noah with a secret. This wine stuff is good, and lots of wine is even better; and once he starts, he can’t stop. He only stops when he passes out. Oh, and he’s naked also. Got drunk, took off his clothes, and passed out before he could get his jammies on.
Well, at least it only happens in the tent, in the dark, where nobody can see, and no one will know. In the morning, when the light comes, he’ll wake up, shake the cobwebs out of his head, put some clean clothes on, and emerge once again as Noah, Favored One.
But one of Noah’s sons, Ham, goes into Noah’s tent and finds him lying there, drunk and naked. Don’t know why Ham went in Noah’s tent. Maybe Noah had overslept and Ham was worried about him. Maybe he had never heard his dad snore so loud and went to see what was going on. But he goes in and discovers his father’s little secret.
We all have tents, those dark, private places where we do things we don’t want anyone else to see. Of course, our families tend to be able to see into our tents; it’s hard to keep things from our families. Our kids in particular seem to be able to sniff things out. So there is a code: no one talks. Families stick together. We keep each other’s secrets. In fact, we don’t talk about each others secrets. We act like they aren’t there. It’s just better that way.
Ham talks. He goes out and says to his brothers Shem and Japheth, “Hey, Dad’s naked and passed out in there. Think we ought to do something?” Well, Shem and Japheth do something all right; they honor the code. In a classic portrayal of the denial of co-dependency, they grab a blanket, hold it between them, walk backwards into the tent and lay the blanket over their naked father. Then they walk out. Probably never speak of it to each other. Act like it didn’t happen.
Noah wakes up, and somehow through the fog realizes what has happened. And curses his son. Consigns him to be a slave to his brothers. Because he talked, and they didn’t. Because he stated, clearly and honestly, “Um, I think we have a problem,” while Shem and Japheth participated in a conspiracy of denial along with their father. The Righteous One.
There are none of us righteous enough to pass judgment on another. None of us are righteous enough to decide what is right and what is wrong, who is right and who is wrong, who deserves to be free and who deserves to be a slave, who deserves to live, who deserves to die. Most times when we do it, we mess it up pretty badly. Noah did; you think you would do any better?
Only God is righteous enough. And what he refuses to do, we should refuse to do. That’s the message of the Flood narrative.