Yahweh saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And Yahweh regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So Yahweh said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I regret that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of Yahweh (Gen 6:5–8).
We live in a fallen world. Every human heart is corrupt. After the fall, because of our sin, by nature, apart from grace, the intention of the thoughts of our hearts are evil continually. Before the flood it was so bad that Scripture says that God “repented that he had made man on the earth.” This is a remarkable expression. In light of both the narrow and broader context it is clear that this expression is intended to be taken metaphorically. To say, as the Open Theists and the other Socinians do, that Yahweh Elohim literally changed his mind because of unforeseen consequences of his decision to create us, is nothing but paganism. No, Scripture describes Yahweh Elohim, the sovereign God who, out of nothing (ex nihilo) spoke creation into existence, as deeply regretting his decision to create us in order to signal to us the gravity of the situation the greatness of human depravity in the fall. The God of Genesis 1 is the God of Genesis 6. He is also the God of Genesis 3:14–15: “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
There is more to the story, however. Even as in San Bernardino there are stories yet to be told of courageous law enforcement offers and others, so too grace peeks through the cloud of evil. Even as judgment was coming for humanity so too grace and salvation was coming. Noah found favor (grace) in the eyes of the Lord. The very point of that verse is not to call attention, in the first instance, to Noah but to God’s unmerited favor. By nature, after the fall, Noah was a sinner who, by nature, was no better than the rest. That he believed and consequently obeyed, is the result of God’s free favor to sinners. Even at the highest tide of corruption and darkness God’s grace is. He is mysteriously redeeming his people. Thus, God said “But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you” (Gen 6:18). Whereas in Genesis 2 God had made a legal covenant, a natural covenant, a covenant of works: “the day you eat thereof you shall surely die,” here he made a covenant of grace with a helpless sinner and his household. This is the biblical pattern that we see in Genesis 12, 15, 17 and beyond and, of course, finally fulfilled in God’s well beloved Son Jesus, who came for us and for our salvation and the ark of salvation.
There is a third part of the story. In Genesis 9:6–17 God’s Word says:
“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. And you, be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it.” Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
This is the world in which you and I live. We live after the ark, after the flood, after God’s general covenant to restrain evil, in which human authorities have been instituted. on a legal principle (“do this and live”) to punish transgressors. This is why Paul says that the magistrate does not bear the sword in vain (Rom 13:4). Both God’s covenant of restraining mercy, represented by the rainbow, and civil justice, are instituted at the same time.
This is not a promise of absolutely peace and tranquility. Almost as soon as Noah’s little congregation landed sin and judgement erupted (Gen 9:25). Nevertheless, without God’s restraining mercy, without the covenant, without civil authorities to carry the sword of civil justice, things would be worse than they are.
So, the despair reflected in the NY Daily News is wrong. God is restraining this. He is redeeming sinners out of this. He is accomplishing his mysterious purposes in and through this. He is not doing this. We are. The events in San Bernardino, in Paris, and across the globe remind Christians again that, though this world and all that is in it belongs to God and is under his general providence, believers are seeking a more final home. Hebrews 11:7 says of Noah, “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.”
Until that time let us continue to pray for God’s ministers of civil justice, that they might be protected, that they might serve wisely and justly, that through them the Lord might continue to restrain evil even as by his grace he is calling his people out of the flood of wickedness in the world into the ark of salvation that is Christ. These are not platitudes. The gospel is as real as the cross upon which Jesus suffered and as real as his true humanity in which he suffered for sin that he never committed. The empty tomb, Christ’s glorious ascension, and his even more glorious bodily return are not mere platitudes either.