How was the flood during Noah's time just?

The Bible records that in Noah's time, "the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5). Mankind constantly thought of evil things to say and do and never tended toward righteousness, generosity, or love. Genesis 6:13 states that God said, "I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth." Humankind's evil thoughts actually led to violence, atrocities, and chaos. It is hard to imagine a world so horrific and the physical, emotional, and psychological damage such a world would inflict upon its inhabitants. One can picture men brutalized and killed, women raped and beaten, children tortured and left to die after sexual exploitation, and those who survived so traumatized that their only response was to act out more violence and create more chaos.

When God saw the state of this world, "it grieved him to his heart" (Genesis 6:6). God never desired for His creatures to suffer such unthinkable atrocities. He saw the plight of humankind and felt compassion and regret. He used the flood to bring this violent suffering to an end. As humans, we understand the need for violent criminals to be stopped, the need to protect society from their predations.

Protecting is exactly what God did during the flood. "Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God" (Genesis 6:9). For this reason God preserved Noah and his family in the ark. God explicitly stated, "for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation" (Genesis 7:1). In sparing Noah and his family, God also rescued all of humanity in that after the flood Noah's family was to "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth" (Genesis 9:1; cf. Genesis 1:28). God could have terminated His creation completely, and yet He chose rescue instead.

Furthermore, in 2 Peter 2:5 we learn that Noah even preached to his ungodly generation calling them to righteous living. So those who came in contact with Noah had the opportunity to repent and turn toward the Lord and be saved. Instead, they continued in their evil and violent ways.

One can imagine that even the animals were excessively violent. In a description of the future reign of the Messiah, Isaiah records, "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:6–9). When everything is restored to the way God intended before sin entered the world, not only will humans live at peace with each other, but even the animals will no longer hunt or harm. After the flood, even the animals had to start anew with the remnant He preserved on the ark.

Despite Noah's righteousness and the presumed docility of the animals aboard the ark, Noah and his family still struggled with a human nature corrupted by sin in a world still tainted by the fall. Even with this new beginning, humankind still needed God's intervening hand of salvation. Paul explained to the Romans, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith" (Romans 3:23–25). Jesus' sacrifice on the cross paid the penalty for sin; His resurrection confirmed it. When we receive Jesus' work on our behalf by faith, we are made right before God, and it results in our sanctification and eternal life (Romans 6:22).

The letter to the Hebrews states, "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" (Hebrews 11:7). It was God's grace and Noah's faith that spared him during the flood. Peter highlights the justice of God by using the flood and Noah's salvation as an example. He concluded, "then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment" (2 Peter 2:9). The people during Noah's time were unrighteous and committing violence so egregiously that it filled the earth and broke God's heart. They were exposed to Noah's faith and called to join him in obedience, but instead continued in their sin until God brought it to an end with a destructive flood.

The flood was, indeed, just and a picture of the condemnation all humans deserve (John 3:36). The fact that salvation is possible and comes through faith is an exorbitant grace (Romans 5:6–11; Ephesians 2:1–10). The flood in Noah's time, rather than being an example of injustice, is rather an example of God's unmerited grace. It is an example that God is exactly who He revealed Himself to be when He said to Moses, "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty" (Exodus 34:6–7). May it be said of us like it was of Isaiah, "your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for" (Isaiah 6:7).

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