Noah's Ark of Forgiveness

"In Genesis 7 we find the famous story of Noah and the flood. Easily pictured, the story is one that children love. But we miss some excellent pointers if we leave it to children. The story is one of genius. God tells Noah to bring into the ark all the opposites: the wild and the domestic, the crawling and the flying, the clean and the unclean, the male and the female of each animal (Genesis 7:2-15).

"In itself, that is understandable. But then God does a most amazing thing. God locks them together inside the ark (Genesis 7:16).

"Most people never note that God actually closed them in! God puts all the natural animosities, all the opposites together, and holds them together in one place. I used to think it was about balancing all the opposites within me, but slowly I have learned that it is actually 'holding' things unreconciled that teaches us — leaving them partly unresolved and without perfect closure or explanation. How to live in hope has not been taught well to Christians. The ego always wants to settle the dust quickly and have answers now. But Paul rightly says, 'In hope we are saved, yet hope is not hope if its object is seen' (Romans 8:24).

"The ark therefore is an image of how God liberates and refines us.

"The ark is an image of the People of God on the waves of time, carrying the contradictions, the opposites, the tensions and the paradoxes of humanity.

"You'd think we would claw one another to death inside, which we have done from time to time. But that gathering of contraries is, in fact, the school of salvation, and the school of love. That's where it happens, in honest community and committed relationships. Love is learned in the encounter with 'otherness' as both Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas taught. Not coincidentally, they both were Jewish philosophers whose worldview was formed by the Bible.

"Eventually we give this mutual deference a word: forgiveness. 'You should bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ' (Galatians 6:2). Forgiveness becomes central to Jesus' teaching, because to receive reality is always to 'bear it,' to bear reality for not meeting all, if any, of our needs. To accept reality is to forgive reality for being what it is.

"I think forgiveness is the only event in which you simultaneously experience three great graces: God's unmerited goodness, the deeper goodness of the one you have forgiven and then you experience your own gratuitous goodness too. That's the payoff. This makes the mystery of forgiveness an incomparable tool of salvation. There is really nothing else quite like it for inner transformation, which is why all spiritual teachers insist upon it, both in the giving and the receiving."