Genesis 6:6 – Two Very Different Views (Calvin & Brueggemann)

YHWH saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.
And YHWH was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth,
and it grieved him to his heart.

So YHWH said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the sight of YHWH.
[Genesis 6:5-8]

John Calvin:

The repentance which is here ascribed to God does not properly belong to him, but has reference to our understanding of him. For since we cannot comprehend him as he is, it is necessary that, for our sake, he should, in a certain sense, transform himself. That repentance cannot take place in God, easily appears from this single consideration, that nothing happens which is by him unexpected or unforeseen. The same reasoning, and remark, applies to what follows, that God was affected with grief. Certainly God is not sorrowful or sad; but remains for ever like himself in his celestial and happy repose: yet, because it could not otherwise be known how great is God’s hatred and detestation of sin, therefore the Spirit accommodates to our capacity…. This figure, which represents God as transferring to himself what is peculiar to human nature, is called anthropomorphism.

Walter Brueggemann:

We are confronted in this text not with a flood, but with a heavy, painful crisis in the dealings of God with creation. It is popularly thought that the crisis of the flood is to place the world in jeopardy. But a close reading indicates that it is the heart and person of God which are placed in crisis. The crisis is not the much water, which now has only become a dramatic setting. Rather, the crisis becomes of the resistant character of the world which evokes hurt and grief in the heart of God.  The narrative is centered in the grief of God, whose heart knows about our hearts. This daring assertion about God is problematic in every static theology which wants God always acting the same and predictably. But the text affirms that God is decisively impacted by the suffering, hurt, and circumstance of his creation.  The flood has effected not change in humankind. But it has affected an irreversible change in God, who now will approach his creation with an unlimited patience and forbearance. To be sure, God has been committed to his creation from the beginning. But this narrative traces a new decision on the part of God, clear that such a commitment is intensified. For the first time, it is marked by grief, the hurt of betrayal. It is now clear that such a commitment on God’s part is costly. The God-world relation is not simply that of a strong God and needy world. Now it is a tortured relation between a grieved God and a resistant world. And of the two, the real changes are in God.”

Which interpretation do you resonate with?  Why?


5 thoughts on “Genesis 6:6 – Two Very Different Views (Calvin & Brueggemann)

  1. GOD HATES SIN and HE STILL HATES SIN. The world is full of it. This is why the world finds it unbelievable when we have posers, fakers, and wannabes proclaiming Christ as King. HE hates our disobedience and our lack of faith. Simply come, abandon yourself to HIM. He must have our total allegiance. He desires nothing less. The truth always comes in the form of a voice. Only his sheep hear his voice. Do you? The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable. If you are truly GOD.s Then BE HIS. You are not your own.
    —- shalom


  2. The Brueggemann passage resonates strongest with me. Calvin, at least in this passage, presents a God who seems inaccessible and with whom one cannot have a relationship at all. It also is heavily weighted towards fatalism which in my opinion contradicts most of Scripture. How can we or the Isrealites of the OT disappoint God if we do not have the ability to instigate change? It is the failure to change – or a change for the worse – which saddens and angers God. If all is known and ordained then what value has repentance, redemption, or even prayer?

    I do not wholly agree with Brueggemann either, particularly the assumption that God is changed in a fundamental way by this experience. I don’t think the passage necessitates God to be changed, I think it is humanity that is changed in kind of a negative exposure of the Crucifixion; all being lost as opposed to all being redeemed. In both cases it is the actions of God that cause a fundamental change in us – not the other way around. Is Jesus less Christ or more Christ for having been resurrected and ascended? I think not. Instead it is humanity which is less or more in response.

    Finally I do not support a literally interpretation of every single passage of the Bible. In this case I am willing to believe that a flood happened and a significant number of people perished, even that an Ark was built by Noah as a result of direct Divine instruction. But the record, the story preserved, is presented in mythological/folkloristic structure and language and I feel we should interpret it as such. Because of this I am disappointed that both Calvin and Brueggemann downplay the symbolic presence of water in this story.

    For example God grieves and it rains for forty days and nights – can that not be tears from Heaven? Water, especially deep, vast, destructive water is symbolically used in the OT as uncaring chaos – the very opposite of God. We are told that mankind as a race had turned almost uniformly evil. Can the flood not be a self-destructive element as the chaos and immorality of the people consumes them as they turn away from God in their evil? That one family is able to rise above and weather the storm of spiritual anarchy?

    Now the passage is clear that God directly acts towards this end. I am not a scholar and do not have an understanding of Biblical Hebrew, so what I have to work with is English that I know to be a translation. God pushes back the waters, staves off the consuming chaos in Gen 1:7; I would like to believe that we could say here that God in his grief abandons that post, and that the word “allows” should be inserted into Gen 6:7 thus giving us something along the lines of “I will ALLOW the human beings I have created TO BE blotted from the earth…”. But I have to believe that if there were linguistic support for such a thing it would have been translated as such.

    On a different tact I also would like to point out that to “blot” is to absorb a liquid – like the water representation of chaos – for the purpose of cleaning, so that one could interpret the same passage instead to read that God will clean the chaos created by the evil of man from the world in his blotting. Again not knowing Biblical Hebrew I have to accept that the translated word “blot” may not have the same fullness of definition in the original, or may have connotations not fully realized by “blot”.

    In the end, this passage like most of Genesis is richly evocative and has deep meaning from a variety of perspectives. If nothing else it has immense value in merely provoking thought and conversation on the nature and actions of God. For that reason I really appreciate your phrasing of the prompt question -”Which resonates most…” as it discards the need to identify a right or wrong interpretation and allows all to come to the table, regardless of how crackpot our ideas may be.


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