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Noah - the first environmentalist with a water problem?

Then the Lord said to Noah, ‘Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you alone are righteous before me in this generation. (Genesis 7:1)

Noah - the first environmentalist with a water problem?

Water is a big issue and a question of justice. For some communities there is no water to irrigate land, or clean water to wash and drink. For other communities there may be plenty of water but it comes in unwelcome destructive episodes whether deluge from the sky, floods from rivers or the rising tide of the sea. The issues are painfully familiar to an increasing number of people, but the grim reality is that due to global warming and the climate change that results, things are getting worse. The injustice of flood and drought affect the world's poor disproportionately. Without significant change in human behaviour, science tells us that the future is potentially catastrophic. Water confronts all of us with questions about sustainability and our ecological debt.

So what does science say is likely to happen if global warming continues unabated? The list includes:

  • rising sea-levels due to melting of land-based ice and expansion of oceans as they warm - bad news for low-lying islands and the millions who live in delta regions
  • change in rainfall patterns -some semi-arid areas becoming hotter and drier making food harder to grow, and some temperate areas becoming wetter - again making food harder to grow, and bringing an increased risk of flooding
  • storms - more frequent and more severe

Have we been here before? Not exactly, this is the first time that humans have caused global warming, but there are some biblical stories that provide pointers and a vision of hope.

Thumb back to near the beginning of the Bible and we find the story of Noah and the flood. Humanity has become wicked, turned from God's way, though the precise nature of their sin is not spelled out. Focussing on Noah - we see an individual who in God's eyes has favour, was righteous and blameless in his generation, who is described as walking with God. With a flood coming God told Noah to build an ark, round up two of every animal and lead them into the ark and when the rains come, to baton down the hatches.  Noah did as God asked.

Noah not only walked with God in troubled times, but obediently responded to God whatever the cost in resources, to his family or in terms of neighbourly derision. In rounding up the animals into the ark ahead of danger Noah acted as a good conservationist. And following the abatement of the flood Noah's first act was to show to his continued reliance on God through worship.

And God responded to Noah, and indeed to his family, his children and children's children and all living creatures with the rainbow promise.

Noah was the first Biblical environmentalist, he read the signs of the times, was obedient to God, re-oriented his life and acted to ensure the survival of life. His story challenges our generation. Are we willing to read the signs of the times? Are we willing to be obedient to God's leading regardless of personal cost in time, money or derision? Do we feel a calling to help shape our lives, community and economy into one that ensures a safe ark-like passage for ourselves, our children and our children's children and all living creatures?

Mindful of climate change and the real threat to water and life, what can you or your community do to follow in Noah's footsteps and walk with God?

After the flood God gave Noah the rainbow as a sign of commitment to the whole world. Reflecting on God's multi-coloured rainbow promise never to bring a flood again, what rainbow promise does your faith community want to make to God and to your children and children's children and all living creatures?

David Pickering

David Pickering is the minister at St Andrew's Roundhay United Reformed Church in Leeds and has been the Operation Noah board chair since 2005. In the 1990s he was the URC's environmental advisor and from 1999-2004 developed and managed Eco-congregation.

Together we can make a difference:

  • In December 2009 the UN are organizing an international climate change conference in Copenhagen for political leaders to agree on a global climate change plan. Operation Noah in the UK is campaigning for the UK Government to lobby for significant world-wide reductions in emissions from fossil fuel power stations. Read more about our ‘cap the power - cut the carbon' at
  • What is your promise? Learn about what you can do to slow climate change: "What you can do. Simple changes in our everyday lives can help slow climate change." (David Suzuki Foundation)

Picture: Gaspirtz

Posted By: David Pickering on Mar 24, 2009 04:09PM