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Grappling with god's regret

Deborah Stoll | Spring 2009

My project to read the Bible cover to cover begins, of course, with Genesis. Like a mad scientist emerging from thin air, God appears on the scene and spends five days creating the world as we know it. On the sixth he creates man and then rests on the seventh. Solid. But then we get to the next chapter, where the entire thing is reversed: here God first creates man (Adam, in Hebrew), then makes the land and beasts and stuff and finally, in the end, tears out one of Adam’s ribs and creates a woman. This chapter is far more exciting, full of conflict and as fantastical as J. R R. Tolkien’s "Lord Of The Rings".

Of course I was familiar with the story of Adam and Eve, but I had no idea Adam was such a whiny tattletale. He gives Eve up the second God senses something is amiss. “The woman You put at my side–she gave me of the tree and I ate.” Nice going Adam. No wonder men and women have trust issues.

In Genesis 4:1 - 26, Eve gives birth to Cain and Abel. This is another tale that has trickled into mainstream storytelling, so I was shocked to learn that the tussle between these two brothers takes up only two paragraphs. Cain thinks God loves Abel more, so he kills him. Easy. God banishes Cain, there’s a bunch of begetting and then, just like that, God says, “I will blot out from the earth the men whom I created–men together with beasts, creeping things, and birds of the sky; for I regret that I made them.”

It is disconcerting to know that not even God transcends regret. Having created the world, He looks around and realises he could do better. But just before he shakes his great Etch-a-Sketch of a universe clean, he decides to save Noah and his wives, sons, sons’ wives and two of every living creature (one male, one female). They all hang out on an ark together while the heavens open and rain falls down for 40 days and 40 nights. Once the flood subsides, Noah, his family and the beasts wait 150 days more for the waters to diminish. And then they floated around for ten months after that, then 40 days after that, then seven more days and then seven more. Just to make sure everything was dry and primed for a fresh start, I guess.

God tried to make a great world. He saw that it was not good, wiped it out, and tried again. Having made a covenant to never destroy the earth with another flood (despite soaking a few cities now and again), the implication is that whatever happens next is man’s fault.

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