Henry, my 11-year-old son, has a new hobby: magic. He’s getting pretty good at it, too. Whenever I take our toddler out to the playground Henry walks around and does his tricks for the moms and dads and the older kids. They love it. It’s fun to witness a well-done magic trick. He often draws a small crowd and when he really gets them I can hear the gasps and laughs all the way across the playground.
It can get kind of dull, sitting at the playground, and there’s no diversion like a good magic show.
Speaking of diversions, the above video is a witty take on the logistic nightmare that old Noah would have had if he had actually had to manage all those animals. Many atheists and Christians — myself included — take this as fairly compelling evidence that the story is not a piece of history. But some Christians will contend that all Noah had to do was build the boat; God did the rest (although God did instruct Noah to do the critter-gathering). They will contend that God made sure the penguins and polar bears had (or somehow did not need) separate cold zones on board the ark; God made sure no snail was trod upon; God made sure the carnivores received sufficient nutrition; God kept the termites and beavers away from all that gopher wood.
How? God only knows.
For these Christians the Bible is something of a book of magical stories. Which is precisely as many atheists insist. Both groups read the Bible literally and conclude that well, either it actually happened just this way or it didn’t, and if it didn’t then it’s a book of mere fairy tales. On this they agree. The question then becomes, To believe in magic? Or more particularly, What to jettison? For the atheists it’s God and everything that goes by the name of religion; for the Christians it’s anything that contradicts a literal reading of scripture. Which is a lot.
Many atheists look at this clip and say: Noah couldn’t have solved all those impossible problems, so it must all be baloney.
Many Christians look at this clip and say: Noah couldn’t have solved all those impossible problems, so God must have.
Neither are satisfactory. I’m pro-God, don’t get me wrong. I’m almost as theocentic as they come. Try as I might, though, I just can’t bring myself to think of God as a cosmic magic man. It cheapens the story, which is actually my biggest problem with both camps. It’s got nothing to do with science. Fixating on the story’s surface features draws one’s attention and energy from the story itself.
And the story is where the truth is, if there’s any truth here at all. Good stories are quiet and subtle things and, like art, require patience. One has to sit awhile with a story before it starts to resonate.
But let’s admit it: Sitting around can get kind of dull, and there’s no diversion like a good magic show.
NB: If anyone would like an example of what may be learned by sitting patiently with the Noah story, read Frederick Buechner‘s sermon, A Sprig of Hope. It’s in his collection of sermons entitled Secrets in the Dark, but I believe it has been published elsewhere also.