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How could a loving God send a global Flood?

Published: 30 November 2019 (GMT+10)

A writer from the U.S. asks:

How do we reconcile a God of love with Noah’s flood? What about all the innocent people (adults and children) that drowned?

CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:

Thanks for writing in.

Meta-question: how do we ground the notion of love without the God of love? We can’t. God is the ultimate Good, and thus is the standard for what is good and loving (What is ‘good’? (Answering the Euthyphro Dilemma)). Therefore, before we even try to show why a God of love is consistent with Noah’s Flood, we have to realize that apart from God we have no grounding to gripe about Him being less than moral because morality ultimately has to come from God. See Can we be good without God?, Is God a ‘moral monster’? and Why did God allow sin at all?

But of course, God is also just. The people at large in Noah’s day were highly wicked; that was clearly the main reason for the Flood judgment (Genesis 6:5–7, 11–13) (Noah’s Flood—why?). And God also had purposes for the Flood in history that went beyond the individual human and the event itself (Questions about Noah’s Flood and Why did God choose just Israel?).

As to innocent people; were there any innocent adults? Genesis 6 takes a very dim view of humanity’s morality at large in Noah’s day. And this seems to go beyond the simple theological affirmation that we’re all sinners (Romans 3:23); it describes the world of Noah’s day as corrupt and full of violence (Genesis 6:11).

What of children? Let’s assume that they’re innocent, or at least not old enough to be held personally culpable for a part in why God sent the Flood (like e.g. God didn’t hold anyone under the age of 20 accountable for Israel’s disobedience in the wilderness: Numbers 14:29). OK, how would they survive without their families? God didn’t suspend the regularities of human relationships in the context of the Flood; humans are social animals, and live together in connected communities. Children are also dependent on their families for much of the basics of life. Moreover, God didn’t simply strike down the specific individuals who caused the problem; the problem was systemic throughout the entirety of human culture. God deemed the culture irredeemable (which, since humanity at the time had one language, was likely one broad culture), and thus the culture had to go, as per Genesis 6:11–13:

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.’

This is similar to the situation with Jericho during the Conquest; the whole city had to destroyed (Joshua 6:17–21), or with the Amalekites in Saul’s day (1 Samuel 15:1–3). These are examples of corporate punishment, which was a common issue in the Bible, as Dr Sarfati explains in Why would a loving God allow death and suffering?:

The Western culture is very individualist in thinking, but the Bible was more collective, as are most cultures even today. This explains the frequent corporate punishment in the Bible.

I hope this helps,

Shaun Doyle

Creation Ministries International

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

Michael. F.
This was a garbage answer.
You dodged the question of
“Why did god murder innocent children & babies?”.

Concerning Noah having millions of adopted children, god is god, and can achieve any thing that he/it wants, so the millions of surviving children should have been saved.

Why was god so angry, when he knew for an eternity that people of Noah’s time would be evil?
That would be like me being angry when the sun rises.

There are over 40 flood myths.
The Mesopotamians had their flood story, involving Gilgamesh, and the latter story was written 500 years before the biblical story.

Get your heads out of the sand people.

Lastly, why do we have Toenails?
Shaun Doyle
The innocents should have been saved ... unless God knew better than you. Unless God had higher principles to consider not worth violating for the sake of sparing a few innocents. For instance, God has a coherent world of cause and consequence to run; not a miracle parlour (God, miracles, and logic). My 'God judged the culture, not simply the individuals' answer presupposed this principle.

On foreknowledge and God's anger, how does God knowing about their evil beforehand affect God's anger at Noah's generation for being so evil? Outrage doesn't require being surprised with the travesty.

See Noah’s Flood and the Gilgamesh Epic on Flood myths.

On why we have toenails, they help us move properly and more precisely. They aid our balance and spatial awareness by providing a counter pressure against our toes.
Sharyn D.
I feel that there is still some cognitive dissonance in the answers given. The confusion occurs because the Bible has two definitions for “death”—a human definition and a divine one.

The human definition for death is what all of us call death and what we have grieved when our loved ones have died. This, however, is not what God calls death. God, including Jesus when He was on earth, did not refer to this cessation of life as death, but called this state a “sleep.” (Psalm 13:3; Daniel 12:2; Matthew 27:52; John 11:11–14; Acts 7:60, 13:36; 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18; 1 Corinthians 15:6, 51; 2Peter 3:4)

In fact, Jesus said that those who believe in Him will never die—millions sleep in the grave, but they don’t die (John 11:26). This “sleep death,” what we call death, is also known as the “first death,” the death from which there is a resurrection.

What God calls death is the “second death,” the eternal death, the death from which there is no resurrection (Revelation 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8). It is this second death that is the wages of sin. The second death has no power over those who have been saved by Christ.

The first question to answer in understanding God’s role in human death is: How many people in history have died the second death—the death from which there is no resurrection? None! If none have died, then how can we say that God kills? We say it because we apply the human definition for death and, thus, we misrepresent God as killing, even though God does not kill. God is the source of life, and death does not come out from Him.
Shaun Doyle
While we certainly acknowledge that there is a difference between physical death and what Revelation 20 calls 'the second death' (i.e. eternal punishment in the lake of fire). And it's true that nobody is in the lake of fire yet. Still, there are no second chances after physical death (see What about those who have never heard the Gospel?). As such, there is a genuine moral question here that we must deal with in the physical death of so many people that we can't push to the Great White Throne judgment.
Craig E.
Thanks for the good article. Here's another issue: Can you imagine a million adults perishing in the flood, and Noah's family becoming foster parents for a million children?
David C.
The story sounds pretty close to Darwinism before Darwin. God concerned that his genetics and ancestry is being tarnished and therefore decides that the time is right to wipe the human slate clean – to save his pedigree, although immediately after the ark docked the family fell out and caused another rift. He could have built an ark for the children with food supplied. Concerns about children surviving without parents well they do – Mwakirunge dumpsite just outside Mombasa.
Andrew L.
There is another explanation I have read as to why Noah and his family were the only humans saved from the Flood.
Genesis chapter 6 tells us that the 'sons of God' came down and cohabited with the 'daughters of men' and produced offspring. This corrupted or defiled the original blood line and may have been Satan's plan (to disrupt God's plan of redemption). Genesis 6:9 says "...Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, " The Hebrew word translated 'perfect' is the same one used to describe a red calf that was fit to be used for sacrifice and means without spot or blemish. The key point here is that it is talking about the flesh. Noah and his family were the only people left whose flesh had not been corrupted.
Shaun Doyle
The commenter WR B. made a similar suggestion.
Joanne L.
Please may I add: The Word of God says, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23, KJV, cf. Rom 5:12; 3:9) and "As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one" (Rom 3:10). As descendants of Adam, we have original sin at birth, "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Psa 51:5, KJV). So all men are sinners at birth, after which all commit sins. There are no "innocent" ones at any time.
Thank you.
Shaun Doyle
That's why I included another condition when addressing the question of children: "What of children? Let’s assume that they’re innocent, or at least not old enough to be held personally culpable for a part in why God sent the Flood (like e.g. God didn’t hold anyone under the age of 20 accountable for Israel’s disobedience in the wilderness: Numbers 14:29) [emphasis added]."
Thomas D.
"God didn’t suspend the regularities of human relationships in the context of the Flood; humans are social animals, and live together in connected communities."

You know, Abraham Lincoln once looked at the cast of his own face (made by the artist, Volk) and said, "Like the animal himself." This was a fun remark, from the mouth a clever man being clever!

But I go to CMI for some pretty careful thinking. And I was quite surprised to find humans termed "social animals"... Perhaps, Shaun, you could reconsider the way you framed that thought, and tell me this time what you really meant.
Shaun Doyle
It was just a more interesting way to say "social creatures" or "social beings". I wasn't implying anything significant beyond humans being creatures who are naturally embedded in webs of social relationships.
Stephen N.
Thanks for the good article, which partially answers the question. I am going to state an opinion which I know CMI disagrees with. My belief is that when people die without being saved, they are not automatically consigned to an eternity in hell. The scriptures on this subject are too numerous to mention here. The remarks that Jesus made about the Last Judgement leave open the possibility that many people will get their real chance for salvation in the Last Judgement. John 6:44 (NIV) quotes Jesus as saying "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day." This is basically repeated in verse 65. Those who don't get a real chance for salvation in this life will have their chance in the Last Judgement. Also, does the "second death" mean eternal torment in hell or total cessation of life for all eternity? This is another big topic that is too lengthy to address here. I believe that properly understanding these subjects goes a long way in explaining why God may have caused the death of many people in a global flood. I know theses are minority views within Christendom.
Shaun Doyle
On these issues, please see Hell questions answered.
Nathan G.
God does not truly love us, if He ignores justice and consequences. Otherwise He would be partisan and evil. A story I heard illustrates this.

There was a judge who was known to be very strict, but extremely fair. He was the most objective and neutral observer of the facts anyone had ever seen. He was also unflinching in his loyalty to the truth. He could not be bought, influenced, or corrupted. The judge always held himself to the highest standards when administrating justice to criminals or exonerating innocent people.

One day the judge looked up to see his daughter in the docket. She was accused of a serious crime. After examining the evidence the judge knew without a doubt that she was guilty as charged. What should he do? This was his daughter, whom he treasured above all else.

The judge returned to the bench and pronounced the sentence: guilty. He fined his daughter a very large sum to cover the damage she had done. Then he removed his robes, walked to the court officer, and as her father paid the fine out of his own pocket.

THAT is how God can love us and punish us at the same time. He engraved moral knowledge in our hearts. Before the foundations of the world were laid, He already planned to die on the cross and pay for everyone's sins Himself. He can therefore make demands of us and set the rules. He is the Creator. His world, his rules. If we don't like it, we can create our own universe.

The Greeks didn't like this fact. They worshipped the evil, fallen Adam as Zeus. Part of Sodom and Gomorrah's sins was teaching institutionalized homosexuality to all children. Their will to decide for themselves was stripped from them. Archaeological finds revealed this (see Dr. Steven Collins' book on Sodom). The pre-Flooders were evil, too. More so and in other areas.
Terry D P.
Re: “How do we reconcile a God of love with Noah’s flood? What about all the innocent people (adults and children) that drowned?”

As already pointed out:
«/ When the LORD saw that man had done much evil on earth and that his thoughts and inclinations were always evil, he was sorry that he had made man on earth, and he was grieved at heart. He said, ‘This race of men whom I have created, I will wipe them off the face of the earth — man and beast, reptiles and birds. I am sorry that I ever made them.’ — Genesis§6:5-7 /»

So what do godless atheists think our Creator/God should have done? when all men, women and children had become so vile, murderous and unloving (i.e. not innocent), that he said, “I am sorry that I ever made them.” However, we who are alive today should be thankful that God did not destroy everyone, but actually kept alive the one righteous/loving man remaining, Noah and his family, from whom we are all descended.

Atheists should not presume that the Judge/God of all the earth cannot truly discern the thoughts and purposes in the heart of every man, woman and child alive, whether it be good or evil:
«/ For the word of God is alive and active. It cuts more keenly than any two-edged sword, piercing as far as the place where life and spirit, joints and marrow, divide. It sifts the purposes and thoughts of the heart. There is nothing in creation that can hide from him; everything lies naked and exposed to the eyes of the One with whom we have to reckon. — Hebrews§4:12-13 /»
Howard K.
Amen! Excellent answer to a hard question.I like the way that Shaun meets the objector head-on. God IS the measure and the source of love. I would only add this. Would a loving God continue to allow children to be born into such a culture, suffer abuse and violence, and become as bad or worse themselves? This would be to make the world nothing but a breeding ground for the damned! It had to be stopped.
In Genesis 6:4 just before the wickedness of man is spoken of, the Nephilim are mentioned. Therefore it is consistent to consider either the Nephilim were a significant portion of the wickedness, representative of the wickedness, or the Nephilim and the manner of their production were a significant contribution to the wickedness. Then we have to look at the single promise of God when man sinner and was turned out from the Garden. God would send a Savior. Did the production of the Nephilim and the wickedness they represented threaten the blood line to the Savior? When God destroys a people, or a city like Jericho, or the tower to the sky and united world civilization like Babel, or the entire world civilization like the Flood, we can see consistently, Jehovah is preserving the Blood Line to the Savior. The birth of the Christ Child allowed the creation to breath a sigh of relief. God had not changed between the Old and New Testaments, but He could change the way He dealt with His creation, because the Promise of the Ages had been fulfilled, Death had been conquered. That is the message of love from God in the Flood.
Dan M.
Was the human race so wicked in Noah's day that it was, self, destructing and did God actually save the human race through a remnant by destroying humanity and the world by a flood accept for Noah and his family? In other words, would the human race have completely wiped it's self out if not for the flood? This is a question we must ask considering the statements made by Jesus when He was with us in Luk 17:26-30 and Mat 24:22. It's easy to question a person high in a tree according to what that person see's. That person has a much better perspective and so does God.
It sure seems we are hell bent on destroying ourselves again these days. Abortion, Homosexuality, War, Drug abuse, Genocide, these are just a few of the self destructive tenancies of mankind. Malcolm Muggeridge, true statement, “The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.” The human race has a evil tenancy that the the Lord tells us we must resist by being born again. Just do a search in the new testament in your bible on the word, evil and see how the Lord applies it to us over and over. So once again, did God actually save the human race by sending a flood on the earth? Did God see me and you in the future and decide to save the human race from it's self? Can't wait to ask Him when I'm with Him.
Bill P.
The grace of GOD has to be considered. For 120 yrs. Noah built the ARK and warned the people of what was coming. I have no doubt if any had repented HE would have put them on the Ark w/Noah. Today's world is compared to being "Just like the Days of Noah" so I'm sure they mocked Noah's warnings. The Lord God also put His grace on display when Israel and Judah were sinning against HIM. HE sent His prophets to warn them of what was coming if they did not repent and they still refused, even though HE promised mercy if they turned back to HIM. Then we have Nineveh probably the most wicked city ever to exist. The LORD set HIS heart on destroying them for their evil and sent Jonah to warn them. Do you know what motivated Jonah to flee in the other direction ? He knew that if that wicked city repented the LORD would have mercy on them. Jonah (w/ALL the surrounding nations) hated this city because of their evil. The Lord took steps to turn Jonah around and sent him to this city. When they heard Jonah's warning from GOD this wicked city from the king to the lowest, repented and God spared them. Jonah was angry YET the LORD answered him saying, "should I still destroy them when there are 200,000 who do not know their left hand from their right hand" (children). Now we come to today. Besides other evils, how many babies have been destroyed by people today in their mother's wombs. You can bet your life THE LORD has not forgotten these children and they are w/HIM this very day. For 2,000 yrs GOD has stayed HIS hand giving this world a chance to repent. Look around, see (w/a few exceptions) how this world "openly does what they know is wicked" in the eyes of GOD. HE is a Righteous Judge and will not allow these things to go on forever. Believe The Word of God. Time is very short.
Greg A.
It is the children killed in the flood that people need an answer about. The Bible shows that God foreknew everyone as to whether they would choose Him during their life or not (Revelation 17:8). It also shows that God chose the time and place when everyone would be born (Acts 17:26-27). We can see that any person that died in the flood died because God judged them individually; note that Methuselah died before the flood occurred (he died the year of the flood) and Noah's father Lamech had already died. Particularly in Methuselah's case, it is almost as if God held back the flood until Methuselah had died and then unleashed the deluge. So I believe God placed into the history of that day only people (children included) that He foreknew would never choose Him anyway.
Jim W.
Did an intelligent being make us for the ultimate purpose of making compost, or for an eternal relationship in another, non-material world, also of his creation? Yes, this side of the grave such a belief is a matter of faith. Noah and his family trusted God, the others only scoffed. If there is life beyond this material universe then the seeming injustices, as viewed from this side of the grave, will be in the hands of a just and loving God, and seen by us from a totally different perspective [especially those experienced by seemingly innocent children].
David B.
I wouldn't be surprised if there were few, if any children left, since infanticide would have been rife in such a corrupt culture. Any innocents still alive would be far safer in God's arms than their parents.
Humanity was in a downward tailspin, but I'm willing to bet that many repented and called upon the Name of the Lord when the waters were engulfing them. They would have realized that Noah was right after all. Their lives were forfeit by the justice of a righteous God, but their souls would have been saved by the mercy of our loving God. They may have just died a violent death while in their sins anyway.
When we come to see things in an eternal perspective, we realize just how awesome and loving our God is.
But a lot of this is just conjecture.

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