One of the myths the Bible dispels is that people are basically good at heart. An assumption I’ll often see made is that if left to their own devices, folks will choose to do the right thing. Fiction has been written disputing such a claim, such as The Lord of the Flies. From practical experience, after years of working with children and youth (as well as adults), I know the myth to not be true. Consider the fact that we have to teach babies not to hit, not to bite, to share, and we spend a lot of time, especially with smaller children, teaching them to be nice. These are all inherently selfish behaviors and we must spend time training the children not to do them. That destroys the premise that we are basically good from the start. People can be basically good, by our definition, but usually it comes after they have been shown what is right and what is wrong (and you could append “from a society’s perspective” here if you’d like) and made to understand the consequences of choosing what’s wrong and not doing what’s right.
The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. – Genesis 6:5-8, ESV
This is the first occurrence where the Bible says the heart of man is wicked. It’s not the last. We’ve definitely gone from innocence in Adam and Even to complete depravity by the time of Noah. God saw what His creation had become and He was “sorry that he had made man on the earth.” Does this mean God made a mistake? No, not at all. We know that God knew this was coming. The promise of a Savior in Genesis 3 reminds us that God expected this. So what about wiping out all of man? He would, unless He could find someone righteous, someone who was faithful. He knew there would be one. God preserves a faithful remnant. That man was Noah. Noah? Yes, Noah. If you know Noah’s story, you know he was far from perfect. But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. And for that, the Lord saved Noah and his family when he brought due justice on the rest of mankind for the wickedness they were involved in.
This is a reminder that despite our personal flaws and foibles, God has provided a way to be redeemed. That way is through His Son, Jesus Christ. When we look at the life of Noah and others, like Moses, David, Paul, and Peter, we see that it’s not about how good we can be, because we can’t be good enough. Our hearts are evil continually. I know that we don’t like to think of ourselves that way, but a simple test is to reflect back on the previous day and consider how many selfish thoughts and actions you had and did compared to how many selfless thoughts and actions occurred in the same time frame. The reality is we’re all sinners. We may not call our thoughts and actions evil, but if we carried them out to their logical conclusion, we would see that too many fall into that category.
Thank goodness God isn’t looking at our righteousness but His Son’s instead. If we are in His Son, if He is our Lord and Master, then we are reborn in Him and His righteousness covers us. The two key aspects of Noah’s life that resulted in favor from God was faithfulness and obedience. That’s what God is looking for in us. If Christ is our Lord and master, then we are faithful and obedient. If He isn’t our master, then we aren’t, and His righteousness does not cover us. It doesn’t matter what prayers we say, how many baptisms we’ve undergone, or how many years we’ve attended church. What matters is faithfulness and obedience. We must listen to God and obey Him.
How do we hear from God? Noah heard directly from God. We know that’s not typical in this age and we should be really suspicious of anyone who says, “God spoke to me today,” and means in an audible manner. Could it happen? Yes. Does it usually happen? No. So how then do we hear God speak? We hear Him through His Word. We hear Him through prayer validated against His Word. We hear Him through the advice and counsel of godly brothers and sisters validated against His Word. Why do I keep coming back to His Word? I keep coming back to it because it’s the standard. It’s the special revelation He has given to man so we can better understand and know Him. And it reminds us that He has the ability to create in us a clean heart (Psalm 51:10). But it means faithfulness and obedience, as well as repentance and brokenness after sin, to get there. That’s the only way, but such a blessed way it is!