Updated: May 17
As my daughter and I drove down the access road to Arizona’s Lake Pleasant, I pointed out the place where we went diving in early January. That’s when I saw them. It was July, so I knew the depth of the Lake had dropped drastically, but this seemed unbelievable. The Christmas trees were standing out of the water! Although not a statement you’re likely to hear very often (if ever), it was nevertheless true.
That January, Abigail and I helped "plant" ex-Christmas trees about 30 to 50 feet beneath the surface. The concept, called Christmas Tree Reef, was to re-task the formerly celebrated Christmas trees to create a new habitat for marine life in the Lake. Now, 7 months later, I thought that some of the trees had broken free of their concrete bases and floated to the surface. However, quite the opposite was true. The trees did not rise, the lake had fallen.
From the air, Lake Pleasant in July looks like a giant amoeba that is slowly receding under the intense light of a microscope. Therefore, as the waters receded, what we had intended to be a thriving reef for Lake Pleasant's aquatic dwellers had reassumed its role as a home for the birds. Our little corner of the planet had experienced the photo negative of Noah's flood and there was absolutely nothing we could do to save the artificial reef from the summer heat.
Noah's situation did not exactly present him with a plethora of options either. God was about make the forests and tallest mountains part of a great underwater reef, and Noah was given only one option. He had an ark to build. God even provided the engineering plans.
I have to imagine that Noah had some questions along the way other than, “To build, or not to build…” For example, should he build mini-arks and store them on the deck in case he and his family were forced to abandon ship? Shuffleboard on the main deck? What if he fell behind schedule? Was there some flexibility from the apocalyptic scheduling department? What would happen if he decided to leave cats behind? What if he smashed his thumb with a giant wooden mallet? What if the Ark sprung a leak? Who would help with the “bail-out?”
I also wonder if Noah questioned his ability to complete the task. This was not a small backyard construction project. The Ark was approximately 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, 45 feet high and had a displacement of 22,000 tons (about the size of the USS Salem Heavy Cruiser). If you were to repurpose the Ark after the Great Flood to be used as a cargo ship, you could transport about 5.5 miles of modern rail cars inside of it. (By comparison, it took me over a month to build a set of barn doors for our home.)
Maybe, during the long days of sawing lumber and swinging a hammer, Noah also thought about the long-term future. Noah and his family would spend a full year on the open sea, a year locked in their house boat. What would happen when the water receded and their isolation ended? On that day when the tops of the mountains reappeared, they would have to wonder, “What’s next?” What would their future look like once the door of the Ark opened and they took their first step into a soggy, new world. It was not like they would be returning home to the world they had left behind. Everything was going to change.
Were they afraid of what might be, or enlivened for what could be?
Would they yearn for a way back to the home they knew, or courageously explore
What would the receding waters reveal about their character?
Cowardice or Courage?
Timidity or Tenacity?
Fear or Fortitude?
We might have a clue in the design of the Ark. While we do not have overly specific engineering details about the Ark, it seems that one element common to most traditional boats, and aircraft, was missing. In the Epic of Gilgamesh (11:196) we have a story similar to Noah’s Ark. When Utnapishtim (a great baby name by the way) builds a similar ship, the story says that he employed a boatman to navigate it. That means that Utnapishtim’s ship had a rudder.
There is no indication that Noah installed a rudder on the Ark. Perhaps, unlike Utnapishtim, Noah knew that the Ark did not need one. After all, every port of call was soon to be underwater and every destination would have the same ocean view. Why would he need a helm as he rode the waves of the flood? Perhaps, if Noah trusted God to design the Ark, he would also trust that God would pilot it. Despite all of the questions and uncertainty surrounding this history changing event, Noah decided to faithfully do his job and trust God to do his.
Unfortunately, we have developed a preference for rudders. Time and again, we can allow our fear, self-doubt and yearning for control to interfere with our hope for the future and willingness to courageously engage our world today. Too often we are tempted to opt for a fallback position or wait for a time when moving forward is less of a risk.
For today, take a break from worrying about rigging for the rudder. Instead, work to prepare yourself to reengage the world in positive and meaningful ways when the waters have receded. A new world of opportunity awaits.