Creative Dislocation

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“And Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dry” (Genesis 8:13).

We have spent some time in the last week or so reflecting in daily devotionals on the story of Noah and how God continued to provide for him and his family even though they were locked down for a full year.

But consider, for a moment, what Noah must have seen the day he “removed the covering of the ark and looked” out on a landscape he had not seen for a year. Ark Encounter, a creationist theme park operated by Answers in Genesis, which seeks to educate visitors as to the historicity of a global flood, notes that life on earth must have emphatically changed as a result of the flood.

The landscape had changed drastically. Tectonic and volcanic activity had built mountains and gouged valleys as the water raced into the sea. As Noah and his family saw new landscapes that might have looked familiar, they may have reused names known to them from before the Flood. But this was a new world….

Weather patterns after the flood were very different from what Noah’s family had known prior to the deluge. Widespread volcanic activity combined with warm ocean temperatures set the stage for the Ice Age that soon followed.

Much of the beauty of creation at which we stand in awe—mountain ranges, river gorges, canyons, etc.—were probably unknown to Noah and his family before the flood. The dry world that they walked into was very different from the world they had known before. But one thing had not changed: Yahweh, their covenant-keeping God. Noah immediately “built an altar to the LORD … and offered burnt offerings on the altar.” God received his offering as a “pleasing aroma” and promised never again to destroy the world as he had done (Genesis 8:20–22).

Lockdown must have been terrifying for Noah and his family. They had no way of knowing what God was doing to the earth through the upheaval of the flood. When life moved on for them after the flood, it was in a very different world, but their covenant-keeping God had not changed.

The God of the Bible is frequently seen as one of what Presbyterian theologian Robert McAfee Brown called “creative dislocation.” He noted that, in Scripture, God repeatedly used upheaval (“dislocation”) to accomplish something new (“creative”). He called a 75-year-old idolater to uproot his family to begin something new in redemptive history. He called an octogenarian shepherd through a burning bush to leave his home in order bring his people out of Egypt. He allowed persecution to scatter the Jerusalem church in order to spread the gospel to the regions beyond. Each of these moments of creative dislocation was stressful, uncomfortable, and painful, but necessary for God to accomplish his ongoing purposes. McAfee Brown notes that this “creative dislocation,” despite its discomfort, “is surely preferable to stagnation, which is the temptation when we cling too powerfully to what we have.” In other words, upheaval is sometimes necessary for moving forward and far better than standing still.

At some point, South African lockdown will come to an end. At some point, we will emerge on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have no idea what the world will look like at that point. Economic, political, cultural, and health systems may look radically different than what we have known. But even if our illusions of permanence are shattered, we know, as Noah knew, that our covenant-keeping God will be with us to the end of the age and that he can produce beauty from ashes.

Locked down in hope,

Stuart