Last summer I watched one of most anticipated movies of the summer, entitled “The Avengers – Infinity Wars“. It had all of the Marvel Avengers heroes from the original Avengers (Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Spiderman, and Black Widow), Dr. Strange, Black Panther, and the Guardians of the Galaxy. The main plot is that a super villain of the galaxy named Thanos is trying to acquire all of the infinity stones (Space, Reality, Power, Soul, Mind, and Time) so he can wipe out half of life in the universe in order to save a remnant and start over. Some articles on the internet say that Thanos is short for Theos or God, but his name is more similar in Greek to Thanatos (which means death). Thus Thanos sees himself as an agent of judgment bringing death or like an angel of death similar to the character death from Supernatural. Unlike God who judges humanity for their sins, Thanos arbitrarily wipes out half of a planet’s population regardless if they are good or bad so that he can bring balance back to the universe.
There has been many comparisons to Thanos to Yahweh because Thanos is an all-powerful being with the desire for judgment. Many however, have compared him more to one of the titans from Greek mythology. Unlike Thanos who showed no empathy towards life, God showed feeling and emotion when he regretted making humanity (Gen. 6:7). Yahweh’s decision to bring judgment and blot out the human race is due to their wickedness rather than bringing balance to the universe and population control.
Nevertheless, because of the toxic Christianity that many people grew up with in Fundamentalist/Evangelical churches, Thanos can misrepresent God as the ultimate judge of humanity. Many systematic theologies (Calvinism) teach that if someone does not accept Christ, that God will send that person to hell; thus, many people were disturbed by this in Avengers-Infiniti War were triggered unpleasant memories that they have towards a judgmental church. One person writes:
Still, this is a concept that is rampant in many versions of Christianity, where God is simultaneously all-loving and also supportive of unending torment of those children who disobey. Why we praise God and boo Thanos for the same qualities is mind-boggling.
The Mercy Of Nonexistence
For those Christians who dislike the concept of a vengeful God who sends people to Hell, they generally espouse the idea that: “Oh, you don’t get tormented. You just cease to exist.” Like that is somehow better or more merciful. Guess what, Thanos thought so too!
One of the main reasons he wanted to gather all the Infinity Stones was so that he could merely snap his fingers and cause half the population to cease existing. It would be merciful in comparison with slaughtering them. Yet, as we see in the film, it’s anything but… it’s traumatic and terrifying and absolutely cruel to inflict nonexistence onto anything against its will. From <https://medium.com/@Vi_LaBianca/why-god-is-worse-than-thanos-unpacking-two-missions-of-mercy-c415abcf9254>
Yet many authors, like Gregory Boyd takes the violent portrayals of God in the Old Testament and filters them through the cross which he calls the “Cruciform Hermeneutic”. One of the most disturbing stories in the Old Testament is the story of the Flood.
The Flood and Noah
One of the many topics in the flood narrative is God’s wrath towards humanity, and God using natural disaster to wipe out almost all of humanity except Noah and his family. Many fundamentalist Christians believed that Hurricane Katrina and the Tsunami in 2006 were agents of God’s wrath against a wicked city (New Orleans, LA), and many people in the Indian ocean that were not believers of Jesus. Gregory A. Boyd tackles violent passages in the Old Testament in light of the cross in his book entitled Cross Vision. He states about the flood and the author of the flood who “was reflecting his fallen and culturally conditioned view of God when he portrayed God as the agent who caused the flood.” similar to the Sumerian and Babylonian myths such as the Epic of Gilegemesh. He goes on to say that the flood as an event could be a judgment of God, yet God was not the agent that caused the flood to wipe out half of humanity.”
 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 regretted 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. (ESV)
Boyd refers to God’s passive judgment that is portrayed in the bible and in some of the more violent passages in scripture as “Divine Aikido”. He defines it as:
“The cross not only reveals that God judges sin by turning people over to the consequences of their sin; it also reveals that this is how God defeats evil. He uses what I call an Aikido-style of judgment. Aikido is a non-violent school of martial arts in which practitioners never respond to aggressors by using their aggressive force. Instead they outsmart their opponents by using techniques that turn every aggressive action back on the aggressor. Aggressors end up punishing themselves. (Boyd, pages 143-144)
 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (ESV)
The above passage in Galatians sounds like karma (what comes around, goes around) or fate. Humanity would reap from its own fallenness (Gen. 6:4). Greg Boyd calls this Divine Aikido (where God withdraws his protective hand), and gives us over to our “self-destructive desires of the heart” (Rom. 1:18-32).
Yet, I don’t think God in his love for humanity would allow a world-wide flood to happen to fulfill his justice and wrath. However, the bible does say that God would wipe out all of humanity except Noah’s family due to their wickedness (Gen. 6:5). Boyd’s answer to this question is that he “assumes that Satan and other fallen cosmic powers used their God-given authority to bring about this catastrophe.” (Boyd page 179) Boyd has five biblical considerations as an alternative understanding of the flood story that does not portray God as a violent tyrant similar to Thanos from Marvel’s the Avengers – Infinity War.
- As Humans Go, so the earth and the animal kingdom goes.
The ancient Israelites saw everything including all of creation as interrelated. Many of us do as well. We see as the sins of the “isms” (capitalism, and materialism) has affected the earth. Global warming is a reality and a direct correlation how we as humans do not fulfill our role to take care of the earth and its inhabitants including plant life, and the animal kingdom. In Romans 8:19 it says,
 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope  that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (ESV)
2. From Corruption to Destruction
In Genesis 6:12, the Hebrew word for destroy (sahat) can also mean corruption. As the earth and its inhabitants fell into chaos, the Lord withdrawing his Spirit (Gen. 6:3) thereby “allows sahat (corruption) to reap its own destruction (sahat)” (Boyd, page 196). Again this echoes what Paul said in Galatians that we will reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7-9).
3. Agents of destruction
Boyd mentions that the author of Genesis never mentions the Lord actively bringing about the destruction of the earth and its inhabitants by causing the flood. He instead states that the floodwaters came on the earth (Gen. 7:6; 7:10), and the “floodgates of heaven were opened” (Gen. 7:11), and “the flood kept coming on the earth… as the waters increased.” (Gen. 7:17). Culturally in the Ancient Near East, flood waters were seen as evil and chaotic especially to the Babylonian and Sumerian Culture and were the cause of cosmic forces since the annual flooding of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers were unpredictable unlike the Nile River in Egypt whose flooding was predictable. Again Boyd references Divine Aikido saying how God uses evil nations like Assyria to bring about his judgement, or evil to punish evil”. (Boyd 197).
4. Flood and the Undoing of Creation
Boyd’s last point is that the flood is used as a reversal of the creation account in Genesis 1. The Flood is an undoing of creation where it reverts back to being “formless and void” (Gen. 1:2). Boyd notes that bow used in the flood narrative (Gen. 9) shows how God reconquers the cosmic agents bringing chaos by once again setting the earth in order as he did in the initial creation account in Gen. 1:2, by “restraining the deep”.
5. Spirit Breaking Through
God uses the waters as a restoration project of humanity using evil to conquer evil as it is portrayed in 1 Peter which says:
1 Peter 3:18–22
 For Christ also suffered(1) once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,  in which(2) he went and proclaimed(3) to the spirits in prison,  because(4) they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.  Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,  who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
This is also a foreshadowing of what God would have to do on the cross during Jesus crucifixion as he allowed evil to destroy evil by making a spectacle of the powers that be through the cross (Col. 2:15). The ark is a symbol of redemption as is with the cross of Christ. Greg Boyd writes:
The emphasis is also in the fact that the authors of Hebrews and 1 Peter both emphasize the salvific rather than the punitive nature of the flood. The flood narrative reflects the truth found through the inspired written record of God’s missionary activity, that when God sees he must allow people to suffer divine judgement (Divine Aikido), he does it with a grieving heart and with a salvific intention…Moreover the grief and the salvific motive that the author of Genesis ascribes to God becomes significant, for unlike the narratives violent portrait of God, these portraits reflect the Spirit breaking through to point us directly to crucified Christ. (Boyd, PG 202)
Lastly, God makes a covenant with Noah to symbolize his relationship with all of humanity. The symbol is a rainbow. In Hebrew the word is bow is qesheth usually portraying a warriors bow. This bow being in the sky has a two-fold meaning. It symbolizes, God’s victory over the cosmic forces (the flood waters) just as Christ defeated the powers and principalities on the cross making everything subject to him (1 Peter 3:22). It is also a symbol for peace.
My friend Beth, who is a United Church of Christ minister in Delaware, Ohio writes:
The word rainbow is actually just bow, as in bow and arrow. God hangs up God’s weapon of violence. Now this does not mean that God is not concerned about evil. Our evil continues to grieve God, but after seeing that God’s destruction didn’t change our corruption, God decides to find another way to deal with evil. How can God destroy evil without destroying the ones who do the evil? That is what the rest of the Bible is about.
After the flood, God chooses to respond to evil with covenant love, both in this story and in all the ones that come after it. God knows that we won’t always choose good, but by promising to never again destroy us, God chooses to suffer the pain and grief that our evil causes. In fact, if someone were to fire an arrow from the rainbow that hangs in the sky, the arrow would “hit God” and not us. From this point forward, God chooses to absorb our violence. And while we know that the original authors of this story had no idea who Jesus would be, we can see the beginning of the Jesus story right here. Thousands of years later, when we still choose violence, God chooses to finally conquer evil in the body of Jesus. The life of Jesus shows us what it looks like to only ever choose good and not evil. The death of Jesus demonstrates God’s total commitment to absorb our violence. And the resurrection of Jesus puts an end to our fear of death, enabling us to choose good regardless of what might happen to us. When we see a rainbow, we do not fearfully remember destruction.
So to summarize, God is not like Thanos who wishes arbitrary destruction on the human race. God is not like Thanos because he has a relationship with his creation unlike Thanos that can care less whether or not someone lives or dies. God doesn’t predestine some to destruction like Thanos.
Also, God did not cause the flood, nor does he cause other natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or Tsunamis. God did remove his protective hand against creation due to human beings wickedness (Divine Aikido) and allowed evil symbolized by chaotic waters to wreck havoc on his creation. God was active, by partnering with Noah to restore creation against the flood waters (characterized by evil) where the Spirit breaks through like he did in creation (Gen. 1:2) to point to the cross of Christ as the ultimate victory over sin and death (Col. 2:15).
This post was part of the September 2018 Synchroblog on the topic of the flood. Here are the other contributors to this month’s topic. Go and read them all!
- The Flood Story – K. W. Leslie
- A Flood of Insightful Hope – Jordan Hathcock
- There will Never Be a World Wide Flood Again but Was There Ever One in the First Place? – Done with Religion
- Did the Flood of Genesis 6-8 really happen, and if so, did God really send it? – Jeremy Myers
- The Flood as a Foreshadowing to the Cross of Christ – God is Not like Thanos from the Infinity War – Scott Sloan
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