It would be comical if it wasn’t so sad! The sight of a heavily sedated hippopotamus being herded along the streets of Tbilisi by a group of civilians in the wake of a major flood that has devastated the Georgian capital and smashed its city’s zoo, is extraordinary. Sadly thirteen people are known to have tragically lost their lives in the flooding, and the city’s police have subsequently come under intense scrutiny for appearing to cavalierly shoot the escaped animals rather than see them be recaptured. A wolf that was shot by police even though it had been safely sedated appears to undermine the official police reports that their only desire was to protect civilians. Between the flooding and police shootings, the zoo has lost over half its animals, with its owners begging that animals are only shot if there is direct evidence that they are a danger to people (like the white tiger which sadly killed a man). ‘Begi’, the Hippopotamus, having been safely returned to an elephant cage high above the flood waters appears to be one of the lucky ones.
This devastating loss of human and animal life, combined with all the mud, water and chaos, is reminiscent of the biblical story of Noah. Now, many will immediately dismiss this ‘fanciful story’ as myth and legend, treating it as either a lovely bedtime story for little children or as the inspiration for the latest fantasy movie. Most will not be aware that there are many other ‘flood story’ accounts (such as the Gilgamesh Epic) springing out of the Middle East which give credence to the possibility that an actual flood occurrence might be part of that region’s collective memory. Regardless of its cultural background, not many will consider the story as it actually is – as theology, considering what it might have to say to us about our human condition or the nature of God! The sombre beginning to the Noah story sets the scene; “The earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence” (Genesis 6.11). The situation is far removed from the state of perfection found in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 1 & 2). The mere fact that God was prepared to ‘wipe the slate clean’ with such a catastrophic flood and start again shows just how devastating it was to him that the earth should be so painfully wicked. It’s an extreme situation requiring an extreme response. God’s own holiness demanded that he acted, but his love and mercy required that he should also save the penitent. So, in steps Noah, a righteous man given the task of building an Ark. But it’s not just his faith which is on display – it’s his obedience! Noah’s faith, trust and obedient actions lead him to produce the means by which a faithful remnant can be saved. The world is given a second chance through him. The hero of the Gilgamesh Epic closes the door upon his own boat, but in the story of Noah we are specifically told that it was God who ‘shut him in’, looking after, caring for and protecting Noah and his family. The seeds of salvation which ultimately come to fruition in the story of Jesus and his death upon the cross, are first sown for us here in the story of Noah.
Upon reflection, I’m not remotely saying that the situation in Georgia is a result of the people’s sin, but sometimes when we look at the state of the world and see how violent it can be at times – it’s not only ‘Begi’ the hippo who’s left utterly bewildered. But in the fight against wickedness, violence and corruption, we like God need to be prepared to see it for the dreadful evil that it truly is, trusting that with God’s help the loving and faithful actions of a few can make all the difference.
‘But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.