“Then (after the Flood) Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odor, the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.’ ” (Gen 8: 20-22)
The reading from Genesis for this 4th Monday of Lent makes me wonder: Was the Lord changed “in his heart” toward humanity, because He “smelled the pleasing odor” of Noah’s burnt offerings on the altar, offered right after the Flood? No, because God is timeless and hence unchangeable. And He knew, both before and after the Flood, that “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” But in Holy Scripture, He reveals Himself to us through the “symbolic” system that is human language, or words, which are “symbolic” (from the Greek verb, “sym-ballo” that means “to bring together”). Words are visible “symbols,” familiar to us, which “bring together” the invisible, less-familiar to us, reality of God’s timeless Being with our visible, temporal reality.
So what seems to be God’s “re-action” to Noah’s “action” of bringing Him burnt offerings is not a temporal change in God’s attitude toward us, always loving and merciful, but a “symbolic” explanation of how “we,” in the person of Noah, change/develop our attitude toward Him, becoming more open and grateful to Him for all of creation, in light of the “Flood” and the “Ark.” Noah had always been “righteous” before God (Gen 6: 9), but now he was “tested” both by the “waters” of the Flood and by the “wood” of the ark, as are we, by Baptism and the Cross. These “tests” are God’s redemptive, healing instruments for bringing about “change” not in Him, but in us, helping to restore our initial harmony with Him and all creation, the “ground” of which had been “cursed” or deprived of “blessing,” because of Adam (cf. Gen 3: 17, where God says to Adam, “cursed is the ground because of you”).
So the words of Genesis, quoted above, are symbolic of “our” change toward the purpose God had in mind for us from the beginning, to live in harmony with Him and all creation, but not forced upon us by Him, until/unless we do so “after” (or more specifically, in God’s timeless eyes, “in light of”) being “tested.” I realize this is a lot to wrap one’s mind around, but let me just say: Thank You, God, for leading me to positive change, in You, by the life-giving instruments of Baptism and the cross-carrying journey in the “ark” or “wood” of Your Church!