By Wendy Anne Clark
I am struck by the thought that Noah and his family were confined to the ark for a little over a year—371 days. What was that like?
At first it must have been terrifying—with the torrential rain, the rising waters, and the people and animals drowning outside. Was there a loud noise that accompanied the dying as they struggled to survive? Did some try to board the ark—to grab on to it? Did dead bodies bump against it? Did the ark run into the debris of houses and barns and wagons and into trees and mountains as it rose in the water?
As the rain continued and all those living outside the ark had died, I imagine that there must have been a sense of uncertainty about what was yet to come. Was there mourning over the loss of so many people—especially the children and the babies? Were there people that Noah and his family had befriended—people they mourned—or were the people so corrupt that there was only a sense of relief and a new-found sense of security? Did Noah and his family consider the loss of the way of life that they had known before—a home washed away? Or were they more looking forward to a fresh start, a chance to begin again in a world not surrounded by evil and wickedness?
After the storm calmed and the ark began to bob and drift, I imagine that the passengers were faced with new challenges. I’m sure there was a strong odor—the kind that accompanies the presence of livestock. Most likely over time both the animals and the humans began to get restless and to long for some more room to move around. The selection of food probably became predictable and boring.
Maybe as time went on and month after month passed, the sense of uncertainty returned. What would they find when the left the ark? Would they recognize anything that they had known before? Would they encounter the bones of dead people and dead animals? The debris of washed away houses and barns? Would crops grow as they had before? Would they see the same plants? Enjoy the same flowers? Would there be new things that they hadn’t seen before? Would there be more rain in their future?
Since God could have certainly destroyed the world and all its inhabitants in a single instant, the year in the ark must have served a specific purpose; it must have been a part of God’s overall plan. So what did God do in the lives of Noah and his family over the course of that year?
Was it a time of mourning over so many lost people and a time of healing?
Was it a time of adjusting to the loss of a home, a community, and a way of life?
Was it a time of instruction?
No doubt God built character in their lives—the kind of character that comes when we live in relationships with others—especially in close proximity. Perhaps they grew in patience, kindness, love, gentleness, goodness, self-control, and peace. Maybe they learned even better to find joy in the small pleasures of life. Surely they grew in their dependence on God as they put their trust in his faithfulness and in his promise for a future.
I realize that I had my own “ark experience” back when I had Lymphoma in my early 30s. During that experience God effectively plucked me out of the normal course of my life and shut me into an “ark” of sorts. I couldn’t do most of the things I had been doing like teaching English, leading Bible studies, and directing choirs and musicals or even cleaning the house, doing laundry, or caring for my babies who were just 2 and 4 months old at the time. While Noah had 120 years to prepare for his life to change, the world as I knew it came to an abrupt halt, seemingly overnight.
Without much real preparation, I became isolated from many around me and sheltered in a new, more select group of people—people that populated the medical world that took over where my old life left off—doctors, nurses, patients—along with the group of friends and relatives who stepped up to care for me and my family. For six months I had to learn to rely totally on God to lead, guide, heal, and provide everything that I needed. I had to learn to rest in him and to realize that it was not activity that he wanted from me at that time, but for me to connect to him and to continue to believe. I had to lie back while my “ark” bobbed and drifted to parts unknown.
And like Noah when he stepped off the ark for the first time after a year, when my treatment came to an end, I found that my world had forever changed—shifted—primarily because my perspective was forever altered.
Life was more fragile.
Time was more measured and more precious.
The point of life was now more clear.
Wasting time was now more to be despised.
Hope was more real.
How did Noah see the world as he stepped off that ark? How had he come to know and understand God differently than he had the year before? How was all of this important to the redemption story that God was, even then, in the process of unfolding?
Some believers describe a “desert” time in their lives. A time where their spiritual lives were dry and God seemed far away. Though I have experienced that at times in my life, having cancer was not like that for me. It was more like the experience in the ark—there was water everywhere, and God’s presence was easy to discern—His presence was clear everywhere I looked. Just as Noah experienced God Himself shutting the door of the ark and God Himself telling Noah when it was time to move out of the ark and begin a new life, I felt the presence and leading of God in a very real way in that time of my life.
What about you—have you ever had your own ark experience?