Perhaps you can help me. I’ve visited every church website I can think of in search of a felt board for Sunday School that includes the story of Noah from start to finish. There’s plenty of them, but they all are missing a piece of the story. They have the little figures of Noah and his sons; cows and camels and goats and other animals; the water and the ark and, of course, the rainbow. And they’re all very cute. Children can reenact the story by putting the figures on the felt board. What I’m missing, however, are the pieces from the last part of the Flood account. All I need to complete the story is the little felt tent, and the little felt figure of a drunk, naked Noah that the kids can place inside the tent.
Where is the drunk, naked Noah for the Sunday School felt board? He’s probably in the same place as the little felt figures of Lot’s two daughters getting their dad drunk and having sex with him while they were hiding out in the mountains after Sodom was destroyed (Gen 19:30-38). Or maybe it’s in the same place as the felt figure of the Levite who chopped his dead concubine into a dozen pieces after the men of the city had gang-raped her all night (Judges 19). Or it could be where the felt figure of Elisha is when he sicced the two momma bears on the forty two boys who mocked him as a baldhead (2 Kings 2:23-25). Come to think of it, there are lots of missing felt figures. Where could they be?
They are all in the same place: they are boxed away in a secret place lest children, and adults, get the impression that the Good Book is stuffed with stories of bad people doing bad things. And this is truly a shame. For the less we tell these stories of sin, the more it seems we are ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for the salvation of bad people.
Yes, Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; he walked with God (Gen 6:9). And through God, Noah did some great, holy things. Most notably, he was a “herald of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5) and “by faith…he constructed an ark for the salvation of his household,” (Heb 11:7). But after the waters of the flood had dried up, Noah planted a vineyard, drank of the wine, became drunk, and lay naked in his tent (Gen 9:20-21). So was Noah an ark-builder or a wine-bibber? Was he a righteous man or a drunk man? Was he a saint or a sinner?
Yes, he was. He was all of the above. And so is every believer.
But you wouldn’t know that from Sunday School felt boards. Nor from the sections of Scripture that many churches choose to read during worship. Nor from the content of many adult Bible studies. And you certainly wouldn’t know it from listening to the majority of songs and hymns based on biblical stories.
And in so far as that is true, we have deprived the children of God of much comfort. The comfort is not in knowing that bad people do bad things, but that our Father is not a deity that trashes people when they do. Rather, he is patient with them, seeks them out, calls them to repentance, and embraces them with his forgiving love in Jesus.
Speaking of Noah’s drunkenness, Martin Luther notes this story is recorded because God wanted those who “know their weakness and for this reason are disheartened, to take comfort in the offense that comes from the account of the lapses among the holiest and more perfect patriarchs.” In the stories of men like drunk Noah we “find sure proof of our own weakness and therefore bow down in humble confession, not only to ask for forgiveness but also to hope for it.” To hope for forgiveness, and to be certain that in Christ all is forgiven, all is well.
If we’re going to focus on any stories in the Scriptures, let us highlight those in which the weakness of people and the forgiveness of God in Christ are made manifest. Given the choice, I’d rather my children learn in Sunday School that drunk, naked Noah was forgiven than that the animals came into the ark two by two. I’d rather them, from the earliest age, learn that the Scriptures are not a long story of good people doing good things for a good God, but that the Scriptures are the story of God in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting our trespasses against us.
If we are not ashamed of the Gospel, then let us not be ashamed of teaching that God forgives the shameful acts of all those who are in Christ, including me and you and our friend—drunk, naked Noah.