Is God like the gods: Noah and Utnapishtum

Derek Ouellette —  June 12, 2010

I made a new friend on my blog, xTraex, who first commented on the post, Time To Unlearn a Few Things. In that post I made the case, using Walter Brueggemann’s book An Unsettling God as a point of reference, that the Hebrew testimony of God is not like the platonic god of traditional theism.

xTraex raised the concern that if God can be moved, if he is emotional, if he is effected by the passing of time and if he changes (or at least changes his mind), wouldn’t he be the same as the ancient gods of Greek mythology? (See the post for my answer to that question.)

The story of Noah presents an interesting case study because it reveals God precisely as I suggested in that prior post (the biblical account describes God as being “sorry” that he created man and “it grieved him to his heart“), and because there is a Mesopotamian parallel to this story in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Both stories are similar in that humanity is destroyed by a flood brought about by the divine, and one man and his family escape the disaster (Noah/Utnapishtum) by way of a “box” (Hebrew).

So because God is depicted as acting on emotion with a heart that was grieved to action, what distinguishes him from the gods in the Gilgamesh story?

In the Gilgamesh story the gods actions seem arbitrary (they destroyed the earth because humans were annoying them by making noise). The Greek myth gods are just as arbitrary, cruel, lustful and all things immoral. The striking difference between them and God is his faithful and righteous character.

How can we be sure that “the gods” will not destroy the earth again with a flood? We can be sure because God (← capital “G”) has unilaterally made an unconditional covenant with Noah which he sealed with a sign. Unlike the ancient myth gods, the God of the scriptures is righteous, faithful, calculated and purposeful.

We humans are a creation of God’s imagination and made in His image to be like him (Gen 1:26). We should not be surprised that the scriptures depict God as emotional, he’s our Dad and we are emotional beings who take after Him. This thought does not create God in our image, it acknowledges that we are created in his.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • xTraex

    To me this also speaks to the validity of Open Theism, if not entirely right, the viewpoint does need to be heard. I haven’t actually heard anyone teach on the fact that God was “sorry” he made man and even repented which is why I don’t think God is still “creating” people in the sense people think he is. But I do see now the difference between other “gods” and the God of the Bible, who is not just a tyrant or indifferent ruler but a caring, loving, connecting, outpouring, God. I was watching the movie Solaris, George Clooneys character said something of my earlier concern, “We gave God human characteristics.” Creativity, etc. But that’s from a human centered viewpoint, when you are looking from now, backwards. But if we look at it from eternity past to now, it does become clear we are definitely made in his image…with emotions and all.