Storms and responsibility


God looked upon the earth, and behold, it had been destroyed, for all flesh had been destructive in its way on the earth.  God said to Noah, “…behold, I will destroy them with the earth” (Genesis 6:12-13).
Although we don’t usually translate this key passage in the story of Noah this way, this is the literal meaning of the text:  God decided to destroy all flesh through a flood not because God wanted to destroy the earth but because humanity had ALREADY destroyed the earth.  In creating human beings, God gave them awesome power–not only the power to create wonderful things and to produce more human beings but also the power to destroy each other and the earth itself.  Watching people choose to exercise their destructive potential is what makes God despair that they will ever use their creative power for good.  In our own time, we need to read ourselves into this story.  We have used the incredible power at our disposal to bring the earth itself to the brink of destruction by changing the climate through our use of fossil fuels.  We cannot expect that God will somehow hold back the disaster that we are bringing on our own heads.  Only we can do that.  As the midrash teaches, God says these fateful words to the very first humans:  “Be careful not to destroy my world, for if you do, there will be no one after you to repair it” (Kohelet Rabbah 7:13).