Returning Earthly Lives to Normalcy, After the Flood:
Yet Whereunto (and How) Do We Return our Souls?
Dr. James J. S. Johnson
But the dove [Hebrew: yônah] found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned [a form of the verb shûb] unto him [i.e., Noah] into the Ark, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth; then he [i.e., Noah] put forth his hand, and took her [i.e., the female dove], and pulled her unto himself, unto the Ark. And he waited yet other 7 days; and again he [i.e., Noah] sent forth the dove from the Ark; and the dove came back [a form of the verb shûb] unto him at evening; and, lo! — an olive leaf, plucked off, was in her [i.e., the female dove’s] mouth! — so that Noah knew the waters were abated from upon the earth. And he waited yet other 7 days; and sent forth the dove, who returned [a form of the verb shûb] not again unto him anymore. (Genesis 8:9-12)
Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, in recent weeks, both visited the southeastern United States (as well as some Caribbean islands nearby) with powerful devastation. Thereafter those hurricanes left flooding and turmoil in their wakes. The need for restoration and a return to normalcy will continue.
Yet imagine how much more devastation faced the human race when only 8 humans were alive, who themselves, for more than a year, had just survived the only worldwide Flood that ever was – or ever will be. What an aftermath! And what a need for ecological restoration, to say the least!
In fact, that is part of what we read about within the 8th chapter of Genesis.
Furthermore, what an amazing report of scientific research is reported in Genesis chapter 8 – Noah used a dove to take, in effect, an ecological snapshot of the Flood’s aftermath, so that Noah could observe – with the help of a dove (who served his need for information, like a passenger pigeon) – when Earth was drained sufficiently to permit recovered/sprouted olive trees to produce some pluckable leaves, an early sign that Earth was regaining a vegetated condition.
Thus Noah, as the greatest empirical scientist then alive (not to mention the greatest zookeeper to ever live!), concluded that the Flood’s wake was subsided sufficiently to permit the first stages of ecological recovery. Meanwhile, Noah (and his family, as well as the other Ark-borne animals) remained aboard the Ark, until God Himself instructed Noah that it was safe for their disembarkation (Genesis 8:15-19).
Much more has been said, and should be said, about Noah’s disembarkation after the Flood. (For example, consider the entire book by Britain’s premier historian, Dr. Bill Cooper, titled AFTER THE FLOOD.)
But for now, however, consider just one Hebrew word, the simple verb shûb. It basically means to “return”, to “come back”. In Genesis 8:9-12 the dove twice returned, after which she did not return on the third occasion. What a simple action verb, yet how mighty its meaning in Scripture! Two other usages of this action verb will be noted, below, to illustrate the importance of this simple verb, the root form of which is only 3 letters in Hebrew (shûb).
In Psalm 23:3 we read that the LORD “restores my soul” — literally, God “returns” my soul, because of His shepherdly care for me. Because God created me, as a unique human (Psalm 102:18), my being began with and by His divine command, so He is the author of my creaturely existence.
However, as a sinner, I have strayed from God my Creator (Isaiah 53:6a), so I cannot belong to Him, so how can I be successfully returned unto Him? Lamentably, as a sinner, I cannot accomplish a satisfactory solution to my personal predicament – my problem of sin-caused alienation (Isaiah 59:2 & 64:6; Romans 3:23).
Wonderfully, however, without compromising His holiness and justice, God has provided a redemptive solution to my sin problem, the gift of substitutionary atonement (John 3:14-16). Christ has voluntarily and magnanimously accepted the punishment due for my sin (and for all of Adam’s race), to justify the gifted exchange of Christ’s own perfect righteousness (Romans 6:23), generously producing the marvelous result that I can be justified and forgiven (because His blood on the cross paid my sin-debt), so long as I happily accept that redemptive gift by believing that God has chosen to give me that redemption (Ephesians 1:3-14; John 14:6)!
What a privilege to be one of the “sheep” of God’s flock (see Psalm 100). In John chapter 10, we read that Jesus is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-14), Who knows and cares for His sheep, and Who gives unto us, His “sheep”, everlasting life, as a gracious and redemptive gift of His love (John 10:16-18 & 10:26-28).
In other words, like an errant sheep (Isaiah 53:6), I have (as has every human sinner) wandered away from God, yet God has redemptively sought and retrieved me (Luke 15:4-7) as if I was a sheep separated from 99 other sheep, and Christ deemed me valuable enough to find and to fetch, and to safely secure me within His flock!
But notice that the gift of redemption in Christ is not automatically applied to the eternal destinies of every human being – there is a choice to be made, a choice with moral (and everlasting) accountability – the choice must be willingly made, to accept (rather than to decline accepting) Christ as one’s personal Redeemer. No one is forcefully drafted into Heaven against his or her will – there are no “robots” in Heaven!
It is “whosoever will” who enters Heaven by God’s grace in Christ, so no truth-opposing (and thus Christ-rejecting) unbelievers enter the ultimate Haven of rest. And that requirement of believing acceptance of God’s grace, a/k/a saving faith, is the choice that is needed, in order to benefit eternally form Christ’s substitutionary death and resurrection (John 1:12 & 3:14-18).
This crucial need to consciously and voluntarily accept, by belief (what is sometimes called a “love of the truth”), God’s promised gift of salvation in Christ, is consistently taught throughout the Holy Bible. Just as the serpent-bitten Israelites needed to believe God’s promise about the only sufficient remedy for deadly snakebites, we must believe God’s promise that looking to the once-for-all crucified Christ is the only sufficient remedy for our own sin problem (John 3:14-16, in light of Numbers 21:7-9).
That requires us, as individuals, to personally believe the truth of God’s promise of saving grace in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:22-26 & 4:20-25 & 10:13).
Notice that this kind of belief is not the same thing as promising to serve God (or “to follow Jesus”), because real saving belief involves expecting God to give us something, freely and graciously, apart from anything we do (or promise to do) for God.
Oddly, this is hard for many to accept — the idea that eternal life in Christ really is free is rejected by many, despite the Bible’s clear teaching that salvation in Christ is a GIFT (Romans 6:23). No one merited the right to be conceived in the womb, or to be born. Yet it is undeniable that our creaturely lives are gifts we did not earn (or work for) — obviously God made us, or else we would not exist! So, since our very lives are unmerited gifts from God, to us, why should we have difficulty with the idea that God gives us forgiveness and salvation in Christ, as an unmerited gift that we neither earn nor work for?
Thus, it is simply believing God’s Word (like a trusting toddler would believe a loving parent), — specifically, believing the promises in God’s Word regarding the Lord Jesus Christ as the unique Messianic Savior (1st Corinthians 15:3-4), — that constitutes saving faith (Ephesians 2:8-9; John 1:12 & 3:14-16). It is that all-important belief that God uses to return our souls unto Himself, the psalmist (David) says in the 19th Psalm:
The law of the Lord is perfect, converting [a form of the Hebrew verb shûbּ — literally “returning”] the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. (Psalm 19:7)
And it is God Himself Who is our ultimate and only “haven of rest”, our souls’ true “home”. (See “Why We Want to Go Home”, posted at http://www.icr.org/article/why-we-want-go-home .) In other words, although some would say that “home (on Earth) is where you hang your hat”, our eternal home is where we belong forever – with God Himself (and with His forever family), thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 13:20-21)!