1) After the flood Noah stood like a new Adam in an empty world. He was given the blessing and duty of the first Adam: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1). The first Adam had filled the earth: “The earth was corrupt in God’s sight and filled with violence.” That was not what God meant. He meant: Fill the earth with my glory! “The earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord” (Numbers 14:21).
The earth will be filled with God’s glory when people in God’s image walk by faith and cover the face of the earth. This was Noah’s mission: “Be fruitful, and multiply and fill the earth—with human mirrors of God’s glory.”
Murdering a human being is an attack on God. Murder is the presumptuous snuffing out of a potential lamp of God’s glory. It is rebellion against the image of God and the purpose of God.
Does this not mean that all execution and war are wrong as well as murder? In Genesis 9:6 God draws a different conclusion: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” This seems to mean that taking the life of a murderer affirms rather than assaults God’s image in man. This does not settle the issue of capital punishment and war, but it does mean that they cannot be opposed simply on the principle that all killing is wrong. In some cases God invests man with this awful responsibility.
But nuclear war, especially among the superpowers, is in a class by itself. Not by the farthest stretch of the imagination can the killing of whole populations of civilians come under the umbrella of “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.” On the contrary, the indiscriminate annihilation of thousands or millions of God’s image-bearers is such a blatant assault on God and his revealed will that Christians must not share in the act. Nuclear weapons are not by and large aimed to destroy armies who aim to kill. They are aimed to dismantle a society. I am hard put to classify the average citizens of Moscow, Leningrad, Odessa, Stalingrad, or Gorkiy as manslayers whom to kill would affirm God’s image. On the contrary, the contemplation of such killing probably puts us in the category of first-strike manslayers who forfeit the right to life.
This does not settle the issue of whether to have or how to deploy nuclear weapons. But surely it gives us direction for prayer and action. Genesis 9:6 requires of us that we do our part to prevent nuclear war and make peace.
2) The Noahic covenant suggests very strongly that God will not allow a nuclear holocaust which leaves a few people on earth to start over again. The Lord says in Genesis 9:21, “Neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.” This may only mean that no such flood will come again. But the next verse suggests more: “While the earth remains, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” This seems to carry us beyond the flood to any cataclysm which would so distort the course of nature as to make life unlivable.
To be sure, the world as we know it will have its end (2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 21:1). But when it ends it will be replaced by a new heaven and new earth. The Noahic covenant seems to rule out universal devastation short of Christ’s coming. Let us beware of presuming that the day of the Lord will come with a shower of nuclear warheads. My own feeling is that the crack at Christ’s coming will make our weapons seem like maypops and firecrackers. Woe to us if we try to hasten his coming by making war instead of peace! Even if we succeed, we will be found on the wrong side at his appearing: only the peacemakers are sons of God (Matthew 5:9). There is one way to “hasten” his appearing: “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). And according to 1 Timothy 2:1-4, peace makes the best pathway for evangelism, not war.
Making peace and disciples,