Paul wrote, “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). In Noah, we have an Old Testament illustration of this. Ponder how Noah’s warnings about fantastic “events as yet unseen” (Hebrews 11:7) must have sounded to his hearers (I’ve imagined two, Talmai and Bakbukiah).
“This is madness!” Talmai was alarmed by the huge piles of logs around the vast clearing and all the hired men cutting and hauling them. “How long will this boat be?”
Noah braced for a deluge of ridicule. “Three hundred cubits.”
“Unbelievable!” Bakbukiah laughed incredulously. “Three hundred? You were right!” he said slapping Talmai’s back. “I said, ‘No one’s that stupid.’ But I stand corrected!”
Talmai shook his head in disbelief. “Noah, you’ve lost your mind! No one can build a boat that big!”
“You are an idiot!” shouted Bakbukiah. “You’re building a three hundred cubit boat six-day’s journey from the sea?”
“It won’t need to be near the sea,” Noah replied.
“Oh, come on, Noah!” said Talmai exasperated. “You’ve been preaching about this flood of divine judgment. But look around! You seriously believe all this is going to be under water?”
“Talmai, I don’t base my faith merely on what seems plausible to me,” said Noah.
“Well, that’s obvious!” Bakbukiah scoffed.
Noah held up his hand and continued, “I base my faith on what God says he will do.”
“Whose god, Noah?” said Talmai flatly.
“The only God there is, Talmai: Elohim, the Almighty, the Creator,” said Noah.
“So Elohim is a mass murderer then?” said Bakbukiah mockingly.
“Bakbukiah, you’re speaking foolishness,” said Noah firmly.
“I’m speaking foolishness!” snapped Bakbukiah. “You’re building a colossal boat in the middle of nowhere because some bloodthirsty god told you to and you’re calling me foolish?”
“Yes, I am! because you’re assuming that what looks foolish to you is foolish,” replied Noah unwaveringly.
“Building this ark doesn’t just look foolish, Noah,” said Talmai curtly.
“Tell me what foolishness is, Talmai,” countered Noah intensely.
“Foolishness is that, my friend,” said Bakbukiah, gesturing toward the site.
“No, I want you to answer the question. What is foolishness?” said Noah.
“It’s believing something that isn’t real!” exclaimed Talmai. “Basing your life on a delusion!”
“Exactly!” said Noah. “Foolishness is basing your life on a delusion.”
Both men looked at Noah for a moment perplexed.
Talmai snorted. “You’re saying that we’re the deluded ones?”
“Yes. What makes you certain that you’re not deluded?” asked Noah.
“Common sense, Noah!” Try it! Comes in handy in boat building,” chortled Bakbukiah.
“Common sense? Whose common sense, Bakbukiah?” responded Noah. “Yours? The common sense you exercise when beating your wives when you’re angry? Or when you try to take advantage of every customer you can? Or perhaps it’s the common sense of your friend, Jobab, who extorted sex from the wife of a man indebted to him? Or the common sense of that man to cut Jobab’s throat? Or, Talmai, was it your common sense in working your slave into the ground and beating him mercilessly for petty infractions? Or your slave’s common sense in raping your daughter before he escaped? Or, Bakbukiah, was it the chief’s common sense to run your father through with a spear for laughing at him?”
“Watch your tongue, old man, if you want to keep it,” threatened Bakbukiah.
“Point made then,” replied Noah. “Depravity is rampant everywhere. We always carry our weapons because we can’t trust anyone. And when we’re honest, we know we aren’t trustworthy. The most common sense we share is our evil selfishness.”
“Listen, that’s besides the point!” asserted Talmai. “The point is there isn’t going to be any flood and this huge ark is a waste of time, money, and trees!”
“It’s not besides the point,” said Noah. “Elohim has been warning us for generations to forsake our evil, self-absorbed sin and return to him. No one has listened! We have only gotten worse. We’re consuming each other! The point is that your perception of reality is distorted by self-centeredness, Talmai. Elohim created the predictable world you know. And it’s foolish to presume that he can’t turn this plain into a sea.”
“Well, if he does, this Elohim of yours is as wicked as the rest of us. He’s just going to drown us all like dogs,” replied Bakbukiah. “Except you, of course, being so righteous.”
“Not true, Bakbukiah! It is not Elohim’s blood thirst and selfishness that is bringing the flood. It’s his justice. It’s what our sin deserves! Don’t you see? In his mercy he has been warning us over and over. But the ark is a sign that he will not wait forever. And God isn’t sparing me because my nature is any better than yours. He’s sparing me because I trust him. I believe what he says. And this ark will shelter anyone who will trust him. Join me, brothers! You don’t have to perish in Elohim’s judgment! Believe him and escape!”
Talmai looked blankly at Noah. “Build your boat, crazy man. But keep away from me and my family.”
“Me too,” added Bakbukiah. “If Elohim’s going to wipe out everyone I know and love, then I want to go where they’re going. I’m not going on a boat ride with a murderous god, religious fanatics and a bunch of wild animals!”
The clever and contemptuous mockery of those who find the gospel simply ridiculous stings us. And it can stir up fears and doubts that we might really be foolish after all and tempt us to keep our mouths closed.
God knows this and prepares us by explaining that the gospel will sound foolish to the world because he’s “[making] foolish the wisdom of the world” (1 Corinthians 1:20). Then he repeatedly tells us not to be ashamed of it (Luke 9:26; Romans 1:16; 2 Timothy 1:8).
Like Noah, who was a “herald of righteousness” in his age (2 Peter 2:5), we also are heralds of “events as yet unseen” (Hebrews 11:7). Jesus tells us that Noah’s flood was a foreshadow:
For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. (Matthew 24:37–39)
But in this greater judgment a greater, more perfect Ark has been provided: the crucified and risen Son of Man. All who are in him when the flood of God’s wrath comes will be saved. But only those who believe his word can enter this Ark.
If Noah’s warning and gospel sounded foolish to his hearers, how much more does our warning and gospel sound to our hearers? We must not be surprised when others ridicule it, for “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18). But “it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21).
Our call is not to be respected by the unbelieving world. Our call is to trust our Lord’s word over the confident contempt of those who are blinded (2 Corinthians 4:4), endure the reproach Jesus endured (Hebrews 13:13), and preach the gospel for the sake of those “who are being saved” (1 Corinthians 1:18).