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One of the great debates, both within and without our faith, is over the Great Deluge, or Great Flood, that happened at the time of Noah. Some believe that the world was completely flooded, as the Bible seems to indicate. Others think that the flood was merely localized, possibly extending as far as the eye could see so that it appeared as if “the whole world” was flooded. A few think the whole thing is just a myth.
I subscribe to the idea that the whole world was covered with water. I know it is hard to wrap your mind around how Noah and his family could really have gotten all those animals into the ark, but I believe with God, all things are possible.
One of the fascinating aspects to the story of the Great Deluge is how many ancient cultures have the same story. From Native Americans in the American Plains, to ancient Japan, across the African continent and more, there are more than 200 ancient cultures who have their own story about how a flood covered the land and there was essentially a “start-over” of civilization. The most famous of these is part of the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is the second-oldest known example of writing in the world. In that story, Gilgamesh, an ancient hero, is told of a Great Flood that covers the world. The Epic of Gilgamesh was chiseled on to stone tablets perhaps some 2,000 years before Jesus was born.
In the Quran, the holy book of Islam, Noah’s story is also told. In that book, where Noah’s name is spelled Nuh, there is much more detail about Noah’s life, beyond just the flood story.
Of these 200+ stories of the Great Deluge, key details are repeated time and again. The news of the end of the flood is almost always brought by a bird (in the Bible, a dove). There are almost always 8 people on the ark / boat (Noah + wife + sons + daughters in law = 8). The animals are always in pairs. You get the idea.
All of these stories about a man and his family being saved from a flood suggests to me that God was at work all over the world. The story was handed down in a way that allowed each ancient culture to make sense of it. (Which is why we translated the Bible into English, so that we could make sense of it, rather than forcing everyone to learn the ancient languages it was written in.)
It seems in every corner of the world, the Great Flood was a part of the ancient story. So, yes, I believe the flood covered the whole world. And I believe that we will never fully know all the ways that God has engaged with his people, both in ancient times and today. God is at work in ways, large and small, that we may never know about. God has the capacity to deal with all of his children as individuals and as groups of people. No matter how much we learn about God, there will still be more to know.