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Christianity, and Islam. While the mythologies of Greece and Rome told
how a given generation of the gods (the Titans, for example) were dis-
placed by another (the Olympians), we seldom imagine that the God of
the Abrahamic religions arose within any such sequence. But the early
chapters of Genesis describe a sequence of another kind, a transforma-
tion in God's atitudes toward his creation. We may be used to the story
that God created the world in seven days and blessed his creation out-
right. But we might forget that before long, in later chapters of that story,
he became horrified at human sin and repented of creating humankind
at all—and accordingly chose to drown the Earth and nearly all living
beings beneath the waters of the flood (see Genesis, chapter 6). The God
of creation, it turns out, is also the God of the deluge—one who at times
uterly hates what he has created. Perhaps this deep ambivalence is intrin-
sic to omnipotent power: any power that can create can also destroy. But
in that case, we are not secure in our status as creatures, for at any time
God can blot us out as well. No theology can come to rest on the pres-
ence of the creation itself, for the God that brought it into being can anni-
hilate it in a moment.
Thus the key moment in the Genesis story takes place neither at the
creation nor the flood but immediately after the floodwaters recede. 148
After leaving the ark, Noah offers a burnt sacrifice to God; in response,
God promises never again to destroy the world, vowing that “[w]hile the
earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and win-
ter, day and night, shall not cease” (8:22) and places a rainbow in the
cloud as a “sign of the covenant” between himself and “all flesh that is
upon the earth” (9:17). 149 Here, the God who has the continual option
to destroy the world renounces doing so forever. Only because of this act
can his creatures finally have confidence that the creation they know will
endure. The most reassuring act is not the creation itself but the divine
vow never again to undo it. The core founding moment, in effect, is the
rainbow covenant.
What, then, are we to make of the fact that disasters and cataclysms
of many kinds have taken place again and again over the history of the
Earth? As I mentioned above, modern geological knowledge casts doubt
on the rainbow covenant. It suggests that we have always been abandoned
to history, living in a world without guarantees. In mythological terms,
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