As human beings, we are strongly attracted to the idea of fresh starts; of wiping the slate clean and beginning all over again.
Think about New Year’s resolutions: “This year it’s all going to be different.”
Or government: “Our reforms are going to sweep away all that happened before, and put a new system in place.” Sadly, we sometimes see this in relationships: “I’m walking away and starting over.” Most tragically, this has shaped world politics: “We’re going to get rid of the Iraqi regime so that a new Western-style democracy can take its place.”
Maybe wiping the slate clean is not such a good idea after all. This certainly seems to be the conclusion of the Bible. There, the prime example of such activity, described in the Book of Genesis, is the flood of Noah. In this story, God is shown as seeing all the bad things that humans do and regretting he’d ever made us.
The story has God deciding to wipe away all life on the earth so that a fresh start can be made by a band of survivors; Noah and the other inhabitants of the Ark. In hindsight, such action is shown as something that God is not willing to repeat. It seems that God regrets it – twice in the story God promises not to try the experiment again.
Floods have been on our minds during these past few days. We remember in sorrow those who have lost their lives. And our hearts go out to those whose lives have been turned upside down by what has happened. We’ve heard accounts of the loss of the things that make up the story of human lives built over time – treasured photographs and keepsakes ruined by water, the love letters of youth lost in the mud, hard-earned exam certificates washed away. Wiping the slate clean and beginning all over again has never seemed so unattractive.
So perhaps our resolution for a New Year should not be to start again. Rather it should be to honour all that makes us who we are. We should celebrate that we are people whose stories have been built over time. We might not like everything we see – in ourselves, our relationships or the way the world is around us – but the thought that we can solve those problems by just sweeping them away is an illusion. Our task in 2014 is to develop what we’ve already been given, starting from who and where we are. As anyone whose life has been caught up in them would tell you, floods are no answer.