In writing Unlikely Heroes, which narrates stories familiar to most readers, I seek to make their retelling fresh, vivid, and even “earthy.” I wish to get inside the skins of these characters and consider what they may have been thinking as they hear the voice of God, exercise great faith, or live through failure. Since the biblical text is often telescoped, containing only brief allusions to some of their struggles, I occasionally imagine what some of their conversations or inner musings might have been. In these fictional dialogues, I take care not to invent anything that would be contrary to Scripture or in conflict with what we know about these men and women. I am also diligent to leave clues for readers to know when I am interpreting the actual details of the text and when I am taking literary license.
What follows is an example from my chapter on Noah of such a hypothetical dialogue of Noah with his family around the dinner table.
The drama of this cultural decline helps us understand God’s mingled reaction of grief and disgust at the earth’s cultural corruption. That God will judge his wicked world is no surprise. But nothing in the Genesis story prepares us for the light of God’s mercy. We don’t foresee that God’s plan of destruction will also provide a way of escape.
Noah is the center of that plan. God tasks him with a building project of unfathomable proportions: to build an ark for the salvation of the race. We find no resume that suggests Noah is qualified for such construction; he has no degrees in engineering or seamanship. Did he possess other kinds of leadership experience: an advocate for social injustice, a defender of the abused, a provider for the poor? The text does not say. We know nothing about his upbringing, his occupation, his source of income, or his social standing. All we know is that when Noah finds favor with God, it is not based on merit, reward, or accomplishment. Rather, “by faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, . . . constructed an ark” (Heb. 11:7).
We do not know how God communicates his warning to Noah, or how Noah and his family initially react. Perhaps there is more bad news in the Mesopotamian Gazette when Noah sits down with the seven other members of his family for supper.
“What’s the matter, dear?” his wife asks as she serves a meal of melons, leeks, and camel cheese. “I know when something’s on your mind. Tough day at work again?”
“Yeah, Dad,” adds Ham, “You’re not your usual chipper self.” They all laugh at the irony that their usually serious Father would be chipper about anything.
“Well, I don’t really know how to say this,” Noah begins, “but I talked with the Lord today.”
“Really?” exclaims Japheth, the youngest. “How do you know it was God? What does he look like?”
“Hold on,” says Shem, “Let Dad at least explain what he means.”
“It’s not easy to explain,” Noah answers, “but when I met this stranger on the outskirts of the city, there was something about him I couldn’t put my finger on. Then he spoke to me, and when I heard his voice, I knew within my spirit it was the Lord.”
“C’mon, Dad,” interjects Shem. “You’ve warned us to be skeptical about claims to hear the voice of God.”
“Were you frightened?” asks Ham.
“A little,” Noah admits, “but his demeanor—his eyes—signaled to me I had nothing to fear. I was more frightened by what he had to say.”
“What was it?” asks Mrs. Noah. “I’m sure the Lord isn’t one to mince words.”
“Yeah, what was it?” interjects Japheth. “Are we going to move again?”
Noah waits a moment before answering. “The Lord shared something of the future with me, “he responds with uncharacteristic heaviness. “Not surprisingly, he is both saddened and angry about the state of our world. He plans to destroy all life as we know it with a catastrophic flood.”
There is silence around the table for several minutes. Shem’s wife begins to weep quietly, and Noah’s wife simply looks at her husband with affection, squeezing his hand. Japheth’s wife mouths words to Japheth that are on everyone’s mind: “What’s a flood?”
Noah breaks the silence. “But there is good news, too,” he says. “God plans to save the human race by constructing a huge ark—a gigantic boat, I gather—that will withstand the flood of water. The scary thing is that he’s asked me to build it.”
Immediately, everyone speaks at once. Words of skepticism, awe, doubt, and wonder all tumble out of their mouths like an avalanche. Finally Shem voices what they all are thinking. “How can the Lord ask this of you, Dad? You have no experience in construction. You can’t put a round peg in a round hole!”
Noah looks around the table. “Oh, that part is simple,” he says with the faintest hint of a smile. “God expects all of you to help.”
A Big Task; a Bigger God
I do not know whether Noah’s conversation with his family sounded like this or not. but I am certain that they all felt the enormity of the unrighteousness of their depraved culture, the impossibility of the task ahead of them, and the adequacy of the God who called them. Is that your certainty as you live with distinctiveness in your culture?