The Ark Encounter and the tale of Noah

Father John A. Kiley

Towering over the pleasant fields of rural Kentucky is a reputedly full-size Noah’s Ark, built according to the dimensions given in the Bible. Spanning 510 feet long, the ark is an engineering marvel half the size of Gillette Stadium. The ark and its surroundings might one day rival Disneyland as a tourist venue since a Creation Museum, the Ararat Ridge zoo with zebras, llamas, alpacas, emus, yaks, sheep and kangaroos, a nomad village, an upscale restaurant, a cafeteria and some amusements are already functioning or planned by Ark Encounter and its sponsoring community dedicated to the literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis. The theme park exhibits are presented over the three decks’ 125,000 square feet of space. Visitors are offered a visual explanation of life aboard the vessel, depicting, through figures of Noah and his family, how the ark could have accommodated so many different types of animals. Admission is pricey: $40 for adults; $31 for seniors and $28 for children. But an afternoon could easily be spent touring only the ark.

Although the fabricators of the ark are unapologetically fundamentalist, their exhibitions, illustrations and explanations of the Biblical flood are respectful of the broader beliefs of other Christian communities and scientific groups. Geological evidence is offered indicating the likely probability of an ancient flood “of Biblical proportions.” Clarifications on the varieties of animals boarded onto the ark are offered. Support is offered for the possible manner in which Noah and his family fed and maintained themselves and the animals in the ark for more than forty days.

The Ark Encounter experience also pictorially and quietly introduces the reason for God’s ancient watery judgment on the human race in the time of Noah. Three-dimensional tableaux depict ancient mankind given over to idolatry, to infant sacrifice and to pagan excesses. The viewer is not hit over the head with these depictions in a bombastic manner. The lesson is not out of Elmer Gantry or the Scopes Trial. The facts, as understood by the Ark Encounter sponsors, are simply presented. The tourist may draw his or her own conclusions.

Whether the tale of Noah and his ark is understood literally or symbolically or somewhere in between, the moral of the story is clear: judgment. Mankind sinned grievously by departing from the truth. God who is truth itself could not wink at mankind’s waywardness. Man stood in need of correction. An authentic judgment had to be made. A punishing flood was God’s severe sentence upon his errant creatures. “God is not mocked,” St. Paul would write much later, “as a man sows, thus shall he reap.” Judgment is just as much an essential dogma of revelation as are creation, redemption and eternal life. Today, sadly, judgment is much out of favor. The twisting of Pope Francis’s celebrated comment about homosexuality, “Who am I to judge?” is invoked by many to justify the modern world’s slide into immorality, again, “of Biblical proportions.” Only God can judge persons, but the Church and the believing community and anyone with common sense can judge behavior. Godlessness is wrong; disrespect is wrong; murder is wrong; adultery is wrong; stealing is wrong; slander is wrong. There is a moral law and those who violate it should be apprised, however respectfully, of their errors.

In this coming Sunday’s Gospel, Dives, the finely clothed and well-fed rich man, is willfully negligent toward Lazarus, the sore-infested and empty-bellied beggar at his doorstep. Dives’ careless laxity is severely judged by the heavenly Abraham: “‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.” Dives begs that his brothers might be spared this severe judgment: “… warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.’ Abraham insists that a warning about the inevitability of judgement is already offered by “Moses and the prophets.” And Catholics may add that Jesus Christ’s Church is clear about the reality of judgment as well: “…he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead…” Like Dives’ five brothers, now is the time to prepare for judgment; now is the time to examine one’s conscience, one’s life, one’s eternal destiny. Eventually a new ark will be float; believers must prepare now to be on board.