[The first post in this series is here.]
Everything I ever needed to know about the Kingdom of God, I learned from flannelgraph.
At this point, I need to say something to those who don’t know what flannelgraph is. Probably, you didn’t go to a conservative church during your youth, and you really missed out on something here. Now mind you, there are a LOT of other things that it is just as well you never experienced in that sort-of environment – but flannelgraph: that was good stuff.
Here is what it looked like, courtesy of thefeltsource.com:
During my younger years, I could look forward – almost every Sunday – to a new bible story brought to life on flannelgraph. It was exciting and colorful. It added clarity and life to stories that sometimes were difficult to understand. Sure, the characters looked more like middle-aged adults from the 1950s dressed up in costumes than REAL bible characters, but I didn’t mind. (Only now am I beginning to realize that the appearance of early bible characters were probably more similar to my ideas of cave men than the well-groomed flannelgraph guys – but hey, I STILL don’t care).
Flannelgraph was cool.
And it is on those flat, colorful felt boards that I first began to understand what the Kingdom of God was all about.
Lets start with Noah. I’m guessing we all know the story. He builds a boat, engages in the most impressive zoological round-up in the history of man, and rides out an apocalyptic flood with a few family members. At the end of the story there is a big rainbow and a sacrifice, followed by a little drunkenness and nudity (the last part never showed up on the flannelgraph) .
But the rainbow part – that was what looked good in flannelgraph. That felt rainbow symbolized – and to this day continues to symbolize – something very important to me.
Here is the story so far. Genesis begins with a description of a “good” creation over which God is…well, God. But then, for the better part of the first five chapters of Genesis, we have an account of the decline and fall of that creation: particularly, the people who are a part of it. I know, I know. Most folks want to talk about Eve and the apple when they discuss “the fall” – but I think there is a broader story being told about how – as people becomes more “progressed” – they also becomes more arrogant, ambitious, and, consequently, un-godly.
By Genesis 6:6, God is grieving because his good, perfect creation has become completely corrupt. People don’t recognize his authority or Kingship at all, and the earth is instead a “violent” place where man contends against man for power and control. So he decides to wipe men out from the earth and start over with the one guy who still honors him.
A few days later, virtually all of humanity is dead.
Kind-of a sobering thought. Again, bloated, rotting corpses floating on the surface of the water didn’t make for good flannelgraph, not like rainbows. But I knew about that harsher part of the story, too.
Then comes Noah’s sacrifice, followed by something truly remarkable. God says: “I’m not going to do this again. Ever.”
And don’t miss this from Chapter 7: “EVEN THOUGH EVERY INCLINATION OF THEIR HEARTS ARE EVIL” I will not destroy the world like this. Mass destruction could have been – but will no longer be – the response to man’s un-godlyness.
God the flood-destroyer decides, commits, covenants that he will no longer destroy. Instead, as we will soon learn, he will irrevocably commit himself to being a redeemer: THE redeemer of man and creation.
And thus, in my mind, the story of the Kingdom of God begins with a colorful, flanelgraph rainbow: a symbol that God’s ultimate purposes are not destructive, but redemptive.