Sharing news about the Ararat discovery draws forth some general responses. As one might expect, the most positive and excited reactions come from believers while explicit unbelievers usually react with instinctive skepticism or hostility. What is surprising is how many of the warmest responses come from those in secular callings where faith cannot be or is rarely openly expressed and even from some who have seemed open or explicit unbelievers!
Even more surprising is that the seeming majority of the reactive negative responses in fact come from those who openly declare themselves as Christians or believers! This group may be the most difficult to understand because their negative responses occur for different reasons. What these seem to have in common is a faith based on culture rather than in the historical truth of the Scriptures, to which this discovery so impressively witnesses. Many negative responses can be assigned to these four groups:
(1) Quietly expressed scorn at such simplistic Christianity. Among this group, many mainline pastors and teachers who have long experience in being discrete less they upset their parishioners.
(2) “It doesn’t matter to me. I just believe the Bible!” Yes, but why would a believer react with that declaration? Doesn’t the Bible say something about a worldwide Flood and an Ark landing in the mountains of Ararat? Perhaps many of those giving this response are in fact simplistic Christians unaware of the scientific challenges to the Bible, how that has impacted our world, and how this discovery turns that around. In that case, they need to understand the importance of this discovery. But many of those reacting like this may be mistaking religious pride for faith. What good are Scriptures if they do not enlightened the world?
The Scriptures are in fact a light. But if we don’t use the light, we are hiding our light under a bushel. If we had a book of myth, one would not expect it to shed any light on the archaeological remains from early man. Our modern world has indeed declared these important sections of our Bible to be myth. If believers do not demonstrate that they have a light by using them in archaeology, unbelievers can be excused for not doing so. In fact, unique among ancient texts, the Bible shows time and again how it can enlighten archaeology. Until now, the exception seems to have been the early chapters of Genesis. This discovery shows that even these Scriptures are to be fully trusted.
(3) “This discovery is troubling because it may become a shrine for pilgrimages.” Indeed, it may. Protestants have been suspicious of pilgrimages. Al Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist seminary in Louisville, expressed this concern about the NAMI discovery.
We need to understand the specific problems with pilgrimages, a concern of the Reformation. At the time of the Reformation, it was popular to take pilgrimages to the tomb of the Catholic saints like Thomas Becket. Local shrines were drawing attention away from the common faith, much as was the problem with the ancient high places in Israel. Pride in local religious traditions is the seed ground for idolatry.
As I pointed out to Dr. Mohler, Billy Graham’s Library might concern us because I am fond of going there and it is getting a lot of pilgrimages. Other Christians may not. Making too much of Billy Graham, as he himself would certainly agree, might divide believers from our common faith. The discovery of the remains of Noah’s Ark is not going to do this. The account is in the Scriptures that belong to our common faith.
Dr. Mohler points out rightly that God did not see fit to preserve some of the most important relics of our common faith such as the burial place of Moses. The serpent that Moses made in the wilderness did in fact become an idol for many in ancient Israel. But there were exceptions. The Lord did command the Israelites to erect an altar in remembrance of their crossing of the Jordan River. The empty tomb was an important witness to Jesus’ resurrection. It seems that witnesses to the great acts of God do not present a danger to idolatry. We are not likely to suppose the power of any physical remains greater than the great act to which they witness. As a witness to Jesus Second Coming and judgment of the whole world, we have now an empty Ark making it clear that his erstwhile judgment included the whole earth.
I also asked Dr. Mohler:
There are some things by which God may surprise even a learned believer like Dr. Mohler. I believe that he is now looking forward to more on this discovery.
(4) A general negative reaction because the discovery contradicts what one presently believes about Noah’s Ark, the Flood, or the Bible. This is not particular to this discovery or subjects. It is the nature of discoveries to contradict conventional thinking, else the discovery would probably not have been hidden. Much of the public opposition to NAMI’s discovery probably stems from this cause.