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Encountering the Imaginable

Nestled deep in the rolling hills of northern Kentucky lays one of the greatest spectacles of twenty-first century Christianity.  Just an hour’s ride north of Lexington on I-75 will bring you face to face with the grandest rendering of a Biblical story in living memory.  In the small town of Williamstown lies “ARK Encounter,” a larger-than-life construction of Noah’s Ark calculated from the biblical account.

Ken Ham’s group “Answers in Genesis” opened the park in July of this year like a more brash and over-funded Hollywood sequel to their original, the “Creation Museum” just a skip and jump away in Petersburg, KY.  According to their website, the Ark is so large that NASA could line up three shuttles nose-to-tail across its roof.  For those of you more number inclined, the exact measurements 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 51 feet high.  That’s quite a lot of wood, but more on that later.

“ARK Encounter” is intended to be a high-quality, Disney-esque imagining of one of the grandest Biblical tales, bringing into stunning realization the cute mural that has adorned so many nurseries. Featuring state of the art animatronics, interactive exhibits, and lifelike renderings of animals as they (hypothetically) appeared to Noah’s own eyes.  It is a grandiose feat of modern engineering that brings the scale and wonder of Noah’s ark into stark, unabashed reality.

I have to admit; I’m intrigued by this monument to Biblical showboating.  I also have a problem with it.

A quick exploration of the “ARK Encounter” website led me to discover the material costs for this undertaking.  To the tune of countless hammers, almost 3.1 million board feet of lumber was used to construct the Ark.  That sounds like a lot of wood.  How much wood you wonder?  Just for comparison, the average Habitat for Humanity house is right around 1,000 square feet of living space and needs roughly 15,000 board feet of lumber.  Doing some quick math means that a few more than 200 houses could have been built by Habitat for Humanity for the same lumber it took to build “ARK Encounter.”

Two hundred houses.  Not to play sentimentality on you, but that’s 200 families in homes instead of one gigantic, boat-shaped spectacle.

I have to ask myself in good conscious as a Christian person that reads the Noah story within the Biblical narrative:  was this really the best use of materials, time, and labor?  I have a hard time believing that Jesus, a carpenter by trade, would advise building this boat instead of homes for more than 200 families.  Christianity is not about proving points through grand monuments to our own tales, but rather proving grace by tangible acts of love.  When I think in my mind and feel in my heart how Jesus would respond to me showing him a giant boat I built or constructed homes for people to live in, there’s a clear distinction in his reactions.  But that’s all in my imaginings.

I’ve never been to “ARK Encounter,” and while I don’t ever plan to either maybe a visit could change my attitude towards it.  I doubt it, but maybe.  And I know that by writing this I’m defeating my own purpose and providing a little bit of notoriety for “ARK Encounter.”  However, in this post-modern culture where Christianity is but one voice competing amongst many, is this theme park the best statement we can make?  It’s an honest question to which I think we need to contemplate and respond.

Josh Godwin

There a handful of things in this life I truly love: my God, my wife, my dog, my town, my Cheerwine. I also love ministering with teenagers to help them realize God's love and everything God made them to be.

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