First the preliminaries:
I am a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and, like St. Gregory of Nyssa, I believe in universal salvation. None of the theories in this post is necessary to my Orthodoxy nor to my universalism.
I assume that the mainstream scientific view of the evolution of nature is correct: The universe is billions of years old, planet Earth is over 4 billion years old, life evolved from non-living matter billions of years ago, and life has since evolved into all the innumerable plant and animal species both extinct and still living. I further assume that none of this is in contradiction to Orthodoxy.
I disagree with mainstream scientific thinking when it comes to mankind. I think that Adam was created by God without recourse to evolution. Eve was created out of Adam’s rib. They lived in the Garden of Eden, sheltered from “nature red in tooth and claw”. After they sinned, they were kicked-out and forced to make due in a hostile world.
I further accept the accuracy of what is sometimes called the “Byzantine Creation Era” ( orthodoxwiki.org/Byzantine_Calendar ). In this conception Adam was created on Sept. 1, 5509 B. C. The Flood occurred 2,262 years later in 3247 B. C.
I conceive of the Flood as being local in extent and universal in effect (humanly speaking). Every single human being then living (other than the eight on the ark) was slain in the waters of the Flood. I think that mankind lived in a relatively limited area before the Flood, and that the Flood destroyed all trace of that civilization. The cities, artifacts, etc. uncovered by archaeologists are remnants of post-Flood civilizations.
I think that Noah had to bring relatively few animals on board the ark. He needed to save only his livestock and any species that were endemic to where mankind lived. If mankind lived (for example) on a relatively small island in the Persian Gulf (which I think plausible), then endemic fauna would not be numerous. The ark would be almost entirely empty.
Whew! The preliminaries are out of the way.
Christians in general and universalists in particular are sometimes troubled by God sending the Flood, imagining innocent victims of the waters. Please note that these victims exist only in our imaginations! They are never mentioned in the scriptural text. In fact, the text gives us reason to suspect that such innocents did not exist.
Note that the Flood was the only time in mankind’s history that God essentially wiped-out everyone and started over. This implies that the time of Noah was markedly worse than any other time. That means worse than Stalinist gulags, worse than Nazi death camps, worse than massive Aztec human sacrifice, worse than the current abortion holocaust, etc. Whatever atrocities have been recorded in human history, the wickedness of Noah’s generation was far worse.
Does the text give details? A bit: “The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them” (Genesis 6:13). These men were violent, more violent than anyone in history. It is possible to read this passage as saying that, left to their own devices, pre-Flood mankind was nearing the point of causing the extinction of all humanity. Therefore God had to act to save his created image. The Flood was not meant to annihilate humanity, but to prevent the annihilation of humanity. This called for severe amputation.
Clearly, those men who were recalcitrant in their unparalleled violence had to be killed. Otherwise they would have encompassed human extinction. The Flood saved humanity.
The ark God told Noah to build was very large, but not nearly so large as the famous Titanic. How many men could the Titanic hold (passengers and crew combined)? About 3,500. I will take that as an upper limit for how many humans could have reasonably fit on the ark. (It would be ridiculous imagine them packed in like sardines for over a year, as they were on the old slave ships, since this would have been fatal to a great many.)
Given the loving nature of God, I assume that the entire human population in the early 33rd century B. C. was no more than 3,500 souls. Noah built his ark on such a scale that it was obvious that God was willing to save each and every human on the planet. They need only come to the ark.
Instead, wicked mankind refused. The construction of the ark had to have been an enormous undertaking that could not have been hidden. It is likely that wicked mankind mocked it. It is further imaginable that wicked mankind did something to try to avert the coming Flood. Remember that they were the most violent people to ever walk on planet Earth. I can imagine them, in order to induce their gods to prevent the Flood, sacrificing to their false gods all of the infants and children that they had. Every single one. I further imagine them slaying any of their number not in agreement with this sacrifice.
I have wondered at the significance of the seven days in Genesis 7:4: “For after seven more days I will cause it to rain on the earth forty days and forty nights.” Perhaps it was at that point that the vile sacrifice occurred, and God was now able to proceed with the Flood without slaying a single person who was not a mass murderer. Every single person who drowned did so with the blood of infants and children still wet upon his hands.
Speculation? Yes. But no more so than the more common speculations that people invent of crying infants drowning in the waters of the Flood. The present speculation is an attempt to understand the text in the light of the entire revelation of God in Jesus Christ. It shows us the following:
God saved lives with the Flood. Without the Flood, there would have been zero rather than eight human survivors.
God instructed Noah to make the ark large enough to obviously be able to save every single human being. He would have saved even the most vile men in all of history if they would only have come to Him.
Mankind had a very small population, no more than 3,500.
Violent mankind had already eliminated anyone who did not deserve death in the Flood. God did not kill any children, infants, or innocents. Wicked mankind did that.
Thank God for His merciful Flood. Without it, mankind would have ceased to exist over 5,000 years ago.