God is defined as the faithful one. That's part of what it means to be God. It is impossible for us to understand how God could be unfaithful. If God ever broke his word, God would cease to be God. That's why it's so amazing that God would make a promise to Noah and "every living creature" on the earth never to flood the whole earth again (Genesis 9:8-17). Never is a long, long time.
Several years ago, I was sitting with a couple in premarital counseling when the groom-to-be announced rather defiantly that he would never forgive his bride-to-be if she ever lied to him. His words got my attention, but his tone seemed even more important. (Who among us hasn't lied to his or her spouse?) Drawing a line in the sand and using the word "never" to frame an aspect of a relationship is pretty dangerous. We spent some time unpacking what he meant, delving into the past brokenness that he had felt, finding a different way to articulate the importance of honesty, and diffusing the landmine he was burying under his marriage. In the end, I was satisfied that they had worked through that issue enough to move forward with their marriage, trusting that time spent together as husband and wife would soften that "never" to a more reasonable understanding. But that moment still sticks with me.
Never is a very long time. Never is a big, big word. When we declare something with such finality, the result must be one of three outcomes: 1) we're right and the "never" stands for itself; 2) we're wrong and must accept the consequences; 3) we're wrong and change our story to pretend the consequences don't matter. I bet a marriage could survive #s 2 & 3, but not a relationship with God. God cannot go back on God's word. Our faith in God is built on God's faithfulness.
And I think that's the real point of this lesson from Genesis. The "never" should be our focus. This mythical tale isn't really about floods and arks and animals two-by-two. It's a story of God's faithfulness. Yes, God would be completely justified in wiping out creation at any moment. Yes, the wickedness on earth is as bad or worse than it was in Noah's day. But God has promised not to do it. In that promise, God has imposed a self-limitation. God has declared that what God could do God will not do. And God used the word "never" to describe it.
On that "never" hangs our trust in God. Our faith is built on the never-ending promise of a God who chooses to love us even though we are unlovable.