It was common practice in the ancient world to use an event (or memory of an event) and retell it in a figurative way to communicate a message to the hearers. There is good scriptural and historical evidence that the Flood story is an interpretation of an actual historical event retold in the rhetoric and theology of ancient Israel.The Genesis account is one of many stories of catastrophic floods in the ancient world, including the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh, which bears striking similarities to the story of the Flood. This doesn't mean that Genesis 6-9 is borrowed from the stories of other cultures, but that it is based on a common cultural memory of a watery cataclysm. The exact nature or date of this historical flood is not important to the meaning of the Genesis account, however, because the purpose of the biblical story is not to give a list of facts about that flood, but to communicate a message about God and humanity to the original hearers (and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to all God's people throughout history).
The Genesis Flood story contains many literary clues that its writers (and original audience) were not intended to narrate an actual series of events. The story employs the literary device known as "hyperbole" throughout, describing a massive ark which holds representatives of "every living creature on Earth", and a flood which flows over the tops of the highest mountains in the world. These are not meant to challenge readers to figure out the practicality of such descriptions, but rather they are important clues that we are dealing with a theological story rather than ancient journalism.
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)