Thursday, August 7, 2014

Glimpses in the Noah Movie

I have looked forward to seeing the new Noah movie starring Russell Crowe for some time. Though apparently not that much, because I wasn't willing to part with $10 to see it in the theater. I'd wanted to see it because it is a mainstream movie depicting a Biblical story. I wanted to see how it depicted the story, and what possibility it could bring up for talking about Jesus with people who've seen the movie.

Overall I liked the movie Noah. I liked it not because it was necessarily an accurate depiction of the Biblical story found in Genesis 6 and 9, let's be real, it wasn't.

No, I liked the movie Noah because it really caused me to think. As a person who believes that the Bible, including the chapters of Genesis which describe the Noah story, is the inspired word of God it was a helpful tool to better understand the God who I trust and worship. My aim here is not to be comprehensive, or to pick out small things, but to talk about big areas the movie got right and big areas the movie got wrong.

Here's some things I think the Noah movie got right...

1. Man was created in the image of God. The character Tubal-Cain throughout the movie provides a counterpoint to Noah's perspective of humanity being completely worthless and worthy of total destruction. Tubal-Cain is a self-serving tyrant king whose main purpose in the movie seemed to be to create tension, AND to allude to the fact that humanity had intrinsic value and worth because it had been created in God's image. Tubal-Cain took this to mean that he could basically do whatever he wanted to whomever he wanted, instead of safe-guarding and respecting other people, but hey no ones perfect! :) Genesis 1:27 records the words which are found throughout the movie on the lips of Tubal Cain, "So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them." 

Being created in the image of God means that mankind has great value. It also means that there are amazing qualities given to people, something we see throughout the movie as various characters interact. Ham and Ila love one another and care about their family. Shem risks his life to find himself a wife, a very human desire for companionship. And Noah in a climactic scene allows his love to overrule his sense of duty and spares innocent life. Man was created in the image of God, and each character in Noah's family exhibits glimpses of what it means to be created in God's image. 

2. Sin was a tragedy on the largest scale. It brought about destruction to humanity and to the world. While the movie seemed to want to dwell on the ecological side of the problem introduced by sin, I thought it did a pretty good job of speaking to the fact that people are bent towards serving and obeying themselves rather than their Creator (sin). 

There was one scene between Noah and his wife that was especially poignant. She talked about the goodness of their sons. Noah countered with the self-centeredness which he had seen in his sons, and concluded by saying how he and she were the same as the those doomed for watery destruction. The New Testament tells us that the state of fallen humanity apart from God is one of spiritual deadness (Ephesians 2:1-3) and that people in their natural state live and care only for themselves and not for their Creator (Romans 3:9-18). 

Though we see much goodness in the characters of Noah and his family we also see much that is negative and destructive. Sin twisted the original goodness of humanity into something that was very terrible to see. In one scene Noah sees starving people trade two girls across a fence in exchange for an animal to eat. This scene ends with something very reminiscent of a traditional picture of Hell with fiery imagery and the disgustingness of fallen humanity at its very worst. This vision is so powerful and terrible to Noah that he concludes it must be the will of the Creator to extinguish humanity entirely.

3. The God of the Bible is a God who punishes sin. Noah clearly portrays the fact that God punishes sin. There are several scenes where the Fall is described in words or by the camera. The fact that Adam and Eve were forced to leave the paradise of Eden is portrayed. Of course the biggest instance of God punishing sin is in the great deluge itself. In a harrowing scene Noah and his family can hear the cries of those who are outside the ark as the floodwaters overtake them. One of the deep points of the Noah story is found at the outset in Genesis 6:6-7,

"The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the Lord said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them.”

God's seriousness in punishing the sinfulness of humanity is one of the main points of the Noah story. This comes through well in the movie, although the movie does twist sin into primarily something which is done against other creatures. In the movie, in a small way, one can see both sides, judgment mixed with grace. God preserves the life of Noah and his family because of His grace. This mixture of judgment and grace foreshadows the most tremendous display of God's love, the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

Now here's some things I think the Noah movie got wrong...

1. The God of the Bible is a God who speaks in order to reveal Himself and His will to humanity. In the Noah movie, the Creator never speaks. Instead people are left to fill in his thoughts based on their interpretation of dreams, visions, and natural events. Some of these interpretations are good, others...not so much. 

The Genesis account says that God spoke to Noah throughout the Noah story. Nine times in Genesis 6:5-9:28 the Bible records that God "said" something, often to Noah. God's words included: His original declaration of his intention to destroy mankind in Genesis 6:7 (in the movie this was shown in a dream sequence without any words), careful instructions for the building of the ark in Genesis 6:13-21 (in the movie there is no mention of where the physical plan for the ark came from), instructions about when to enter the ark, what to take, and how long it would be before the rain started falling in Genesis 7:1-4 (in the movie things just sort of happened without Noah or anyone else knowing when they would happen). 

I could keep going, but hopefully you're getting the picture. The Bible portrays a God reveals Himself and His will to people by speaking to them. The Noah movie portrays God as something else entirely. The God of the Noah movie assumes an awful lot about the ability of one man to properly interpret dreams and visions in order to recognize and carry out His will. In contrast the God of the Bible reveals His thoughts and will to people in a way which they can understand and obey. He doesn't leave it to chance. 

2. Mankind cannot be it's own Savior. Perhaps the most troubling thing about the Noah movie, as with many movies, is the portrayal of the ability of people to "save" themselves. One is left at the end of the movie with the sense that Noah and his family are going to try harder and somehow do better than all the people who died in the Flood. This seems suspect and naive because of all the depraved things and people that one is introduced to throughout the movie, but it just sort of ends on a happy, hopeful note. 

In the Biblical Noah story, Noah and his family are only saved by the intervention of the God who speaks . In the movie, though it could be communicating the same message, the message gets muddied by the "we'll do better" stuff at the end and the non-communicative God stuff throughout. Overall, in the movie, mankind is on it's own to save itself, with the exception of some pretty cool rock giants.

The Bible teaches  that humanity apart from God is lost and needs saving. This is why the God-man, Jesus, the Incarnate Word of God, came to earth. One of the more familiar verses in the New Testament, John 3:16, says, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only son, that whoever believes in Him, shall not perish, but have everlasting life." In other words, the world and humanity in particular was in such bad shape that it took the intervention of God in order to bring about the opportunity for salvation. This was something which mankind could never do on its own. No amount of human effort can or every will bring the type of world and society for which so many long. 

3. Noah's relationship with God was much deeper than the movie depicted. Leading up to the Noah story in the Bible there is one instance where a person walked with God. It is in Genesis 5:22-24 where Enoch is said to have "walked" with God. The interesting thing is that Enoch's relationship with God resulted in such a life that God took him instead of having him die. The text is not explicit about what Enoch's walking with God entailed, but it seems very reasonable that Enoch lived in such a way as to obey, reverence, and trust God. 

The next person in Genesis who is said to "walk with God" is Noah in Genesis 6:9. The use of the phrase in both cases draws a parallel between Enoch's life and Noah's life. It is reasonable to think, based on this description, that what was true of Enoch, was also true of Noah. However, in the Noah movie Noah's relationship with God is best described as devoid of knowledge and based on a few visions and dreams. Because of God's reticence to speak in the movie, Noah cannot have a true relationship with Him. The Biblical Noah was a man who trusted God deeply and walked with Him closely. The Noah character in the movie can hardly be described in those same terms.

So those are my thoughts on Noah. I feel it's definitely worth seeing if you can get past non-Biblical stuff and allow it to reinforce Biblical truths on one hand and provide a stark contrast to what the Bible teaches about God on the other. I'd recommend it with the proviso that you allow it to serve as a contrast for the real story and the real God of the Biblical Noah story.

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