Tuesday, April 1, 2014

What we talk about when we talk about "Noah"

In my experience, the story of Noah found in Genesis ch. 6-9 is not discussed often in church past Sunday school classes for children. You know, with the flannel boards for all the cute animals and the songs about building an arky arky out of gopher barky barky?
When the reality about the story of Noah is that it is sometimes profound, sometimes violent, sometimes sexually implicit, sometimes mysterious and at some points downright bizarre.

For instance, an honest reading of the passages found in the story of Noah might incite the following questions in the reader’s mind:
  • Why would an omniscient God, who exists outside of time and has had a plan from the beginning of time, regret his own decision to create Mankind?
  • If God is Love, as the Bible teaches, then why does he commit genocide against mankind? Surely there were at very least innocent children, toddlers, even infants who were drowned that did not deserve this fate?
  • How did Noah deal with the potential guilt of God choosing his family? Was this the reason one of the first things he did after coming off the ark was to plant a vineyard so he could get blackout drunk?
      These are uncomfortable questions. Questions that should make us wrestle with who God is. Questions that are debated heavily even among the most learned of Biblical scholars.

And here is where I confess that I don’t know the answers to the questions above, and I doubt the sincerity of anyone who says they do. Fortunately for me, my belief in God does not hinge on having definitive answers for the multitudes of questions that I don’t know the answers to.

Which brings me to the 2014 Darren Aronofsky film, “Noah.”

Let me start off by just getting this out there: the film itself is mediocre. Formally, it is a mixed bag of Aronofsky’s typical artistic visual style on one hand, and some awful and even goofy CGI on the other. For instance, the graphics in Noah’s recounting of the creation story to his family is impressive, while the design of “The Watchers” (fallen angels that are just...giants made of rocks?) is simply baffling.

Thematically, it does a few things very well, and a few things very poorly. Although it does not strictly adhere to the Biblical text, as many have taken it to task for, overall it does serve the greater purpose of the story, which is that even though we are all corrupt, God gives us the choice to follow him still.

But I’m not really here to offer my formal criticism of the film. I’m here to offer why it is so important that Christians not be as dismissive of the film as I have witnessed. I've read various pieces about why Christians shouldn't see this movie, and decrying it for leading people astray due to its Biblical inaccuracies (although it is adapted from ancient sources other than the Bible…and was never intended to be a strictly Biblical film), and because the director is an atheist.

And I’m here to say I thoroughly reject that response.

How often is Biblical narrative portrayed in popular culture? Not often. So instead of being dismissive of the things it gets wrong (and it does, trust me), why not use it as an opportunity to engage our neighbors? As an opportunity to minister to and love them? A dismissive attitude ignores those around us that may be seeking and knocking, and exchanges it for a cloak of fear.

And it glosses over the big, giant questions about ancient mysteries of life that this film presents:

Like why sometimes God feels so far away when we need him the most. Or why our attempts to receive a sign from him can feel completely futile. Or why knowing the right thing to do seems impossible at times.

I don’t know the answer to these questions, yet I still believe there is much to learn in the story of Noah, and there are deep truths about it whether one believes it to be a literal account or a symbolic one, as I do.

I believe that God gives us a choice. As God gave Noah the choice to obey him and save humanity, so he gives us the choice save humanity in our own ways by driving out hunger, prejudice, violence and hate so we may administer a system based on love, purity, community and egalitarianism.

I believe that God is in the mission of bringing his people out of exile. As God brought Noah out of the flood in the midst of a corrupt civilization, he later brought Israel out of Egypt, and Babylon. And that ultimately through Jesus he brought us out of the exile of sin and gave us a new way of living.

And I believe that having questions about the nature of God is healthy, and that no questions are too big for God to handle.

So for that reason I welcome the challenge of engaging myself and others in the questions that “Noah” presents, and embracing the mysteries of life. And I take issue with those who will not see the forest for the trees in this film. Because there is no reason to be afraid of the questions it asks. Because in Christ we have a peace that surpasses understanding. Because we’re part of a battle that’s already been won.