I spent last week in California hanging out at a seminary in Pasadena, researching, praying, and preparing for future sermon series. At one point during my time there I spent time with a friend who is a Christian who works in the movie industry. The project he has been working on for the past year is a little movie called “Noah.” And my friend says it is one of the hardest projects he has ever worked on…because of Christians.
It turns out that Evangelicals have a bad habit of reviewing stuff that we haven’t seen or read. Some people are critiquing it because it doesn’t stay true to the 3 chapters that Noah is in the Bible, but I have a different concern.
I am not so concerned that they will get the story wrong, I am wondering what will happen if they get it right?
Half of all American Christians can’t identify Genesis as the first book of the Bible, and about 15% of us think that Joan of Arc is Noah’s wife, Part of me wonders if we really remember what the Noah story is. It is an incredibly dark and disturbing story of a God who takes evil seriously. What we see in Genesis 6-9 is the unrestrained justice of God.
But this God, unlike other gods of the day, has a heart, is grieved by all the ways that humans have carved up the world to suit their own ends.
In the beginning of Genesis, God creates the world by holding back the waters of chaos, but in chapter 6, it is as if God just stops holding it back. He undoes Creation.
He purges the world from sin, starts over with one family and asks them to give the world a better future. The only problem with the flood is that it didn’t work.
Two chapters later, Noah’s family starts the same cycles of sin. Noah passes out drunk and naked, and wakes up cursing his family.
It’s like the ark washed up on the Jersey Shore.
We like to think that Noah’s story is kid-friendly because there is a zoo on a boat, but it is darker than that. It is a story about a God who takes the world He created very seriously. He gives His creatures agency and responsibility and calls us to account for it.
I like the way Frederich Buechner talks about how we try to reduce Noah to a children’s story:
[We do this] not, I suspect, because children particularly want to read it, but more because their elders particularly do not want to read it, or at least do not want to read it for what it actually says and so make it instead a fairy tale, which no one has to take seriously—just the way we make black jokes about disease and death so that we can laugh instead of weep at them. . . This is one way of dealing with the harsher realities of our existence, and since the alternative is, by facing them head on, to risk adding more to our burden of anxiety than we are able to bear…But for all our stratagems . . . it is perhaps more dangerous to evade than to confront.There is a reason that the director of “The Black Swan” saw potential in this story. Art often needs to speak honestly about evil, and I hope we don’t sanitize the Bible to the point where we forget just how well it does that.
I get the pushback about Noah going off script, and being concerned about disinformation. But I think our real problem is that, unlike Christians of earlier centuries, we no longer understand what art does or how it works.
In the Bible, Noah doesn’t have any dialogue. Try making a movie where Russell Crowe doesn’t say a word (that would be a miracle).
In order to make a movie about a story like Noah, it had to be turned into a screenplay. It had to be moved from one art form to another, in a word, it had to be translated.
If the Christian story is anything, it is a story that is very good at being translated.
I think our real problem is not that the story of Noah might be tainted, I think it is that we might have to come face to face with the God of Genesis. The Bible starts off with a story about a God who doesn’t fit neatly into our VBS or our sermons or blogs or books or churches, and often the people who help us see that the best are the artists.
There is a scene early in the book of Acts where an old rabbi is giving advice about what to do with these new Christians whom they have just arrested. He suggests just to let them go, because if this is not of God it will fail, but if it is from God, you can’t stop it, you will only find yourself fighting against God.”
What an open-handed, generous posture to approach life with!
When the Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia first came out they were criticized and even condemned by some Christians, whereas today they are widely heralded as parables about the Kingdom of God. When Harry Potter stories first started rolling out they were condemned all the way up to the Pope…only to find out later they were written with an eye on the Gospel.
I understand being cautious, but when our initial position to a story is defensive, I think it says more about us than it does the story.
This is a God who has always been honest about the world, both the good and bad parts of it.
I want to see the movie, because I’ve heard it’s good, and because maybe God is up to something.
Plus I think Jennifer Connelly will make a great Joan of Ark.