Noah - How can a cruel God be trusted?
So I saw Noah today and in the meantime endured every uncomfortable experience of movie theaters that reminds me of why I don’t go to the cinema that often. The irritations of which I speak include the following but are not limited to: 20 minutes of previews and no fast-forward button, the guy who eats popcorn like a horse, the continual insistence to show off the sound system and then cruelly cut it to deafening silence so that proper attention can be drawn to horse-like popcorn eating guy, $8 Icees when I could have bought 40 of them for that price at any number of gas stations I passed along the way, the talking people sitting near the horse guy, and last but not least, guy who fumbles for an hour to unwrap loud plastic things but keeps on trying anyway - why doesn’t he ever give up . . . I digress. This post will take awhile as it is, let’s proceed.
Let’s get to the meat of what I want to say about Noah. Forget the plot, my take on the quality of the film, the acting, so forth and so on. As far as movies go, I think it was compelling, well done, and it kept my attention. I was entertained. It made me think. I will be talking about it with other people. Mr. Aronofsky - mission accomplished.
Even though I was entertained that does not mean that I was not at the same time bothered by, disappointed about, and sympathetic to some of the things many Christians are saying about the film. I had a great conversation with Charles Lewis over Google+ in reaction to my previous post involving this film. It is one of the world’s oldest stories and an especially beloved one to Christians. As a filmmaker, you don’t want to disrespect the story by blatantly ignoring the spirit of it. Filling in the gaps of a profound but somewhat brief Bible epic is understandable, but leaving the farm all together is difficult to allow without criticism. But there are enough posts about that.
In a post about not sinking Noah without thinking about the bigger picture of how Christians approach film, I issued the following challenge to evangelical movie goers:
Perhaps you can use the film to help you get a better understanding of how lost people view Scripture. Discern in the film not so much what is missing or overblown, but be willing to feel and feed the thirst and hunger for righteousness that may actually be there. Perhaps Noah and the Son of God are screams in the dark for someone of the light to step in and reveal the true story of the gospel.
After seeing the film, I think my statement is even more applicable. There is a thirst and a hunger here that Aronofsky reveals that needs to be filled and a darkness that needs light. Aronofsky's Noah is the atheist epic. It is a classic atheistic argument on film. It is what anti-Christian philosophers and professors have been asking us for centuries. How can we believe in a God who is so untrustworthy and cruel?
For me, the first hint that this was the underlying concern of the filmmaker came in the backstory of the fictional “watchers.” The watchers were angels cast out of heaven, punished by God for watching over Adam and Eve after the fall. A subtle jab at The Creator that fallen angels care more about fallen man than God.
As the story unfolds this theme becomes more apparent. Even though the theme of man’s potential for evil is explored, there is always the question of man’s goodness. Tubal-Cain, a clan leader from the line of Cain, constantly blames God for the way he is. He is after all, God’s image, and like The Creator, able to make life and take it away. As the rain begins Tubal-Cain seems to seek a place of repentance, but God ignores him. Because he cannot repent, Tubal-Cain is left with only one option, the way of Cain since the curse, rebel and take what you want. Ultimately Tubal-Cain cannot be blamed for what he has become. Perhaps this is Aronofsky’s way of exploring Gen. 4:13 in which Cain feels his punishment unjust. This idea reaches its crescendo as eventual ark stowaway Tuba-Cain seeks to drive the final dagger in Ham’s eroding trust of his father by pointing out that Noah, “filled the ark with animals, but let the children drown.”
After Tubal-Cain’s statement, Noah is portrayed as a determined baby killer even in the ark. His daughter-in-law gives birth to twin girls. The only thing that saves Noah is his sympathy. In the way even this tension is resolved in the film, we are left to believe that Noah is rebelling against God even in this. God not only wanted to kill the babies outside the boat, God wanted Noah to kill the babies on board.
In the end we are left with a Noah who has sobered up after a drinking binge, but still, in my opinion hopeless. While closed up in the ark Noah becomes increasingly convinced that what he was called to do is to save the animals and let the people die, including his own family. The Biblical epic of redemption is completely ignored.
Noah does come to one stark realization. Sin is in all of us. I think the film asks an important question in this regard. What are we to become post-ark? I think the accusation of the film is that once again we are left to fend for ourselves, God won’t help us. If we are to do better, we must redeem ourselves. In one of the closing scenes, Ham walks off alone into the new world. I think that scene becomes an artistic statement, that this is ultimately where we are. Like Ham, we are walking right back toward the way of Cain.
I left the film appreciative of the movie, but saddened by its conclusion. Yes, the rainbow was there, but there was no word as to its meaning. Yes, Noah finally decided to allow his granddaughters to live. He expresses some hope for the new world, but in the end it just seemed empty - because it was.
Without any Biblical story finding its place in the greater meta-narrative of Christ, its themes can be easily highjacked and its meaning mistaken. This is unfortunately what Aronofsky does with Noah. Yet it does not leave me angry, wanting to point out every time his film clashes with the Biblical account, crying out for people not to waste their money. Instead it leaves me saddened, wanting Aronofsky to see something else. True, God is judge. But Mr. Aronofsky, The Creator is also Savior (Rom. 3:23-26).
In my estimation, Paul Copan’s book, Is God a Moral Monster?, does a superb job in answering the major question Aronofsky brings to bear in his film. The question of whether or not God is moral or trustworthy is ironically the same question Satan posed in the garden.
I don’t want to rehearse Copan’s arguments here, but I would like to have a conversation with the film on this point. As I see it, Aronofsky very much believes man is deserving of judgment. It is apparent that Aronofsky believes that man is bad for the world that God created for him. If this is so, how can God then be completely unjust? There is a critical door of apologetics Aronofsky invites Christians to speak into.
What I would like Aronofsky to see is that grand meta-narrative of Jesus Christ in Scripture, especially Gen. 6-9. God did what He did in Noah’s day with the ultimate hope that Christ would be born and that He would redeem us from the sin that Noah in the film aptly says, “Is in all of us.” Aronofsky is prophetically biblical here. God would have been more cruel to allow sin to completely destroy us, but we cannot ignore He would have remained just. God did not put Noah on the ark to save the animals. God put Noah in the ark to reboot redemption, to preserve the bloodline, to be one of the “great” grandfathers of Christ. The ark is a picture of salvation. God made a way. He designed it. He invited a man and his family to enter into it and He shut the door. There was only one way man could be saved from the flood and there is only one way man will be saved from the judgment to come. Christ is our salvation.
The film leaves us with some incredible opportunities for conversations as Christians with unbelievers who will see the film. These I will share tomorrow.