But I don’t remember thousands of flannel graph people swept away in torrents or beating on the giant ark with the closed door. I don’t remember faces frozen in terror…”the thing we laughed at is coming upon us.” No people screaming, clawing and sinking below the waves. (how's that for a nursery theme?)
This week Darren Aronofsky’s Noah will flood theaters (sorry, I couldn’t help it) with a story kind of like Genesis 6-9. It’s definitely a prodigal movie, taking the text and wandering off to a far country, but it does stick to the basic story line: The humans he made have become God-sickeningly corrupt. So he pours out his judgment in a flood, and all flesh “in whose nostrils was the breath of life…died.” In response the highly inflamatory (and proud of it) TV talk s how host Bill Maher says, "It's about a psychotic mass murderer who gets away with it, and his name is God…. Conservatives are always going on about how Americans are losing their values and their morality, well maybe it's because you worship a guy who drowns babies." Ummm…where to begin? Let’s start with Aranofsky…
The $130 million budget is all up there on the screen with gifted actors (Russell Crowe, Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Connelly & co) and breath-taking special effects–the “fountains of the great deep” bursting forth and the “the windows of heaven” opening. And the ride of the most famous boat in the history of the world gives new depth and meaning to the phrase “storm-tossed.”
But, as director Aranofsky was quoted in the New Yorker, “Ten men in a room trying to come up with their favorite ice cream are going to agree on vanilla. I’m the rocky road guy.” So think of Noah as the rocky road version of vanilla Genesis.
Right off the bat Aranofsky signals his approach to God and the biblical text, rewriting the famous words of Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning….was nothing.” No God who loves and grieves over his broken world. And many critics have noted that God is a fairly distant player in this drama.
As the story unfolds we see that in this version Noah’s son Ham is not married (and clearly resents it). Aranofsky also gives us a rocky road villain, Tubal-Cain, who stows away on the ark. Giant sea creatures, sprouting forests and rock-like Watchers (the Nephalim of old) pop into the story to ramp up the tension and violence. The images can be much more powerful than the Genesis text, especially for young imaginations.
Aranofsky has woven in a fair amount of what my son likes to call eco-porn (where, as in Avatar, the real criminals are not so much those who murder, rape and destroy human lives, but those who take advantage of earth’s resources). Hence the real antipathy of the audience is much more directed at what this evil race has done to the earth or to Noah’s family, rather than how they have scorned God and his love.
But the movie still brings us the biblical bottom line: The righteous man and his family are saved. The wicked are destroyed.
Actually in this the movie is more biblical than the images of the ark I grew up with. I remember Bill Cosby’s hilarious “How long can you tread water?” routine. Noah is sawing…
Whoompah…woompah… “Who is that?
“It’s the Lord, Noah.”
“Right.” Whoompah, whoompah…
As a very young child I had a wooden puzzle of the floating zoo of happy animals under the arc of God’s beautiful rainbow of promise. I recall flannel graph stories of Noah building a big, bright yellow boat (not this one covered in biblical pitch) and giraffes and elephants loading into it two by two.
So into today’s ubertolerant culture we have a block-buster movie with sympathetic characters that’s all about God’s judgment on sinners. That’s really pretty remarkable. The overwhelming power of judgment sweeping away the comparatively feeble presumption and evil of men. When was the last time we had a culturally relevant opportunity to ask…do you think there is a Creator who judges us?
Maybe you’ve considered Bill Maher's question: “Is it loving to save Noah and let everyone else drown…even babies?” That question ought to bring all of us to think seriously about God. And sin.
It’s the question of our time: Is a God who judges evil really good? We can presume, as CS Lewis said, “to put God in the dock” (on the witness stand) and grill him Bill-Maher-style about his actions and motives. “What kind of tyrant punishes everyone (even the babies) just to get back at the few he's mad at?”
Okay, Bill, first of all, he’s not mad at a few. Genesis 6:12,13 “And God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them.’” They were all corrupt and violent. They were all oppressive and morally bankrupt.
We don’t have a description of their sin here, but we do have a description of the Canaanites’ sin. These were the people living in the land God promised to Israel. He didn’t bring them into the land until the Canaanites sin reached a threshold of evil which God describes in Leviticus 18: rampant incest, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, child sacrifice, for “by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants (Leviticus 18:24-25). What do you do with a people who thinks their highest form of worship is burning their babies in the fire? Note to Aranofsky: no mention of cutting down trees.
In the time of the flood, the corruption led to extreme violence. The world was not safe, not even for children. It was a world filled with the worst kind of Mad Max gang warfare—chaotic and cruel.
As I wrestled with this question I thought, what were the options? If God had taken out the adults but saved the children, who would care for them? They would die slow deaths of starvation and exposure to the elements and wild beasts.
From God’s point of view death is brokenness. And even though Lazarus knew God and would spend eternity with him, Jesus wept with Mary and Martha over the death of their brother. Death without knowing God, death after sin and selfishness is the worst tragedy imaginable. Sin eparates us from God, and death continues that separation forever.
So when I hear these difficult Bill Maher questions I can see a severe mercy in the death of babies. God can foreknow them and call them and bring them into an eternity of blessing with him (Romans 8:29-30). That is far better than living in a world on fire with corruption and violence. It is far better than being caught up in that corruption and violence, being corrupted by it and spending an eternity separated from God.
I can finally rest on the same bedrock Abraham did “Will not the judge of all the earth do what is right?” Even from the midst of my own struggle with the pain and limitation of rheumatoid arthritis I believe he will. He knows far more about the consequences of sin than I do. He knows how to redeem it and when to remove the threat.
God will do what is right because he is far more loving and good than we can imagine. Any doubter has only to look at the cross to see God the Son taking upon himself the sin of the world, suffering the consequences of separation from God so that we wouldn’t have to. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him" (John 3:16-17).
Jesus is our ark. We enter into relationship with him and we are safe.
Would Jesus watch this movie? Jesus speaks of Noah as a true story: “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man, he said, “They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Luke 17:25-27 I don’t know what he thinks of Aranofsky’s retelling.
But I think he would love to have a cup of coffee with the secular, Jewish, Harvard-grad-from-New-York director and ask him what he believes about judgment. Maybe he would ask him what he thinks about what the apostle Peter wrote in 2 Peter 3:5-12. Maybe he would lean in and ask him, “Darren, after all this time living in this apocalyptic story…do you feel safe?