I’ll assume that you’ve already read this if you’re coming back for more on Noah, that you’ve seen the movie and any spoilers I drop here are not going to ruin your experience. I’ll also assume that you are potentially of the mindset that the film, directed by a man who was raised Jewish but has chosen atheism as his worldview, is not a Christian film but is one that we can learn from.
Again, I am aware that Darren Aronofsky set out to make a film that reflects his worldview: this is the guy who has already explored madness and obsession in Black Swan and The Wrestler. But to say that he took the story of Noah, and stripped God from it? That’s madness in itself.
One of the key arguments I’m seeing here is that Aronofsky’s take on “The Creator” and “the Watchers” is straight from the Kabbalah and “The Book of Enoch.” (Dr. Brian Mattson writes a compelling argument here.) But if we can stop arguing about where the elements of this Noah story comes from, and stop jumping up and down to argue that god’s not dead, we may find that God is moving in the midst of all of this… in spite of Aronofsky or us.
I still have questions about the snakeskin that provides miraculous powers, and yes, the rock monster Watchers aren’t how I would’ve conveyed the Nephilim. I wish the word “covenant” would’ve been used more often, and that there would’ve been a thunderous cloud moment where God used audible, human words and Noah was vindicated. Even on a second viewing, I get that. But what if we’re missing the points that we should be holding onto? What if instead of destroying opportunities for conversation and the prevenient grace of God (have I mentioned I’m a Methodist?), we focused in on the beauty of what this primordial story tells us about God and humanity? In the last week, I’ve received plenty of pushback on my thoughts on Noah, to the point where some people feel like Aronofsky hijacked ‘our story.’ I’ve been called pretty close to a heretic in some situations, and yet… I feel like we’re missing the point.
This is art, not Scripture.
This is make believe, not facts.
This is parabolic, not doctrinal.
I hope that these words of truth from our experience of God will shine a different light on this piece of Hollywood entertainment.
1. God may not “speak” but God is active and moving. There is no scientific explanation that justifies the growth of the trees that the ark is built from; there is no reasoning provided for the water that suddenly begins to flow in a very arid land. While Methuselah is the ‘actor’ in the healing of Ila’s womb, we must recognize that he is the remnant of the first ones whom God created in the image of God, and by healing her womb, he acknowledges that God doesn’t waste anything or anyone. We will sincerely have to put aside our attention to detail to not acknowledge that the rain stops at the birth of the twins or that suddenly, after days or months of fighting, that Noah’s heart is turned toward his family at just the right moment. Without the divine, where does the water come from that grows the land? Where do all of the trees for the ark come from? How do all of the animals know to travel to the ark? Noah and his wife certainly acknowledge that the miraculous is happening and that God is speaking after the first ‘miracle flower’ and the vision Noah has; heck, even Tubal-Cain acknowledges that!
2. The flood happened and everyone short of those eight people died. Whether you take it as a mythical truth about good versus evil and the way God still provides hope, or you read it literally as a historical piece, Aronofsky did not make up that God’s direction and action lead to the death of several generations of humankind. The absolute destruction is sickening; the Bible is not ‘G’-rated! [One viewer told me that Noah’s holding the knife over the twins’ heads made her wish it was rated ‘R’. Are people struggling with it because it’s so moving?] We must take heart in that rainbow, but recognize that God’s “atsab” at seeing the wickedness of people butts up against God’s holiness. Instead of exploring the ‘cruelty’ of God as Aronofsky might be inclined to do, I instead understand that God saw humanity living out an eternal wickedness and chose to stop that perpetual sin. God’s use of the flood by baptismal proxy was justice mixed with mercy, as Noah must come to understand in the film.
3. Prayer matters, more for how it changes us than how it ‘changes’ God. Both Tubal-Cain and Noah pray, but the first prays for his will to be made truth and Noah prays for God’s will to be done. Too often, we are more like Tubal-Cain, not ‘hearing’ because we don’t listen or we don’t like the answer we get, and putting it back on God that we are unloved or unheard. Do I think Aronofsky feels that way? Sure! But watching the film, I still acknowledge that God speaks and we hear, if we’ll listen.
4. As a pastor, I have been in my fair share of situations where I knew God was speaking, directing, pushing, leading me somewhere (or away from somewhere) but I didn’t have the complete picture. Common Protestant understandings of ‘speaking in tongues’ reflect a belief that one can’t speak in tongues and interpret oneself. In life, it often seems that visions from God or hard decisions don’t work that way either; none of us lives in a vacuum. Naameh provides the grounding, the mercy, to balance out Noah’s justice, because God is community, God is love. God is justice and mercy mixed together. Without one or the other, the message is flat, violent, or too watered down; together, it is the conveyed plan of God for the future of the world.
5. Redemption happens. Noah “gets” it. The Watchers are freed from their crusted-rock prisons. There is a new world, with new blessings to be had. And even though we still have evil in men’s hearts (Noah’s drunkenness; Ham’s inability to forgive), we see that the world has been granted the opportunity to start anew.
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