Monday, March 31, 2014

Noah - a shocking truth amidst the lies

Like many I went off to see the movie Noah fully expecting to witness a rich and much loved biblical narrative get massacred by Hollywood... And I got what I expected! Artistic license was taken in many places in an attempt to stretch a story that can be read in 5 minutes into a 2 hour blockbuster. The familiar Genesis account was padded out with fallen angels destined to roam the earth as rock monsters, jealous and aggressive descendant of Cain neighbours launching an attack to take the Ark, the absence of wives for Noah ' sons and a hermit-like miracle working Methuselah.

But possibly the most worrying abuse of the story was the portrayal of God as a generic "Creator" who was seemingly cold, absent and indifferent to his creation, the people of the earth, the fallen rock angels and even the tormented Noah himself. While the biblical flood narrative vividly presents the judgment of God, the personal relationship the God of the Bible has with Noah balances His just anger at the sin of the world with the love, grace and mercy by which He saves Noah and His family... Something the generic creator in the movie just didn't have.

However, while much damage was done to the biblical narrative there was one shocking truth that jumped up and slapped the audience in the face - a truth that is rarely depicted on the big screen. I think the thing that will surprise the average movie goer the most about the movie is Noah's psychological, emotional and spiritual deterioration throughout the film. Far from the smiling bearded old dude with rosy cheeks on the pages of your children's bible story book, Noah is a tormented soul who spends much of the second half of the movie wrestling with the implications of the task God had called him to complete. It is in this wrestle that the shocking truth is revealed.

Noah cannot reconcile how he can truly cleanse the world of sin. He has a disturbing vision of the sinfulness of humanity in which he comes face to face with himself being just as much a part of the problem as the evil descendants of Cain. This leaves him convinced that the world cannot be cleansed completely if he and his family were to be a part of it. And so Noah battles internally with what it means to be the savior of the world. In his human mind he sees no way to cleanse the earth unless he lets his family die without descendants so that the cause of sin would be stamped out forever. Shockingly for Noah this means contemplating murdering his own grandchildren - a far cry from Sunday School stories indeed.

I think it is fair to say that this runs in direct contradiction to the overwhelming majority of stories told in our culture. The stories we are used to have a problem which is external to the hero and a solution that is within. We love to hear stories about heroes thrust into a seemingly insurmountable situations until they search within themselves to find the courage, skill or teamwork needed to overcome. We love these stories because they tap into our ego and encourage us to think optimistically about our capacity as women and men to free ourselves from whatever comes against us. But in the Noah movie we see that the problem isn't external to humanity but is actually deep within humanity. So ingrained within humanity is this problem that even the one portrayed as the best of humanity, Noah, acknowledged that he was part of the problem rather that the solution.

I don't think our optimistic humanistic western civilisation needed the Noah movie's portray of a cold and distant God... But I think perhaps we do need its portrayal of a weak, broken and ultimately evil humanity. Even writing these words seems shocking to me, but we cannot escape the truth. As Noah tells his family of the sinfulness of humanity we see silhouette after silhouette of civilisation after civilisation full of murderous intent with increasing ferocity. As the story of human failure unfolded you could almost sense the discomfort of the audience as we were confronted with a reality we are rarely faced with - we are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

The dilemma that virtually drove Noah insane was trying reconcile how he could cleanse the earth of sin and save his family at the same time. He was placed in the unenviable position of knowing that if he saved his family their sinfulness would again spread across the earth, but if he acted to cleanse the earth he would lose his family. Noah resolves to forsake his family in order to cleanse the world of sin. A decision that tears his heart out as Mrs Noah declares the cost would be Noah "dying alone hated by everyone he ever loved" (not exact quote but close enough).

I guess the question that the movie should leave audiences asking is: how can this world be cleansed without cleansing it of its biggest problem... Us?

The answer to this culturally inconvenient question lies not with a man like Noah but in One who came long after him. One who when faced with the dilemma of justice versus mercy embraced the cost of being the true Saviour of the world as He died alone and hated by everyone He ever loved. Unlike the God portrayed in the movie, Jesus Christ came as the loving and merciful answer to the hopeless cry of humanity. He absorbed the sin of humanity onto Himself and suffered under its full weight so that he mercy of God could be given to all who would believe. Jesus perfectly resolved Noah's dilemma... He took the just punishment for humanity's sin and yet poured out God's mercy in abundance to save humanity.

The movie Noah will teach you very little about the true God but it will teach something about yourself. It teaches us the shocking truth that we are far more a part of this world's problems than we like to admit. Hopefully this will drive you towards the God of the Bible who is the only One who provides a satisfying answer to this problem - an answer that is not found within us but in the justice and mercy of the cross.

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