I loved the movie Noah. Simply as a film, it was beautifully made, well-acted and thought-provoking. But I also loved what it had to say about God, about Noah and about the story.
The title of this article is intentional. I want to specify that I’m talking about Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, because, of course, as we have all read in plenty of blogs and articles and heard on various talk shows by now, this is Aronofsky’s take on Noah. His slant, his point of view. It isn’t Genesis 6-9, word for word, detail for detail. And that’s OK. Good, even. Yes, Aronofsky took creative license with the rock monsters and having Tubal-Cain stowing away on the ship and all of the other details that so many are up in arms about. But, details aside, if we can take a step back and look at the whole forest and not the individual trees, I think we actually see a very honest, very real, and yes, very Scripture-honoring view of the story.
Aronofsky and his writing partner, Ari Handel, come from a Jewish tradition, “a long tradition of thousands of years of people writing commentary on the Biblical story — there isn’t anything we’re doing that’s out of line or out of sync, but within that, you don’t want to contradict what’s there. In all the midrash tradition, the text is what the text is. The text exists and is truth and the word and the final authority. But how you decide to interpret it, you can open up your imagination to be inspired by it.” (from an interview with Christianity Today, found here – http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/march-web-only/darren-aronofsky-interview-noah.html?paging=off)
Any time Scripture is expounded upon, whether it’s in a sermon, a Bible study discussion, a theological book, or a skit or play or film, it’s always an interpretation of Scripture. All of us interpret Scripture all the time. To me, it’s always interesting to learn from other people’s interpretation of Scripture, whether I agree with them or not. I think that’s why God gave us the body of Christ, with different members … for us to learn from each other. And if we really believe that all truth is God’s truth, that means that we can even learn from those outside the body.
So, what do I think we can learn from Aronofsky’s Noah?
1. The Flood isn’t really a story that should be painted on our baby’s nursery walls. No, if your nursery has a Noah’s Ark theme, I’m not saying you should paint over it … please don’t miss my point. What I appreciated about Aronofsky’s Noah is the feeling I got when watching it that this was a horrible, horrible event in the history of man. The flood isn’t a cute kids’ story about animals and a boat. It’s a horrible story about the pervasiveness of sin in just 10 generations of humanity and about God’s decision to destroy everyone on earth, save one family. What I found so compelling about Aronofsky’s Noah was that he showed, without a doubt, just how wicked mankind had become — men were selling their own daughters for meat. There was no glossing over the wickedness of man and the absolute horror of what God had to do. This is a story about evil, sin, death and destruction. We have to be honest about that. If we aren’t honest about that, it cheapens the salvation that God offered to Noah.
2. God isn’t a masochist. God’s decision to destroy everyone on earth save one family was not easy; it grieved Him in His heart. You could see this, feel this, through Aronofsky’s character of Noah, and Russell Crowe’s portrayal of him. This was a Noah who struggled greatly with his task. He knew he had to do it, he was committed to doing it, but it was so painstakingly hard it almost drove him mad. Could you imagine being Noah? Being charged with the task to destroy everyone on the planet except your own family? It’s enough to make any man go insane. The only thing you could cling to would be trust in the ultimate goodness of God and to remain committed to your task no matter what, which is exactly how this Noah was.
3. “Righteous” does not mean perfect. Genesis 6:9 says – “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God.” Often today, we hear the word righteous or blameless and think “perfect.” But without even having to do a full Biblical theology of these terms, this verse tells us exactly what those terms mean from a Biblical perspective — a righteous man, a blameless man, is one who walks with God. Men of God have never been perfect — Abraham was a liar, Moses a murderer, Noah got drunk, David an adulterer and a murderer — but Scripture says of all of those men that they walked with God. Though they made mistakes, even grave, horrible ones, they followed God. Aronofsky’s writing/direction and Crowe’s acting captured this imperfect man who followed God well.
4. God does miracles. In this movie, where a forest grows from nowhere and angels fall to earth and become giant rock monsters, there is no doubt that there is a supernatural realm, no doubt that God can do miracles, that He is all-powerful and sovereign over the whole earth.
5. God speaks to His people. God actually spoke to Noah — whether awake or in a dream we don’t know, but it was real words and specific. In the movie, God uses prophetic images in a dream, but it’s still very, very clear that God is speaking to Noah, and he knows what he has to do.
6. God is a God of second chances, of salvation and of mercy. While Aronofsky reminded us of just how horrible the Flood must have been, he also clearly shows us that God is a God of mercy. While many critics complained about Noah almost killing his grandchildren, to truly wipe all of mankind off the face of the earth, I thought showing Noah feeling he had to do that, up until the last second, and then choosing not to, out of love, showed us the great grace and mercy and love of God.
That’s the main thing Aronofsky and Handel wanted to portray in their film — the tension between mercy and judgment in Scripture. Aronofsky says in an interview with The Atlantic, “So what we decided to do was to align Noah with that character arc and give Noah that understanding: He understands what man has done, he wants justice, and, over the course of the film, learns mercy. What’s nice about that is that is how I think Thomas Aquinas defined righteousness: a balance of justice and mercy. Ari and I always talked about it in terms of being a parent: If you are too just with a child you destroy them with strictness. If you’re too merciful you can spoil them. Finding that balance is what makes you a good parent. So that was an interesting character arc for us to see.” (read that full interview here: http://m.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/03/the-terror-of-em-noah-em-how-darren-aronofsky-interprets-the-bible/359587/)
Big picture, the purpose of the Bible is to show us who God is. That’s it. It’s that simple. In Aronofsky’s Noah, God had to destroy the people He created. He had to. But He chose to save one family — an imperfect family, but one which followed Him — and to start again. This is who God is. A God of judgment and of mercy. A God of truth and of grace.
Kathy Larson is the director of Christian Education and Creative Arts at Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, N.C.