I just received a letter from a reader who, very politely, said my Plugged In review of Noah “missed the mark.”
“This film is a mocking, blasphemous, butchering, occultic, science fiction affront to the God of Genesis on every conceivable level,” the writer said. “This movie should have received the lowest recommendation possible. Seeing this movie will not benefit ANYONE.”
And you thought the Flood was bad.
The storm around Darren Aronofsky's film has been pretty crazy. I don't think I've ever reviewed a movie so polarizing. And I get the Christian backlash against the film. The source story is, after all, quite literally sacred. So when Aronofsky turned the story into a Tolkienesque fantasy epic for his own storytelling ends, well, many folks were bound to be upset. I think they have the right to be.
But I’d disagree with my critic saying that the movie won’t benefit anyone. I actually found the movie pretty interesting—sometimes even inspiring. And I think perhaps where Aronofsky went most “wrong” is where the movie is at its most intriguing. An example: The issue of discerning God’s will.
In the Bible, of course, Noah had pretty direct marching orders from God. Our old sailor was not only told to build the ark, but how big to build it and out of what. Sure, Noah’s neighbors may have thought it was a crazy thing to do, but Noah trusted God. And I think most of us, if we heard a booming voice from on high a la Bill Cosby, we’d be inclined to listen and trust, too.
But in Aronofsky’s vision, God does not communicate so clearly. The Creator (as God is called here) speaks to Noah through dreams and visions, and rarely even those. And for everyone else, the Creator is silent. Even the Watchers—semi-fallen angels—are left to wonder what God would have them do.
Tubal-cain (who I hope to write about more fully later on this week) is the movie’s clear antagonist. But for all his bluster, the villain is surprisingly complex: Tubal-cain would tell you that it’s not that he’s turned his back on God, but that God has turned away from him.
“No one’s heard from the Creator since He marked Cain,” Tubal-cain says. “We are orphan children.” At one point, he even seems to beg for God to speak to him. And so he feels like, if God’s not going to take care of them, it’s up to these “orphans” to take care of themselves.
(Of course, Tubal-cain ignores the fact that God, clearly, is talking with someone. Noah. Why else would the villain be so sure the rains were going to come, and why he made such an effort to build an army to take over the ark?)
But even for Noah, God’s wishes are not always clear. And once the floods hit, Noah’s interpretation of the Creator’s will takes center stage. He comes to believe that all men have evil in them. As such, humanity does not and should not have a place in the new world God’s preparing. He believes that God wants them all to die—if not in the flood, then afterward. And the Creator chose Noah because he was the only one with the strength to see this terrible task through.
Now this, of course, is horrifically unlike the Noah we read about in the Bible, and if the guy had managed to live a few millennia longer, he’d have a heckuva libel case.
But narratively, this controversial choice works for me because it illustrates a frustrating problem we modern-day believers struggle with all the time. What does God want us to do?
We hear this question in news stories every day. Would Jesus bake a wedding cake for a gay couple? Would He go see Noah? These questions are predicated on a deep uncertainty that many people of faith deal with every day. We pray and talk and parse Bible verses in the hopes of getting some insight on what’s the “right” thing to do. But sometimes, even when we search most fervently and pray most sincerely, we come to different conclusions.
And sometimes the folks who are most convinced they’re in the right are the ones that, in my eyes, seem to be the most wrong. The late Fred Phelps of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church never seemed to have any doubt about what he was doing.
I’m not suggesting that certainty is necessarily wrong or bad. But knowing God’s will can be tricky. Moses’ wife, Naameh, and daughter-in-law, Ila, also felt that they knew what God would want. They pointed to certain signs. They pointed to what they knew of God’s character. Noah would not be swayed, barreling forward in his single-minded understanding. He had no Bible at the time to guide his actions, no kindly pastors to talk with. He was alone. And the Creator, unlike God in Genesis, did not choose to speak so definitively.
In the end, Noah makes the right decision—even though, in the moment, he feels as though it’s wrong. He looks at his own progeny and finds that he has nothing but love for them. Sure, he knows that they still have evil inside, that they might make another wreck of creation. And yet he loves them and saves them.
He kicked himself mightily for that lack of “obedience.” And yet, knowing what we do of God’s loving character through Jesus, Noah was being deeply obedient. For God sees us the same way. He sees our sins. He sees our imperfections. He sees the evil inside us all and knows that we can mess up His creation mightily. And yet, he looks down on us with love. He saves us.
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength,” we read in 1 Corinthians 1:25. Never is that foolishness more obvious, or beautiful, than in His reckless love for us.