April 1, 2014

Why ‘Noah’ Matters

There’s an important parallel for constitutional conservatives.

It’s rare that a movie becomes a cultural event, but that is seemingly what “Noah” has achieved. The movie opened this past weekend to very mixed reviews but also very good box office numbers. So is the movie worth seeing?

There’s not a clear-cut answer, but we thought it was worthwhile because it provokes deep thought about the subject matter. For those of faiths other than Christianity, bear with us because there’s a lesson here for constitutional conservatives too. Also, spoiler alert.

The movie is well made and features solid acting with beautiful special effects. But it’s not the Noah from your Sunday School classes. There are some oddities such as the “Watchers” that are brought in from the Book of Enoch, but we won’t go further down that road. The movie doesn’t suffer most because of the content that was added to the biblical account; it suffers because the meaning of that account is swept away with so much CGI water. Considering that director Darren Aronofsky is an atheist who grew up culturally Jewish, it’s not hard to imagine that he’d miss the entire point of Noah’s story – even if he did write a poem about it in seventh grade. Indeed, he himself called it “the least biblical biblical film ever made.”

The Genesis account tells us, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.” The writer of Hebrews likewise says that Noah acted “by faith” and “in reverent fear.” The movie, on the other hand, depicts him as a stern, sullen and morose man who never actually hears from God but rather has a bad dream that the whole world will be flooded because man has destroyed the planet. Other sins are depicted, but this one is primary. A subsequent drug-induced vision leads him to believe that an ark is the solution – though only for innocent animals. He determines that “the Creator” (the only way God is referred to) means to destroy all mankind to achieve “justice.” Therefore, with the exception of Shem and Ila, who is barren, he refuses to let his sons take wives – even sacrificing the life of a girl Ham tries to save. Japheth is only a child. Noah believes that his family’s task is merely to save the animals and, once completed, they will die one by one, leaving a pristine world unmarred by human hands.

Make no mistake, justice is a key part of Noah’s story. Genesis records, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.’” The film certainly captures that men are deserving of justice.

But mercy is also key. God makes a covenant with Noah to spare his family, and thus humanity. He tells Noah the plan, and includes his wife, his sons and his sons’ wives. In the movie, Noah believes the Creator intends justice without mercy. The only “mercy” shown is when, in the end, Noah can’t go through with what he believes to be God’s command – killing his own two granddaughters to prevent humanity from beginning anew. But even that mercy causes him to believe he’s a failure, which leads him to become a drunkard.

The flood story is meant to tell us that God is just, but that He is merciful as well. His covenant with Noah and the renewal of the earth through cleansing water show that. The story of the flood is also part of the story of Jesus, who came to bear God’s justice so that we could have mercy. The film doesn’t even come close on this count. And any story that contains only justice without true mercy and grace leaves us feeling somewhat empty and unsatisfied.

So why is this relevant to constitutional conservatives? In short, fidelity to source material. As a moviemaker, Aronofsky is certainly free to take whatever liberties he chooses. He is free to alter or completely discard source material in favor of his own vision. But the church is in danger if it does the same thing, and, more to the point for our audience, our government is no longer on solid ground. Our elected representatives, from the president to state legislators, too often discard the source material – the Constitution – in favor of whatever can get a majority vote. The result is a frustrating mishmash of failed programs that are bereft of the vision of government set forth by our Founders.

That’s the important parallel. With the basis for its authority rendered virtually meaningless, our government doesn’t even deserve the disclaimer attached to “Noah” movie posters: “Inspired by the story.”

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