I saw Noah on Monday night, I really enjoyed it – it was stimulating, it was the best presentation of the brokenness of the human condition I’ve ever seen from Hollywood. It’s a movie that people are talking about and a movie we should be engaging with as Christians – particularly because it’s a movie that presents a very different view of God to the God of the Bible, the God in the Bible’s version of the Noah story, and the God who stepped into the world to break down the distance our broken hearts put between us and God.
Here are some helpful things for us to remember when we watch Noah and talk about it with our friends. WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS.
1. THIS ISN’T A CHRISTIAN MOVIE.
Darren Aronofsky has a Jewish background, with some Catholic inklings. He made the movie because he grew up fascinated by the story of Noah, but he used an array of sources from outside the Bible to put the story together.
Christians believe the story of Noah is a story about Jesus. Because every story in the Bible is part of God’s story about Jesus. The Bible is about Jesus, it’s not about us. It’s not about Noah.
As Christians we believe the true significance of the Noah story wasn’t realised until much, much, later when God used another wooden vessel to recreate humanity – as Jesus stepped into the muck of creation and went to the wooden cross to save us.
This doesn’t mean Christians shouldn’t watch Noah.
2. NOAH ISN’T AN EXCLUSIVELY CHRISTIAN STORY.
Noah’s story is part of the fabric of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. The Jewish tradition involves heaps of different approaches to interpreting the story. There are flood stories from many cultures around Israel that emerged in the gap between when the flood occurs in the Genesis story and when Moses wrote Genesis.
3. ART IS MADE TO BE ENGAGED WITH AND TALKED ABOUT.
You don’t have to like what Noah says, or how it depicts God, in order for it to be useful to point people to who God is. Art is meant to be provocative. Art is meant to be human. Darren Aronofsky is giving us his picture of God, asking questions we all need to ask and answer.
4. STORIES FROM OTHER CULTURES AND RELIGIONS ARE FAIR GAME FOR REMIXING & ‘REPURPOSING.’
The Bible is full of appropriations of Ancient Near Eastern traditions adapted to point people to the true and living God – the best example is the book of Proverbs, where we’re told Solomon is presenting proverbs from other kings but the message of the book is that wisdom begins with the fear of Israel’s Lord, not these kings.
This is how texts work. People remix stories to present their own ideas all the time. Noah presents Christians with an opportunity to make comparisons between the God of the movie and the God of the Bible.
5. IT’S GREAT THAT ARONOFSKY CHOSE TO USE A STORY WE ARE FAMILIAR WITH TO PRESENT HIS WORLDVIEW.
There are lots of flood stories that explore the themes Aronofsky wanted to explore when he made Noah. He could easily have chosen the more bloodthirsty Gilgamesh Epic, but he’s picked a story that is ready made for us to engage with. We should be thankful for this opportunity to engage with our culture, rather than looking for ways to condemn this film.
6. AS CHRISTIANS WE SHOULD AIM TO BE COMPETENT READERS OF CULTURAL TEXTS.
We are people who know God through a text – the Bible. It’s important that we show we can handle texts well.
Texts come from authors. They have a point. The author will often tell his audience what the point is. It’s polite to listen. Here are a two interviews where Aronofsky talks about how his Jewish heritage influenced the movie, and how he reads the Bible that explore why he made Noah. Rather than jumping up and down about how Aronofsky didn’t tell our story our way – why not engage with the issues he’s raising?
7. THE CHRISTIAN GOD ISN’T ALOOF, DISINTERESTED, OR VINDICTIVE LIKE NOAH’S GOD.
The Christian God sustains life the universe and everything. He guides nature and history. He speaks to reveal himself.
The god Noah and Tubal-Cain are looking for in Noah is the sort of god that lots of non-Christians think Christians follow, and the sort of God people claim they’d notice of if he’d only fling lightning bolts at their heads or rearrange the stars to write them a message.
But the Christian God is a God who speaks.
He doesn’t leave people wondering about how they can be saved, or what he wants them to do. He doesn’t leave us interpreting signs and following dreams. Instead, he got his hands dirty in order to rescue people. He revealed himself and his character progressively through the Old Testament and then ultimately in Jesus coming into the world, dying for the world – to fix the broken human condition – in a simultaneous act of judgment and mercy.
Noah’s God is too small. It’s only when we see God as very (infinitely) big, and outside of creation – supplying life and breath and being to the everything in creation, while also being engaged every where (omnipresently), in every way (omnipotently), with what’s going on in the world, and especially with what’s going on in the human heart, that we can understand how God might be working in our lives without us noticing, or without us hearing the blaring trumpets in the sky heralding his every move.
8. NOAH ASKS BIG THEOLOGICAL QUESTIONS CHRISTIANS NEED TO ANSWER.
While it’s not a Christian movie, Noah makes serious attempts to grapple with serious issues.
It will make you think about the depth of human sin, how we should relate to each other and our planet, the emotional cost of judgment and justice, the need for salvation, and ultimately it will make you ask questions about who God is and how he deals with justice, mercy, and second chances.
9. NOAH IS RIGHT. THE HUMAN HEART IS DARK & BROKEN AND NEEDS MORE THAN A REBOOT.
This is a one of the themes Aronofsky and his co-writer say they set out to explore in Noah.
“What was clear to us was that Noah is a descendant of original sin… his ancestors are Adam and Eve, so he has that inside him. That brought to us this weird question: Why restart if that possibility [of being sinful] is still there?”
There’s a great scene in the movie exploring how Cain killing Abel is the natural extension of our dark hearts. Where dead hearts spread death into the world. The darkness of the human heart is universal. This movie nails sin – the darkness of the human heart. There’s another great scene where Noah is in the middle of a clamouring, angry, mob and he sees himself amongst the rioters. He’s struck by the realisation that he’s evil too, and as a result becomes committed to wiping humanity off the planet to give the “innocent” animals a fresh start.
This is wrong thinking – both in how the movie pans out, and in the Bible.
The movie is clear that there needs to be a fix, and that somehow people will be involved as we try to do better. But that doesn’t solve the problem Aronofsky is addressing. He’s right that no fresh start is possible from a child of Adam.
The Bible is clear that the real fresh start involves heart surgery. And this heart surgery is performed by Jesus – the new Adam – at the cross, and by God as he changes people’s hearts by the Holy Spirit. The fresh start comes from a change to what it means to be human – we have the chance to be like Jesus, instead of like Adam.
10. PEOPLE ARE VERY IMPORTANT TO GOD.
The question of what it means to “be a man,” or be human, is one of the interesting threads carrying the narrative – it opens and closes the narrative. It’s a question only answered properly at the end.
The movie starts with Noah’s dad sitting Noah down for the chat, to tell him about humanity’s proper place in God’s world. This chat is interrupted when the film’s villain, Tubal-Cain, who is committed to pillaging the planet, caves Noah’s dad’s head in, as Noah looks on. As a result of this interruption, Noah is left with no real understanding of what it means to be a man, a flawed picture of humanity’s place in creation, and a serious chip on the shoulder when it comes to protecting the environment.
Flash forward a few years and he won’t even let his son pick a flower, he murders three men for killing one dog, and he has a theological conviction that animals are innocent and humans are evil and corrupt, like a cancer on the planet. He has no sense that humans might be special to the Creator. Even Tubal-Cain knows humans are made in God’s image – though he thinks this means exercising dominion and trashing the planet in pursuit of power. His skewed picture of humanity is based on humanity’s post-Eden desires, and a picture of God as capricious and distant. When Noah’s son Ham sticks a knife into his armpit, killing him, Tubal-Cain whispers “now you are a man.”
The Bible, on the other hand, sees being human as something tied to our relationship with God – as his image bearers who rule like he rules. And the true picture of humanity isn’t found in Adam, but in Jesus, the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15). Being human means being like Jesus. That God becomes human in order to rescue humanity and restore the world shows that he values humans. That he becomes lowly, enters the muck of humanity, and dies a humiliating death shows us that he is invested in us, interested in us, not dispassionate about us.
11. BOTH JUDGMENT AND SALVATION ARE COSTLY, AND GOD IS THE GOD OF JUSTICE, MERCY, AND SECOND CHANCES.
Aronofsky deliberately ties Noah’s emotions to God’s – when Noah feels sad, Aronofsky wants us to picture God as sad. By doing this we, the viewers, get a sense of the emotional burden of judgment.
Noah is a good story. It’s a confronting story. It explores justice and mercy, judgment and salvation. It forces us to confront the darkness in our own hearts and what might happen to us.
Jesus is a better story. Jesus deals with the human heart and the human condition. Jesus deals with death. Jesus takes God’s judgment because God requires justice. Jesus takes God’s judgment in order to offer God’s mercy, free of charge. It’s free – but it’s not cheap. It’s free, and it’s not offered on merit. It’s not about us being righteous (another theme the movie explores). Jesus offers a second chance. But if we ignore this offer from Jesus we’re taking part in killing him – and that is a big deal, the biggest problem our broken hearts cause is that we reject God, and fail to love other people.
12. WHAT WE DO WITH THE ENVIRONMENT MATTERS. BUT PEOPLE MATTER MORE.
Tubal-Cain thinks following God – as an image-bearer – means digging up all the precious resources to dominate the planet.
Noah thinks the environment is more important than human life and that it’s right to wipe out humans in order to give the environment a second chance.
Both views are clearly flawed.
It’s not just left up to us, the audience, to figure that out.
The idea that it is morally good to kill two newborn children so that humanity can die out is clearly repugnant, as is the idea that having dominion means trashing the planet. Adam and Eve were given a job in the Garden of Eden – to cultivate and keep the garden, presumably to extend its amazing life-giving presence over the whole planet. They were also to be fruitful and multiply. This is the tension – between dominion and stewardship – that drove Aronofsky to make the movie.
That’s the message of the movie. It’s a movie that thoughtfully explores tensions – like the tensions between mercy and justice, and between our sinful hearts and us being made in God’s image.
When Jesus changes our hearts he changes our job description – we’re not just tasked to take his image around the world as we carefully exercise dominion over it, we’re tasked to make disciples of people in all nations. People are God’s priority. The Bible suggests the planet will only really be liberated from the brokenness of human hearts when there are no more broken human hearts – but part of our living with transformed hearts will involve caring for the environment.
13. THE REAL LIFE-GIVING SEED FROM EDEN IS THE LINE OF HUMANS THAT LEADS TO JESUS.
Aronofsky does some really fun stuff with Eden. The ark is made from wood from a forest created by a seed from Eden that Methuselah has carried around with him waiting for the right time. When the forest springs up, five waterways appear and spread around the planet, inviting the animals to the ark – back to Eden. There is certainly an element of ‘recreation’ going on in the Noah story in the Bible. Noah is a new Adam. Adam named the animals and ruled over them, Noah protects the animals carrying them in an Edenic sort of boat – a wooden replica of Eden’s ‘tree of life’ – delivering salvation in the midst of God’s judgment.
But the real seed of Eden isn’t in the trees – it’s in people. In Genesis 3:15, where God provides a glimmer of hope about the future of humanity and the future of Satan amidst the cursing and expelling Adam and Eve from the Garden, there’s the launch of a thread that works its way through the Bible all the way to Jesus – there’s a seed that we follow from here on in. Passed on from generation to generation – it’s a theme in Genesis. The NASB chooses to use the literal “seed” rather than offspring – here’s what it says:
“And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.” – Genesis 3:15, NASB
In order to return humanity to Eden, God does use something like the tree of life, a new wooden vessel where salvation and judgment are played out. The cross. Where Jesus, the true seed of Adam – the true Adam. God’s image made flesh. Is crucified. Nailed to a tree that takes our curse and brings life in an amazing exchange. The cross is Noah’s Ark on steroids. It’s capable of carrying any human who turns to God back to Eden. Back to paradise. It shows the value God places on human life, the cost he’s prepared to pay in order to be the God of justice, mercy, and second chances.