Salvaging Paramount's Noah

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My track record isn’t the best of late.  Why is that? I went to go see Noah this weekend.  I did it even though I saw my sister-in-law’s Facebook scream, “DO NOT GO SEE NOAH.” She isn’t prone to Facebook screams so I probably should’ve realized something was truly off about the movie.  I found out the hard way how right she was.  The movie was really tough to watch.  Although some disagree, it wasn’t tough to watch because it was boring.  I watched with intense interest the whole time.  Was it because that piece of history is so personally important to my faith and worldview? Was it because Russell Crowe was such a powerful albeit maniacal Noah? I have a pretty good guess, but what I know for sure is that I was warned it would be tough to watch and I went anyway.  Now I’m doubling down and I’m writing a blog about salvaging the movie.  When I told my wife my idea at the breakfast table this morning she said, “That movie was so bad.  How exactly are you going to do that?” So, yeah, my track record of late in listening to good advice is questionable at best.  I’ve been warned and now so have you. 

Before I continue on my ill-advised salvage mission, let me just be clear.  The movie was anti-Christian in every sense of the phrase.  If you’re taking the time to read this blog, you know that the flood was gutted of its historical, Christian meaning.  I’m trusting you know that already because you’ve seen other blogs or talked to other Christians about the movie at church yesterday.  Perhaps by now you’re even able to rehearse in your mind the numerous conflagrations that were passed off by Paramount as “artistic license.”  I won’t rehash here the Ent-like rock people who played an outsized and ridiculous role.  I won’t regurgitate the hallucinogenic tea that made a complete mockery of the clear, rock solid prophecies that God actually gives to people.  I won’t bring up the horrifying, barely averted infanticide of Noah’s two granddaughters (by his own hand!).  That’s all been detailed in other places in far better ways than I can probably manage.  

What I’d like to do in this post is salvage what little can be salvaged from the movie.  In my book, there are three big things.  First, I think it’s worth trying to understand what this movie says to Christians about this age.  So let’s ask some questions.  What does it mean when Paramount says, “...we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide.” What does it mean that Russell Crowe calls the criticism the film has received “irrational” and was looking forward to the opening weekend of the film so that the audience can finally see it for themselves?  Read: he honestly believes the film vindicates itself.

I suppose we can assume that Paramount and Crowe are off their rockers.  Maybe that’s true.  But assume for a moment that they’re not.  What if they honestly believe that their Noah did the historical narrative justice? What then? What does the movie say to us that in their view validates it? Answer: it speaks to the only morality of our day.  Think about it.  All of our day’s "isms" have produced an ethic that says, “You can do anything as long as it doesn’t hurt somebody else.”  Yes, I know that’s really no ethic at all, but if you follow that ethic down its wormhole you realize it means you’re free to do just about anything as long as you’re not hurting the place where everybody lives.  That makes today’s unbelieving people of conscience all environmentalists.  And voila!  That explains why in an opening scene Noah reprimands his son for picking a flower and in another we hear him recounting how God made creation “in balance.” It’s also why as the camera pans movie Noah’s earth the landscape looks like something out of a World War II battle scene.  Finally, it’s why you generally feel like we should all become vegans immediately upon leaving the theater.  That’s my first attempt at salvage.  Movie Noah gives us some clarity about our cultural moment.  

Then there’s the fact that movie Noah is driven by inner convictions and piece meal visions.  He relies on no clear message from God.  As I watched the movie I actually began to ask myself if we as a Christian community have somehow led unbelieving onlookers to think that that’s how it works.  That you somehow need a little Sherlock Holmes’ deduction ability to figure out what God actually wants from you.  I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal except that it really, really is.  I actually think that you could think of this movie as a parable of what happens to a man when he doesn’t stick to the Scriptures for light and truth.  You are at risk of thinking that God wants everybody dead and, therefore, it’s your job to exterminate your grandkids.  I know that’s not what Paramount was after in the flick, but it sure is worth considering.  

Perhaps I wouldn’t take the time to point that out if it weren’t both for the Smalcald Articles and an experience I had Saturday morning.  My wife and I had a couple of friends over for Bible study and we got into a fascinating discussion about this very subject.  The young man was talking about how exhausting and guilt producing it is to constantly be looking for signs, whirrings in the mind, and indications from God about how, what, or why you should or shouldn’t do something.  He even said he quit a baseball scholarship because he thought God was leading him to do that (He’ll tell you that he now owns the decision and sees how God blessed it.  God is so full of grace!).  And then, of course, there’s the phenomenal point that Luther makes in the Smalcald Articles when he says that people have been getting themselves into trouble for trusting inward, spiritual calls instead of God’s outward, firm promises in the Scriptures since – oh – about the fall into sin.  It was Adam and Eve who first left a clear Word from God in favor of an inner response.  That’s my second salvage attempt.  Movie Noah reminds us to set our faith, hearts, and minds on God’s clear promises in the Scriptures.  

 But, finally, this movie cannot be salvaged unless we all stop and own the same gospel truth that the real Noah preached and believed.  I want to launch into that faith – as heretical as this sounds after reading Christian reviews of the movie! – using a quote from the movie.  When movie Noah became convinced that all humans deserve to die, he was actually onto something.  His wife came to him and tried to poke holes in that belief by saying (something like), “Don’t you see the goodness in our sons?” And in a poignant moment that resonated powerfully with me Noah said (something like), “The evil is not just in the sons of Cain.  It’s in us all.  Shem is driven by his lust.  Japheth will do anything to make people happy.  You will do anything for your children and so will I.” I thought Russell Crowe nailed that moment.  There was a certain tender sincerity that came with such force that everybody watching knew it was unimpeachable.  The evil is in us all.  The problem for movie Noah is that he thought God’s action step out of that truth was death for people.  Boy, was he wrong.  

Contrast that with the real Noah.  The real Noah knew that truth demanded faith in a deliverer from his personal evil.  He knew that someone would have to bring him the righteousness he needed.  When the real Noah stands up in Hebrews 11, he is seen and celebrated as one of a multitude of people who are heirs “of the righteousness that comes from faith.”  (Side note: Yes, it is biblical and accurate that Noah got drunk and lay “uncovered.” If that doesn’t showcase God’s point that Noah was saved from a righteousness not earned, but granted through faith I don’t know what does.)  Better yet, Noah trusted who would give him that righteousness.  It would be someone from his line.  That’s why his line was to continue on the earth. God was keeping that line and promise alive through the ark so that it could be passed on until Jesus, the promised bringer of righteousness and the son of Noah, would come to save us all.

And, yes, you can bet your bottom dollar that Noah celebrated that and taught it to his family.  There were a number of scenes from the movie that came dangerously close to getting that right.  I believe he did take sacred moments to tell his sons “the story my father told me.”  I believe he did gather his family under the roof of that ark.  I do believe he spoke with a gravitas and strength greater than Russell Crowe could muster on the silver screen.  I do believe in those moments that Noah’s family hung on his every word. And I believe in those moments he said (something like), “When we pushed God away through our rebellion in Eden, God promised he would heal the massive gap with a son.  One of our descendants will have that son. He will crush that ancient snake.  His righteousness will be our righteousness.” I’m not sure their fingers would glow in those moments when the birthright and the promise were passed on from son to son, but I do know that their hearts most surely did.  How do I know this? Because mine still does.  I’m still in awe that that promise is just as much mine as it is Noah’s.  

If you’ve made it this far through the blog, let me just say this.  I realize that nothing I said actually salvaged the movie.  My wife’s right.  It can’t be salvaged.  I do, however, believe this moment can be salvaged.  We can take this moment to believe what the real Noah believed.  We can believe it not based on some inner conviction or piece meal vision, but based on the clear and unmistakable promises of God.  I AM RIGHTEOUS THROUGH FAITH (There’s my written scream to match my sister-in-law’s from this weekend :-).  God wanted us to have righteousness so badly that he had Noah build an ark so the Savior could come along and win it for us.  And let me just say this about movie Noah.  In a way, he makes the perfect water cooler conversation starter.  He was so off and so not subtle that when we pull out the real Noah people will easily see how clear God is with his promises and how merciful he is through Noah’s ultimate Son.  That’s not salvaging the movie, but it is salvaging this moment for the gospel – for us and for others.

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