The third part of the Noah series poses the question: do we as Christians have a responsibility to treat a text in a way that reflects the love of Christ? The answer to that question may completely change the way you look at the world.
I realize that up until this point, I’ve done a lot of talking. So before I continue, here’s a recap of the main points I’ve made so far:
1. There were certainly things that happened during the flood that were left out of the Bible. Because of this, no retelling of the story is more or less accurate than another, so long as the nature of God remains True. It is unfair and unloving to reject a film simply because it portrays things differently from how you envisioned them.
2. No matter how uncomfortable some of Aronofsky’s stylistic choices make you, the fact remains that the film at its core asks important questions about faith and redemption. It gives an accurate portrayal of the nature of God. It retains the Truth present in the biblical story. It uses the God-given power of imagination to revitalize an old story and, if you give it half a chance, you might be surprised at how it revitalizes your own Christian faith.
If I stopped there, I believe I’d have a compelling argument for watching Noah. By now you may very well be asking yourself why I took so long to say that. If watching the movie doesn’t seem like this big of a deal to you, congratulations, we’re in the same boat (pun intended). I’d still love for you to continue reading, because in this part of my series I’m shifting away from talking about why you should accept Noah to talking about how you should approach the movie, even if you still don’t like it. I realize that I can’t convince every Christian out there to support the film, and if you don’t agree with me, that’s ok. But the larger question I’m asking is this: Whether we liked the movie or not, do we as Christians still have a responsibility to treat a film (or any other text, work of art, event in history, cultural tradition, etc.) in a certain way that reflects the love of Christ? This is a question for which I feel so passionately, I wrote a 100+ page thesis over it (I know…nerd). So, whether you’re bored with my argument by now, still certain I’ve lost my salvation, or somewhere in between, I’m hoping this last point, at least, makes you think.
I’ve established that some good and valuable things are happening in Noah, but so what? What does that have to do with anything outside of watching the film? The short answer: everything. But in case you’re not immediately seeing the connection, I’ll explain.
- A story that points to Jesus is a True story. Period.
Words, stories, and the imaginative power to create them are immensely important to the Christian faith. Not only was the world spoken into existence, but Jesus was (and is) the Word, as we read in John. Words have tremendous power throughout the Bible in the form of both blessings and curses; Jesus performs a large percentage of his miracles simply by speaking healing over someone. Likewise, he uses stories to convey a large majority of the points of his teachings. The power of language and the power of story (language arranged in a particular order to communicate a message) are intricately connected, for if the Bible tells the greatest story ever told, and Jesus is the point of that story and the Word personified, then you could also say he is the Story personified. That is, his existence is the Story on which all stories have their origin and meaning. Therefore, any story that contains something of the redeeming nature of Christ within it contains Truth because it contains part of the Story. Even the most “un-Christian” book, myth, film, or culture that contains redemption, grace, and love contains Truth. In this sense, the Noah film is True to a degree that surpasses the issue of whether or not the details it includes are true. Those details are not the point; Truth is.
- Stories are meant to be treated like stories. Not scientific facts.
Not only is the story of Noah True regardless of how it is retold, but it is also first and foremost a story. If the point of including the flood narrative in the book of Genesis was to give a detailed, scientific account of the flood, then Genesis fails miserably in doing so. I suspect, however, that the facts of the flood are secondary to the message of the flood story—the redemption of mankind that points to Christ. So many Christians disliked this film because Aronofsky treated the flood as a story. Friends, it is a story. It’s a story that points to the Story. Any treatment of the biblical text—be it the flood or creation or Jesus’ resurrection—that does not first and foremost acknowledge the story as a story is fundamentally flawed.
- A story being a story doesn’t make it less important.
Before the scientific method reigned supreme, cultures came to understand the world around them through myths. Myths (a word largely interchangeable with “stories”) have a completely different, mystical sort of power than science does, but does that make them a less important way to understand the world around us or why we believe what we believe? By standard definition, Christianity is a myth. I know that statement will make a lot of Christians rise in defense at the thought of “lumping” their religion together with all of the pagan mythologies of the world. However, it’s vital that we realize that Christianity—and its chief text, the Bible—is a myth, in the sense that it is a collection of stories passed down through millennia, detailing the interactions between man and deity in a way that allows us to come to an understanding (a worldview) of the point of our existence. However, because we also believe that the Christian Myth actually happened, it’s clear that just because something is a myth does not make it untrue. It does not make it less important. As I said, stories have an inherent Truth to them that we have largely forgotten over the past several hundred years because of the advancements of science and technology. Could it be that myth offers a different way of understanding Truth that is strange, yes, but just as True? I’ve already indicated I believe this is so. Furthermore, because of the uncanny number of similarities between different world mythologies, some mythologists and scholars (most notably, C.S. Lewis) believe in the possibility that all world myths originated from one Myth. If Christianity is, in fact, that myth that Lewis calls the True Myth, then any story that retells this Myth is going to contain Truth. The Truth may become disguised, retold, altered almost beyond recognition, yet it is there. If for no other reason than because world myths and stories may have all originated from the Christian Myth (just like all stories originate from one original Story), it’s probably worth your time to pay attention to all stories. If you approach them with a loving, Christian attitude, I guarantee you will find the Truth within them and learn something valuable about your own faith.
- Christians are called to love stories.
You heard me right. Christians have a duty and a responsibility to love stories. More specifically, we have a responsibility to treat stories lovingly. Because we are creations brought into being by a Creator, made in His image, we, too, have an innate desire to create. Our creations point back to our Creator, and in this way, everything comes full circle. Viewing the world through a Christian lens, we can see this desire for creation manifested everywhere; it happens regardless of whether or not an artist credits his or her creative drive to a Creator. Additionally, when we create a text—be it a film, a novel, a newspaper article, a dance, a music album—we put a part of ourselves into our creation in a similar way God put a part of Himself into us. We then offer our creation to others as a gift. For example, when a director creates a film, she offers that film as a gift to her audience. When a novelist publishes a book, he offers that text as a gift to other people, his neighbors. We create, in part, to establish community with one another in the exchanging of gifts and services. It’s an idea laid out in Alan Jacobs’ book A Theology of Reading, which has radically changed my outlook on faith, and which I highly recommend to both Christians and non-Christians out there since we could all stand to treat each other–and our gifts to each other–a little more lovingly. In a sense, a musician creating an album for your enjoyment is no different than your literal next-door neighbor coming to your house and offering you a freshly-baked pie. In both cases, the creation is an extension of the person offering the gift to you. Would you rudely reject your neighbor’s pie, slamming it to the ground and stomping on the pieces? Of course not (unless your neighbors happen to be repeating “Try the pie” with a creepy look on their face, that is). So why would you essentially do the same to a song, film, book, or any other text you didn’t like?
Don’t hear me saying you’re never allowed to dislike something. As Christians, we are not called to be totally and unconditionally accepting of every gift presented to us (i.e. it’s ok not to like Fifty Shades of Grey). However, we are called to give every gift a fair chance, and we are called to turn the gift down lovingly if we decide we do not want it. Let’s go back to the pie metaphor. Say your neighbor baked you a strawberry pie, not knowing you hated strawberries. Even still, you’d probably politely accept the pie, acknowledging the thought and energy behind the gift. In other words, responding lovingly to your neighbor is more important than your own dislike for the gift.
This is the point I’m trying to make. If you want to watch a movie like Noah and, after reflecting on it, decide that you don’t care for that type of movie, that’s your prerogative. You still need to be able to articulate your reasons why in a loving, gentle (read: Christ-like) manner. If you’ve read everything I’ve had to say in defense of the film so far and still don’t agree with how theology is portrayed in the film, or if you simply didn’t like the actors or the cinematography or the special effects, then by all means, disagree with me. Dislike the film. But make sure you can elaborate on your reasons why, and make sure you can do so kindly. And, at all costs, do so without telling other people not to see it for themselves. Friends, it is important that we as people of faith do not become sheep that follow one another, unable to make decisions for ourselves. It is vitally important that we do not pronounce judgments on things we have not learned about and do not understand. Everyone must decide for themselves whether or not to embrace a gift. So, go watch the film. Then decide whether you like it or dislike it. But go watch it before you make that decision.
In case you haven’t seen the posts galore slamming this film, you can read these for starters:
You can also Google the topic to find plenty more of these responses, some more thought-out than others. These kinds of responses are a travesty for two reasons, friends, first, especially in the case of blog posts like Matt Walsh’s, because they’re sarcastic and unloving—exactly the opposite of a Christ-like attitude. In rejecting the gift rudely, they by extension reject the author in the same way. When has rejection ever led a new soul into a relationship with Christ? This is not an original idea I’ve just come up with. It’s a life-changing concept once you stop to consider how interconnected we are through the works of art we produce. If we look at a film like Noah as a gift, we might just begin to see the work that went into bringing an ancient Christian story to life. We might just discover that it makes us think, revitalizes our faith, bridges the gap between Christians and non-Christians with a sense of community that polarizing strictly-for-Christians films do not achieve.
This leads me to the second reason why Christians rudely rejecting works like Noah is such a travesty: through this film, a door has been opened for conversation between Christian and secular communities. Think about it. How many times do we get the opportunity to discuss a Bible story with strangers, new acquaintances, even co-workers or close friends? This film, as a beautifully made, high-quality project with stellar performances by acclaimed actors, offers itself as a credible vehicle by which we can get conversation rolling. Yet it is not atheists but Christians who are shutting it down. Friends, stop and think for a moment about what you’re doing. You didn’t like the rock-angels, so you shut down an opportunity to talk about Christ. You didn’t like Noah’s internal conflict, so you shut down an opportunity to talk about Christ. You feel threatened by the idea that an atheist director got his hands on one of your beloved Bible stories and treated it as a piece of art rather than as a cut-and-dry historical account, so you refuse to even see the movie to be able to talk with other people about what you liked and what you wished had been done differently. Christian brothers and sisters, wake up! Wake up and understand that it is your choice whether you see this film as a threat to Christianity or as a God-given window of opportunity. When you dismiss this film, you dismiss along with it any good that could come from introducing biblical stories into mainstream media. Is it really worth throwing away such an opportunity for the sake of remaining within your Christian bubble comfort zone? Don’t pick apart this movie and miss the true message of God’s grace that remains the same. Don’t miss the opportunities movies like this one provide for starting a conversation with someone about a Creator who loved us enough to allow us, also, to pass through the waters into rebirth and a renewed relationship with Him.
It does not matter how “right” you think you are by refusing to watch a film that has minor differences from the biblical story. If your attitude is unloving, you are not acting like Christ. And the director, in his diligent effort to create a high-quality film, becomes a more loving supporter of the story of Noah than you are.
What if we lived in a world where Christians used the opportunities provided them to talk about God to others? Sadly, this is not our reality. In a world experiencing a paradigm shift toward progressive thinking and subjective truth, Christians all too often feel threatened by change and cling possessively to being “right”—even at the expense of opening a conversation and helping a non-believer to a better understanding of Christ. Responses like those blog posts I mentioned earlier ensure that the stereotype of the angry, defensive, closed-minded Christian endures in the minds of secular society, and any possible discussion between Christians and non-Christians is effectively shut down. The movie Noah is trying to restart that discussion. Are you one of the ones trying to stop it? There is a Truth that remains, no matter how much things change. It’s something that can be felt even when it can’t be seen. It operates outside of human limitations, yet it’s there, on the cusp of our consciousness, as something we can barely describe, something we can only see through a glass darkly. However, every so often, through a film like this one, we are offered glimpses of it anew.