Thursday, April 03, 2014

Noah and Other Sinners

“All of this should trouble the sort of Christian, I suppose, who imagines that the proper care of the Earth is strictly the domain of those godless liberal tree-huggers; that our readings of the Bible should never stir in us a sense of won...der or supernatural possibility; and that the only artists who could possibly extract anything of value from a religious text are those who readily subscribe to its teachings. To believe such a thing, of course, is to ignore one of the great recurring themes of Scripture, which is that God can and does use the most unlikely of individuals to glorify His name and advance His purposes, and is indeed rather fond of subverting our prejudices about who and what is good, moral and worthy of emulation.”

Hollywood has a notoriously spotty record when it comes to biblical epics. I’ve yet to see a Jesus movie that gets it right, and the succession of blue-eyed, passive, blissfully stoned versions of Jesus the Hippie that were paraded forth in the ‘60s and ‘70s have been succeeded by the rugged he-men and body building Gold’s Gym Jesus’s of the new millennium. Charlton Heston’s Moses always looked like he should be wearing a suit on Madison Avenue. And the various made-for-cable extravaganzas of the past few years have always struck me as more like The Fantastic Four (or Twelve) or Captain Israel than the folks I read about in the scriptures.

So now there’s a big Hollywood blockbuster out about Noah, called, appropriately enough, “Noah.” It’s caused a big stink among the Culture Warriors, chiefly because the Culture Warriors like to cause big stinks; massive critical flatus that spreads across the land like a spiritual miasma.

It should be noted that I have a number of Christian friends who review movies, some of them for a living, and they have written intelligently and persuasively about the film. This is not about them. This is about the professional fearmongers whose job it is to whip the faithful into an outraged moral frenzy. And they have done their job well with “Noah.” The film isn’t true to the biblical record. The film is blasphemous. Noah is not a righteous man in this film. God is grieved by the sacrilegious tone.

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth noting again: there’s precious little to go on. The story of Noah takes up a scant three and a half chapters in the Book of Genesis. We’re introduced to Noah and told that he is a righteous man. Then we encounter the story of the building of the ark, the gathering of the animals, the devastating flood, the receding waters, and the promise of the covenant. Finally, Noah leaves the ark, plants a vineyard, gets drunk, is discovered naked by his sons, and curses one of the sons who found him naked. Thus, Noah.

There’s also a bit of commentary about him in the New Testament, chiefly in Chapter 11 of the Book of Hebrews. This, for those of you who may have forgotten your Sunday School lessons, is the Heroes of the Faith/Faith Hall of Fame chapter. It’s a long summary of the lives and deeds of many saints in the Old Testament, those ancient fathers and mothers, like Noah, who were awarded God’s favor because of their faith. Again, for those who may have forgotten, it includes (among others) a coward (Abraham), a manipulative swindler (Jacob), an egotistical prick (Joseph), a murderer (Moses), a prostitute (Rahab), and an adulterer (David). Also a judgmental drunkard (Noah).

I write that list not to be contentious, and I’m fully aware that those heroes of the faith had many positive qualities as well. But sometimes I wonder if the Culture Warriors ever bother to read their Bibles. The whole point of that list, it seems to me, is not that God’s people are perfect (for surely they are not; read that list again), but rather that they are full of faith.

It’s a tricky word, that one: faith. If you’ve got it fully figured out, let me know. You could teach me a few things. But the biblical story – let me say it again, the biblical story – of Noah is that of a righteous man, a judgmental drunkard, a man of faith. This is great, good news if you’re anybody like me.

I have yet to see this new Hollywood Noah. I think, based on what I’ve read, that it’s entirely possible that I’ll like and relate to him. I think, based on what I’ve read, that this might be a biblical epic that gets it right, even with its (or perhaps because of its) creative liberties and fanciful flights of imagination. I can’t wait to see the film.
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