The Christology of Noah: A Theological Review

noah-movie-poster-castI saw Noah yesterday.

I loved it.

It was a beautiful story in terms of its cinematography, the visuals were stunning.

Now, a lot of the praise for Noah ends with the visuals. For some reason, many seem to think that Noah doesn’t follow the biblical narrative, and so the critique of Noah then continues with the movie’s faithfulness to the story… or lack there of.  Albert Mohler has written an absurd movie review, which makes me question whether he has even seen the movie or read the story. To all those who are complaining that Noah deviates from the flood narrative, I just want to say,

“Have you read the flood narrative recently?”

Noah is a deeply scriptural AND theological film. It tells the story of the biblical flood in a way that we need to hear it. No… Noah is not a word-for-word retelling of the flood epic found in Genesis 6-9. But any filmmaker who sets out to put Genesis 6-9, as written, to film will have missed the point before beginning.

Director/writer Darren Aronovsky has produced something as faithful and with as much integrity to the text of Genesis as I can imagine. The flood epic’s context (as in the stories that preceded and linger in Noah’s background) is always present in the movie. Aronovsky has not ripped this story out of the bible, but instead uses themes and images from all over Genesis.

Noah shows that Aronovsky has so thoroughly researched this story, that he puts most Christians and some scholars like Mohler to shame. Noah is a very biblical movie. Noah is a brilliantly biblical movie rich in scripture, unlike many other movies about the bible.

But let’s talk about Genesis 6-9 first.

Anyone who has actually read the flood story would know that it is a very redundant story. In fact, everything seems to be repeated over and over. It is almost like two different versions of the story have been layered on top of each other to make one story.

images-2Well, that’s because there are two stories. Two versions, different details. In one version it rains 40 days, another 150 days. Noah is told to take a pair of each kind of animal, then he is given instructions to take 7 pairs of clean and one unclean. The family enters the Ark twice.

Genesis 6-9 is not literal history. Noah was never a real person. Russell Crowe is now the most literal Noah that ever existed. The Biblical story of the flood is a nearly word-for-word, line-by-line rip-off of the Gilgamesh Epic. The Gilgamesh Epic ripped off the Atrahasis epic. The Atrahasis epic was based on the Sumerian flood epic.

The story of the flood does not belong to Christians. It doesn’t belong to Jewish religion. It doesn’t really even belong to the Bible. It is an Ancient Near Eastern story told by the people living in the floodplain of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

So when Darren Aronovsky “deviates” from the biblical account of the flood, he is working with a story that already has been re-told with generous liberties taken. The flood is a re-write of another story, which is the re-write of another, etc…  However, the movie Noah does something fascinating – Noah stitches together the early chapters of Genesis with other biblical themes. The biblical flood story doesn’t do this. In fact, Noah is a character hardly referenced outside of the flood narrative itself.

The Biblical Images in Noah’s Background – SPOILER ALERT

Darren Aronovsky has said in interviews, that he sees Noah has his midrash. A mid rash is a Rabbinical narrative sermon. It is the Jewish practice of re-telling the biblical narratives, and filling in the gaps of the story to make a theological point. Pretty much a sermon. If Noah is a sermon, it is brilliant one.

MV5BMjAzMzg0MDA3OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTMzOTYwMTE@._V1_SY630_SX426_The opening scenes of Noah are the first murder in the book of Genesis, and Cain’s murder of Abel becomes the foundation of the movie. This violent reality haunts every relationship, every action taken by Noah and his family. This murder continues being repeated, generation after generation, between brothers, between families, between peoples, between human beings and the earth. The murdering is endless, and thus ‘The Creator’ decides to start over, to wipe wicked human beings from the face of the earth.

Some would accuse Aronovsky of using the movie to spout modern environmentalist rhetoric about care for the earth, veganism even. This is not the case, Aronvosky is simply sticking to the text. Some of the earliest tensions in the Bible are the commands given by God to human beings in the creation stories. In Genesis 1, human beings are told to fill the earth and subdue it, to have dominion over it. In Genesis 2, human beings are told to serve and protect creation, to care for it and keep it. These competing views on the role of human beings towards the planet are not just a modern issue, they have been at odds since the beginning.

Lastly, there is a moment in the movie when Noah looks a lot like Abraham. Noah is Abraham’s ancestor to the 10th generation. At, what could be argued is the climax of the movie, Noah is standing above one of his offspring, knife in hand, ready to kill because of what he understands to be God’s command. This issue of families murdering one another, that begins with Cain and Abel, is not actually resolved with the flood. In fact, the escalation of murder that the flood turns out to be, is no solution to the problem of humanity’s death-dealing ways at all.

And while many would claim that this moment in the movie shows us the power of the human spirit because Noah chooses not to murder out of love, I think this is about God. God, or ‘The Creator’ as God is called in the movie, has no lines. God doesn’t even take a form, but is an implied presence. ‘The Creator’s’ role in the drama is still paramount, and I think Aronovsky is telling us about the important change of mind that God has after the flood. The human problem of death, of violence, of killing one another remains. Noah foreshadows what is to come with Abraham – someone willing to murder his own child for God’s sake.

Instead, God is changed, and God finds mercy towards human beings. The characters of Noah don’t actually change throughout the story. They experience tremendous hardship and tragedy, but they remain, at the end, who they were at the beginning.

In the flood epic and in Noah, it is God who changes. Aronovsky hasn’t missed this part of the story either. Which leads me to:

The Christological Character of Noah.

In a number of scenes in the movie, Noah is shown praying. Noah prays a familiar and biblical prayer – “I can’t do this.”

NOAHAt one point, Noah is on his knees asking God that this burden be removed from him. Noah might be a Genesis character, but this is a New Testament image. Like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Noah is asking that God would choose someone else.

The burden that Noah is given is not to build an Ark, not to predict a flood, not even to save the animals, as he seems to think is his burden for most of the movie. The real burden is to determine whether humanity is worth saving – whether or not humanity is redeemable.

Ultimately, we discover that this question isn’t answered, at least not by Noah’s actions. He saves his family, but in his mind this is failure. He has failed to perform God’s will for humanity, failed to wipe us all out.

However, as we see that more violence is not the solution or the way to prevent violence, God’s change towards mercy gives us the smallest clue or hint towards the dilemma facing God.

Whether Aronovsky knows it or not (and sometimes this is where stories become more than their tellers can control), God’s change to mercy is a key Christological question. With Noah, God realizes that asking humanity to redeem themselves and to prove themselves worthy of being saved is impossible. Noah realizes too that all humanity has the capability of sin within them.

The question of whether or not to save us all is really not answered until the garden of Gethsemane. As Jesus prays, “I can’t do this” it is not all about a human being afraid of being crucified. Rather, as Douglas John Hall suggests, the question of Gethsemane is whether God is going to complete the incarnation. God has shown up in flesh, God has lived in flesh, but Maundy Thursday is now the moment to decide if that last step – incarnate death – will be taken. Once this step is taken, God is going to complete the redeeming. God is going fulfill the reconciling. God-in-Christ is going to re-join creation with creator, re-join what was one in Eden.

As I watched Noah, I couldn’t help but see this question as the real issue. Is humanity redeemable? Aronovsky seems to have come to the same place that the bible comes to over and over again. Human beings just cannot redeem themselves.

And just maybe, as ‘The Creator’ shifts to mercy, Noah foreshadows a God who now knows this. God will be the one who will choose whether we are worth saving. Asking us to give up violence us will not suffice. God will need to take away the power of our violence by overcoming death. Life will become how we are redeemed. God will allow Godself to succumb – on the cross – to our desire for violence and death. And instead of responding with greater violence, with fire or flood, God will respond with resurrection and new life.

Noah is beautifully rich and beautifully deep. It is scriptural and theological to its core. If you want to see a movie about the bible?

Go see Noah. It will not disappoint.

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Have you seen Noah? What did you think? Share in the comments, or  on Facebook: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

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20 thoughts on “The Christology of Noah: A Theological Review”

  1. I saw it last week with my daughter. I liked it too. I was especially struck by Noah’s words when he talked about himself and his family not really being any different than the wicked ones elected for destruction. When it was over a woman sitting in front of us turned to her friend and asked if she knew this was not the true biblical account, like she was blaming her friend for a bad movie experience. What she said went something like: the movie was sooo far fetched, unlike the Bible. 🙂

    I am left with questions and look forward to animated discussions.

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  2. I am part of a very conservative women’s bible study group on a military base- as a former candidate for ministry with the UUA and a chaplain’s spouse (my husband is an evangelical with some liberal sympathies.. that’s about as much as I’ll say! ha) – I have been eager to see this because all I hear from women in this group is how off and blasphemous it was. I saw it this evening. Now, I’ve given up FB for lent and was near ready to break the fast in order to proclaim my love for this movie (and distain for ignorance I’ve heard) when I remembered I had a blog and could use that. Didn’t have to- I read your’s and shared it… ever so eloquent, ever so spot on. Keep it rocking!

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  3. Really glad you posted your experience with Noah. You’ve put so many of my thoughts into words!! I, too, loved the movie. Here are some additional thoughts I’ve had, to add to yours. First, the moment when Tubal-Cain offers Ham the piece of animal meat is a powerful re-enactment of the temptation to be human in a way that goes against the creator. Very powerful. I love the tension between what it means to be made in God’s image, and hence, how to be a “man.”

    Secondly, when the fallen angels are allowed back into heaven, I actually started to cry. Such a yearning for forgiveness and reconciliation, and perhaps the opportunity to redeem themselves for giving man a tool that he wasn’t ready to handle – knowledge of technology. By giving their lives to help Noah complete his mission, they show the sort of love that Christ offers – beautiful.

    I was shocked at how seriously and without backing off, the writers of Noah took the presence of evil in man. In a way, Noah cannot be blamed by thinking that God might want to be only just. I disagree, however, that God changes his mind about being merciful. But the movie plays out how we come to see that mercy triumphs over justice. I agree, however, that God needs to come up with a different solution to the evil of mankind, which as you mention, happens with the coming of Jesus. That God grows in God’s understanding of how to parent human beings and is honestly surprised at how quickly humanity devolves does not threaten my belief in God as powerful and good as shown time and time again in the scriptures. On the other hand, it can also be for our growth in understanding – hard to tell.

    God deciding that no matter how painful it might be to allow humanity to move along basically unchecked (and we’ve seen this even up to today) is one of the results of the decision around the flood story. And so, we have no reason to ask why God doesn’t send down brimstone on Hitler or Stalin…

    This movie has really gotten me thinking on so many levels. Thanks again for being part of the conversation!

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    1. Thank you for sharing your ideas. Your Tubal-Cain idea is spot on… and the fallen angel scene was beautiful. There was so much symbolism in every moment of Noah…
      Even when Methuselah was searching for berries and Ila came to him and he “opened up her womb” I was thinking of Leah sending her son out to find mandrakes so she could have another child to earn Jacobs love.

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  4. “The real burden is to determine whether humanity is worth saving – whether or not humanity is redeemable.” For some of us, the question is still open.

    I did enjoy your review, it presented the story of Noah and the flood from a whole other perspective, even for a non-believer.

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  5. I shared your review of “Noah” with other Christians on facebook. The responses ranged from a change of heart to the reviewer does not know the Bible. It has folks talking.
    Someone questioned your paragraph regarding the origins of the flood and how could you question the Bible’s version of the flood as not being Christian? I suggested they ask you those questions here in your comments section. Could you post info regarding your theological training so I may share it on my post if you don’t mind? It was one of the comments left. Thanks.

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    1. Hi Tracey,

      Thanks for sharing my post! I am happy it has generated discussion.

      My Educational Training is as follows:
      BA in History and Theology from the University of Alberta (Tier 1 research university in Canada).
      Masters of Divinity from Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon (also in Canada), a fully Association of Theological Schools accredited institution.

      I hope that helps!

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  6. I’m curious… Taking into consideration what you say in the paragraph containing “Noah was never a real person,” what are you referring to when you make the assertion that the movie is “deeply Scriptural”? Your writing seems to indicate a viewpoint shaped by the influence of historical criticism and a low view of the authority of Scripture; what does saying “Scriptural and theological to its core” mean to you?

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    1. Noah is scriptural in the sense that it reflects the context of Genesis, and the Ancient Near East. It is full of biblical images and symbolism. And it ultimately deals with the same kinds of themes and issues that the bible deals with. It also comes to the same place that the bible does, which is more questions than answers.

      I have studied several different scholarly methodologies, including historical criticism. But I wouldn’t say I have a “low” view of scripture. I strive to take the bible as seriously and honestly as I can. To delve into what it is really saying and explore all the factors that contributed to its formation. And ultimately to ask, “what is God saying to us?”

      Noah, unlike say, Son of God, actually takes seriously what the bible is all about rather than pushing poor fundamentalism into the text.

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      1. I figure God is smart enough to simply say what He is saying to us. Once we begin “reading between the lines” rather than reading the lines we may find ourselves in a lot of trouble. Such as finding Noah to be “scriptural.” If you liked it as a work of fiction that’s fine, but I believe the Bible to be the literal Words from God, and that we can take Him at His word. I hope that you find yourself trusting God to write a book and care for it as I do someday soon.

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