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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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Bill Nye and Ken Ham: Why the Bible convinced me Young Earth Creationism isn’t science

So there is this big ‘debate’ coming up. Bill Nye is debating Ken Ham. Bill Nye the Science Guy I watched and loved as a kid, I even watched him on Stargate: Atlantis and The Big Bang Theory (yes, I am that big of a nerd). Ken Ham is a big Young Earth Creationist… from what the internet tells me. I haven’t watched anything with Ken Ham in it.

The two are going to debate evolution or something like that.

Now, I am a nerd, but no science whiz. If science tells me that I flip the switch and light turns on – great! If the science dudes say evolution is how it works – awesome! Well, okay, maybe I am not that unaware, but I trust the scientists to be the scientists.

There is a reason, however, that I know that Young Earth Creationism isn’t scientific. Nor is Day Age theory, nor Progressive Creation, nor Intelligent Design.

That reason is the Bible.

You see, the creation that the bible actually describes happens very differently than the Young Earth Creationist version.

First of all creation happens twice. Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are different stories, they are not one unified entity. Read them again. Draw what you see. They will look different. Even more than that, the two accounts are written with different style and genre, they have different qualities and different ways of describing God, EvCr1and most importantly they describe a 3-tiered universe (see picture).

They are poetic stories from the oral tradition. The ancient people who told them and then wrote them down never wanted them to be understood as science.

Genesis 1 uses Hebrew poetry to both help tell the story and help EvCr2the teller remember the sequence of events. Days 1,2,3 the space for the stuff of creation is made. Days 4,5,6 the things that go in the space is created. You only need to remember the order to 3 things.

Now there is a lot of textual, literary, historical, aspects of the scholarship that I won’t get into, but I think you get the point: Genesis 1 and 2 are not science text books and nor were they ever meant to be.

When I was in university, I took classes on science and religion from Prof. Denis Lamoureux. He is an evolutionary biologist and a theologian. His courses were designed for science students and fundamentalists alike to better understand the “Science vs. Religion” debate. But the thing that most students didn’t know, he was actually using the science stuff to teach basic introductory hermeneutics and biblical scholarship.

I took two classes with Denis. The second was a seminar where we had guest speakers representing different views on creation. One class he invited the president of the Alberta Young Earth Creation society to speak to the class. She was a woman with a PhD in botany. She came and presented all kinds of the same kind of “scientific” ideas that Answers in Genesis does. Of the 15 of us in the class, I was the only humanities/theology student. My classmates were all science majors. During the Q&A time, they debated the science, they asked questions of genetic expression, geological record, quantum physics and offered smart evolutionary evidence. This woman had answers for all of it.

Then I asked my question. I asked her what she thought about canonical development, and how that affected divine inspiration. I wanted her to explain how those early church councils determined what they accepted or rejected as the canonical books of the bible. I wanted her to explain how divine inspiration worked with books written 300 to a 1000 years previously.

She had no answer for me. In fact, she entered into what seemed to be a state of cognitive dissonance and told me over and over again that my question was “silly.”

She was the president of the Alberta Young Earth Creation society and she couldn’t answer a basic question of biblical scholarship.

This is the Achilles heel of Young Earth Creationists and their kin. I am surprised that those who debate these folks don’t use biblical scholarship against them more often. I am surprised that atheists like Richard Dawkins don’t do some homework on real biblical scholarship to use against the fundamentalists he is so fond of debating.

Creation pseudo science will always sound convincing enough for fundamentalists. They aren’t looking for real answers, they are looking for evidence that will support their biblical claims. If I were to talk to a Young Earth Creationist I would deal only with what the bible actually says, in Greek and Hebrew, in context, and with an understanding of ancient cosmology. I would make them deal with what serious biblical scholars have been talking about for centuries.

If I was Bill Nye, I wouldn’t even bother talking science with Ken Ham. I wouldn’t legitimize his pseudo-science by making it seem debatable. Ham will have an answer for everything, and that is the only foothold he needs to sound plausible – to have Nye, a real scientist acting as if Ham is worth debating. Evolution is still a big puzzle being put together, even if we can now tell what the picture looks like. Creation science is a neat little set of pseudo theories and logical fallacies meant to prop up poor biblical understanding.

If I was Bill Nye I would ask questions like my canonical development question. I would ask why  St. Augustine wouldn’t convert to Christianity until Bishop Gregory told him that much of the bible was allegorical. I would ask why Roman Catholic Priest and Physicist Georges Lemaitre could propose the Big Bang Theory and still be a faithful Christian. I would ask why Genesis and all of scripture is pretty clear about a 3-tired universe. I would ask about Hebrew poetry and oral tradition.

And then I would ask, why most biblical scholars, theologians and mainline denominations accept evolution with no problem at all.

Bill Nye could challenge Ken Ham with questions like these. Bill Nye could really make a statement about what Young Earth Creationism and biblical literalism is about. Bill Nye could pop Young Earth Creationism’s intellectual bubble and challenge the idea that the bible is a science text book.

Most christians who study the bible seriously  figured out centuries ago that Genesis is not science. We figured out that Genesis is not making a scientific point, but a theological one. Genesis is not telling us how creation happened or what it happened with.

Genesis is telling something though. Genesis is telling us who created it all (God) and why (out of love). Genesis is reminding the faithful of the most important things to know about creation… about why we are here at all.

Many christians have known this truth about Genesis for a long time. Many christians have understood that an allegorical Genesis is not a threat to our faith, even though Young Earth Creationists are ready to stake their faith in Jesus on whether Adam (the mud creature) was a real dude 6000 years ago. And creationists do this because it is intellectually easier.

Understanding the truth about Genesis would mean doing a lot less pseudo science, and instead doing some scary biblical scholarship and asking some scary questions about God and Christian History. It would mean revising stances on gender issues, sexuality issues, economic issues, and theological ones. It is really inconvenient to revise one’s theology like that, and to be prepared to do it often. But the Church hasn’t crumbled with its greatest theological minds being totally okay with an allegorical Genesis, and we won’t be crumbling any time soon.

Most importantly, we haven’t crumbled because many of us have understood the bigger issue at stake here:

You can take the bible literally.

You can take the bible seriously.

But you cannot do both.

So what would you say to Bill Nye or Ken Ham or me? Share in the comments, on twitter: @ParkerErik or on Facebook