I saw the movie “Noah” last week.
Enough of you have seen it, and asked me about it, that I thought I should go and see “Noah” for myself. I prepared myself for the experience by not inviting that part of me that that has a high view of the authority and inspiration of Scripture along to see the movie with me. I don’t like people who talk during movies, and I was pretty sure that if that part of me was there watching “Noah,” that he would probably have something to say. I also left at home that part of me that has studied the Book of Genesis in both Christian College and Graduate Seminary. That guy knows a little something about the critical issues that attach themselves to an ancient story like that of Noah, questions about sources, genre, historicity, interpretation and meaning. And since I didn’t want there to be any arguments while I was at the theater, I decided to leave him at home too. Finally, I didn’t invite that little boy who first learned the story of Noah and the Ark in Sunday School sitting on the floor of the toddler room, singing “Arky, Arky” and playing with plastic animals and a big wooden boat along with me to see the film. I knew that it would probably confuse and maybe even upset him, and since I didn’t want to have to deal with any of that, I just didn’t tell him where I was going when I left the house that morning. And so, there I was last week sitting in the dark with maybe a dozen others staring at a big screen for a couple of hours.
And the verdict?
Well, I didn’t hate “Noah.” But then again, I didn’t really love “Noah” either. I really loved the “Grand Budapest Hotel,” and it had just about as much to do with what’s in the Bible as Noah did! But that’s not the point, at least, it’s not the point yet. Simply on the basis of movies that I like, I would put “Noah” somewhere in the middle. It’s no “Saving Private Ryan” or “An Accidental Tourist” (two of my favorite movies). But neither is it “Day of the Locust” or “Reds” (the only two movies that I’ve ever walked out on). I’m not a great fan of comic book hero movies (the Dark Knight Batman series being the great exception), and that’s the impression that “Noah” left me with. It’s a kind of action-figure wanna-be movie. There are certainly some visually stunning scenes in it, and some fine acting performances, including Russell Crowe in the lead as “Noah.” This is no “B” movie. But there were also some pretty bizarre directorial choices in the storytelling, and some completely mystifying details in the “Noah” movie plot that left me scratching my head. Simply as a movie, I’d give “Noah” a C+, maybe even a B-, a 6 on a scale of 10. I don’t see any Academy Awards in its future, and I’m pretty sure that “Noah” is not going to become a classic “Biblical Epic” on the order of “The Ten Commandments” or “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” My great, great grandkids are not going to be sitting down around a television screen on Easter night 60 years from now to watch “Noah.” But for what it is, “Noah” is fine, if you like action movies. But that’s not really the issue, is it?
When I got home from seeing “Noah,” all those parts of me that I had left behind in order to see it on its own terms were there waiting for me, and they all wanted to talk. Because they all know the “Noah” story from the Bible at Church, they all wanted to know how it squared with its source. And what I told them was that “Noah” is not Scripture, and doesn’t pretend to be. The disclaimer that the movie “Noah” is only “inspired by the (Biblical) story of Noah” and the explanation that “artistic license has been taken” should be taken seriously by anyone going to see it. They aren’t kidding. The movie “Noah” is based on the Bible in the same way that Spam is based on ham, which is to say that through a whole lot of processing it gets turned into something altogether different from how it started out. The rest of that studio disclaimer that has been added to the movie states – “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. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis” – and I deeply appreciate this. They are telling you that they believe that what they’ve done in their movie to the Biblical story of Noah honors its core truth, and then they invite you to go and check out their claim by opening your Bible and reading the Noah story for yourself from the book of Genesis. If seeing this movie gets people to open their Bibles and read them, then I’m going to write the studio a great big thank-you note!
George Swinnock (1627-1673), an English Puritan preacher wrote –
Do not leave your Bible, as some do, at church, and hear nothing of it all week long. Bring it home and let it dwell with you. Do not let the Word be as a wayfaring man that tarries with you for a night, and is gone. Let it be an inhabitant, one that accompanies you to bed and board and with whom you converse continually as your familiar and intimate friend. Have you not found the Bible to be so bountiful a guest, to pay you so liberally for its board, that you always give it a hearty welcome and would not part with it for the whole world?
And that’s been the mission of my life and ministry for the past 40 years. I want people to open their Bibles and read because I believe that the written Word is a Means of Grace. I believe that God uses Scripture to speak directly to human hearts (Acts 2:37; Hebrews 4:12), and because the Noah story is part of Scripture, it has this capacity. So, after seeing the “Noah” movie, go home, open your Bible and read the Noah cycle of stories for yourself. You’ll find them in Genesis 5:28-10:32.
Now, the big mistake that we make with Biblical stories is to read them as a series of independent narratives, as if each one could stand completely on its own, unrelated to all of the others. Imagine two bowls of pearls sitting side by side. You reach into the first bowl and pull out a single pearl and hold it in your hand. It’s perfectly lovely, and completely unrelated to all of the other pearls in the bowl. But then you reach into the other bowl of pearls, select one that catches your eyes and pull it out of the bowl too, but as you do every other pearl in the bowl comes out with it because they are all part of the same string of pearls.
We treat the stories in the Bible like that first bowl of pearls, like a collection of completely independent unrelated narratives, each one standing entirely on its own. This is what the movie “Noah” does. When its plot resolves in the closing scenes you are left with the impression that the story is over. But Biblically, it’s not. In fact, the story of Noah gets told in the collection of stories that form the Bible’s prelude. Together with the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and the Tower of Babel, the story of Noah sets the table – defines the problem – that the rest of the Bible resolves with its story of redemption. Biblically, there is no resolution to the story of Noah. It just further muddies the waters. It just deepens the magnitude of the situation. It’s just another pearl in the string, an important one to be sure, but not the final one. And this is what the movie “Noah” ignores. Noah does not live happily ever after in a restored Eden-like climate of Shalom where everything and everybody coexists happily in a web of blessing and well-being. No, the story of Noah ends in the Bible with him getting drunk and naked (9:20-28). Even “righteous” Noah fails in the end, and God indicates that the healing of creation is going to have to come in a different way from commandment and condemnation (8:20-22).
The story that the “Noah” movie tells is an interesting one, but finally disappointing. The divine “do-over” of the Garden of Eden fails, even with the brightest and the best human specimen and his family in the starring roles. And this is why the Noah story that the Bible tells is so much better. It sets the stage for the real solution to the problem, the coming of a Savior. The story of Noah without the story of Jesus is just a tragedy. But the story of Noah as a preface to the story of Jesus is the Gospel, the good and glorious news that the damage we caused and could not repair, God in Jesus Christ has!
So, go ahead and see the “Noah” movie if you want. And if you do, then immediately go home and read the Biblical version of the story as well. And then, go to church and in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup of the Lord’s Table, hear and touch and taste and see the story of God’s redemption in Jesus Christ. You see, the story of “Noah,” whoever tells it, is not the point, it’s just a door into the real story, the story we tell every Sunday morning. DBS+