Russian annexation of Crimea. Ongoing atrocities in Syria. Human trafficking in my own backyard. Friends struggling with addiction, marriages crumbling before my eyes, children trapped in severe developmental disabilities, the lady I spoke with this morning who didn’t have money to buy milk for her fridge.
In light of all this, why would I ever waste my time writing about a movie?
I thought Noah was an incredible movie. But I also thought Despicable Me 2 failed to live up to the hype. And I can’t see a whole lot of value in arguing over either movie with all you people on the interwebs. So this isn’t me trying to convince you to like Noah (or that Despicable Me 2 was a disappointment). I’m simply sharing why I, as a Christ-follower and as a pastor, see enough value in the conversation about Aronofsky’s Noah that I’ll take the time to post about it.
I personally enjoyed much the film on a variety of levels–the creativity, the cinematography, the overall artistry and philosophical themes. Of course, I also liked the same things in Life of Pi, but since I never wasted your time blogging about it then I’ll move on now.
As a Christian, I never expected an atheist to make a Christian movie. And as a movie-goer, I never expected the director of Black Swan, Requiem, and The Wrestler to make a ‘normal’ movie.
Neither did my wife Courtney, but she was still really disappointed with Noah. She told me today that it just left a bad taste in her heart. Not in her mouth–in her HEART. She was troubled by Aronofsky’s depiction of God that seemed devoid of mercy and almost maliciously silent. She mourned Aronofsky’s Noah, who seemed to follow the character arc of an increasingly crazed cult leader rather than a man who found favor with God. She kept repeating, “But it says that Noah walked with God, that he was righteous, blameless. God spoke to Noah, he made a covenant with Noah, he told him how big to build the ark. It says that Noah walked faithfully with God!”
And she’s right. Of all of Aronofsky’s liberties with the story (many of which I enjoyed and made me think), this one stands supreme: he strip-mined God of His mercy, leaving God as barren and ugly as Cain’s descendants left Earth. He reduced the Creator to a terrifying caricature of a God of only justice. Aronofsky’s God should leave you with a bad taste in your heart.
Which, for me, as a Christian, is incredibly valuable.
Because I have heard so many people describe that exact same feeling when they talk about the God of the Bible.
When someone tells us how they feel, which is the better way to be a friend? To listen? Or to yell at them because their feelings are wrong? When someone tells us they don’t believe what we believe, how should we respond?
My family thought about questions like these incessantly when we were missionaries in Japan, where virtually no one believes what we believe. One of our primary postures was simply to listen. We listened to our Buddhist and Shinto friends as they proudly showed us their family god shelves and local neighborhood shrines. We listened to the priests and monks whose understanding of God was dramatically different than our own. We listened the Japanese culture, we listened to Japanese movies, we listened to the teachers in school, we listened while we ate in our friends’ homes, and we listened while they ate in ours.
We listened. And we respected. And we learned.
And after years and years and years, we began to understand. Not just the culture or language; we began to understand the people.
In other words, we were missional.
Why do we expect our missionaries to be missional while we spend our time shouting in ALL CAPS on to everyone on social media?
You see, the overwhelming value of Aronofsky’s Noah is that he sees God through the same lens that many of our neighbors do. He sees God through the same lens as many of our family members, close friends, and people who sit next to us at work. He sees God through the same lens as many of the people in our fantasy football leagues and mom’s groups and school bus stops and on and on and on.
Aronofsky’s God is absent, largely devoid of mercy, and hell-bent on justice.
When we mock Aronofsky we mock everyone we know with a similar view of God. Which, for me, is a lot of people. And if we pay attention, a conversation is beginning. That is, as long as we’re not too busy shouting to notice.
And I hope it’s not arrogant of me to say that what those people need perhaps more than anything else is to understand, even to feel, the mystifying mercy of God.
Aronofsky believes that if God was real, He must be pretty short on mercy. As God’s ambassadors, let’s not prove him right.