A Review by Pastor Joelle Colville-Hanson

If you go to see the new Noah movie expecting to see a dutiful and faithful retelling of the exact story-line in Genesis, you will be
disappointed.  And apparently many Christians are not just disappointed, but angry, at the creative liberties taken with the story in this movie.

But if you want to engage the themes and deep questions of humanity that the flood narrative addresses, then this movie will make you think about those questions all over again.

Questions like, “Can humanity be saved?”, “Can the world God has created and we have messed up royally be saved?”, “Is it possible to start over?”

And the final question, which I think is at the heart of all our anxieties, “Is God good?”

To me, the saddest words in all of Scripture are from Genesis 6:6:  “And
the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”
This is the sad state of affairs the movie opens with.  Except that humanity has been divided into the good guys and the bad guys.  The sons of Cain, (forgive the sexist language but the sons, the men ARE the players in this story) have turned their back on the Creator, devastated the earth, built cities , gone to war and have no redeeming qualities whatsoever.
It kind of irked me that “building cities” is a work of the evil ones.  There is definitely a postmodern environmentalist cast to the movie.

The sons of Seth, as opposed to the sons of Cain, have remained faithful to the Creator and live peaceful lives at harmony with nature.

As you might imagine, living this way in a world taken over by the sons of Cain is not easy and Noah and his family are the only remnant left from the sons of Seth.  And as it says in Scripture, “But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord.” (Gen. 6:8)

In the biblical narrative, it is very clear to Noah what he is to do and why.
In the movie, and for most of us in life, it’s not all that clear right away to Noah just what he is supposed to do and why.

And this, to me, is the most important theme of the movie and where church groups can get some really good discussion going after viewing this movie.

“How do we know what God is calling us to do?  And what if we get it wrong?”

Because at some point in the movie (and I won’t give it away), Noah gets it wrong.  He gets it very wrong.   This takes Noah to a very dark place.

This is what happens when we are sure we know what God wants and refuse to consider any other possibilities.  Or listen to anyone else’s ideas about what God is saying.

Noah thinks he is the only one who knows what God wants and this is very dangerous.

Noah’s getting it wrong made me very angry while watching the movie.
This alone is a sign of a good movie, to get me so engaged.

What also made me angry was how little power the women in the movie had.  And that is certainly true to scripture.  It is the women who suffer the most from Noah getting it wrong.

And this is the history of the world.  Men thinking they know
what God wants and women being the ones who suffer for it.

However, I think the women got it wrong as well, but they got it wrong in a different way than Noah did.  I think it’s possible the movie makers got it
wrong and I think without reflection, movie goers could get it wrong as well.
In the end, as in the bible story, humanity is saved.  The women think, and the message of the movie seems to be, that humanity was saved because there was goodness in Noah and his family.
But this is what Noah did get right:  The evil was not outside the ark.  It was in all of them.  There was no real difference between the sons of Cain and the sons of Seth.

This can be a terrifying realization, as it was for Noah.  But it only need be a terrifying realization if you think it is our goodness that will save us.

It is not our goodness that will save us.

It is God’s goodness that will save us.  And so humanity gets a new
chance after the flood.  And they will screw it up.  As we screw up the new chances we get.

For Christians, only the events we are preparing to observe and celebrate during Holy Week and Easter will break that cycle.

The Flood, which is always retold during the Easter vigil, is only part of the story.  The story continues when God enters this fallen world we have messed up and gotten so terribly wrong. The story continues when God takes on evil on its own terms and wins.

The good news is that we are not saved by getting it right.   The good news is  that we are not saved by our goodness.

The good news is that we are saved by the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

By Pastor Joelle Colville-Hanson
Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA

Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. Re: city building.

    The building of cities carries a negative connotation in the preamble to the Noah story for the same reason this was a problem with the Tower of Babel story. In the latter narrative, the tower, or the hubris to build it to the heavens, was not the problem God directly addresses. The whole bit about God having to take a closer look to even recognize it shows it as a matter of little consequence to him. If you look at the beginning of the story and its ending as literary bookends that capsulate the whole, you have humanity called by God to spread (his glory) throughout the world, but instead choose congregate, take the easier route, rely on one another in lieu of God. Don’t get me wrong, relying on one another is certainly a good, godly thing. But, in this case, it was the medium for defiance against the call to trust in God. At the end of the story, the tower still stands. God doesn’t destroy their tools or even their handiwork. What God does do is make sure they are unable to congregated for any useful reason. With language confused, they aren’t just unable to build a tower or make a any concerted effort in society building. And so God lovingly and gently guides them out of their hubris and gets them back to God’s story of humanity filling the earth.

    It would seem that such society building and cities are not what God had in mind until his glory (that is, us) had finished spreading, as he saw fit, throughout the earth.

    As an aside, to note the difference between God’s approach with humanity in Noah’s day and that of the tower builders in Shinar. In his subsequent gentleness with the people of Shinar God was true to the covenant he made with Noah, when he laid down his weapon (a bow in the sky).

    Reply

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About The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson

The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson has been Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA for the Northeastern Iowa Synod since late 2013. Part of her job description is to help leaders and congregations use social media and other digital means for outreach and mission. She writes and edits this blog as well as runs the social media accounts for the synod.

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