At various times in Noah, both Noah and Tubal-Cain (TC) cry out to Movie God but they seem to hear nothing. They see nothing but grey storm clouds. It would be easy to conclude from this that Movie God is…indifferent. For example, the lengthy Answers in Genesis review, (exhaustive in identifying differences with the original text) says that:
Rather than being the holy God described in Scripture, the god of this film is a vengeful being who remains silent when Noah pleads for an answer about his pregnant daughter-in-law.
I get the point the author is trying to make: Noah has an ethical problem. He cries out to God. God doesn’t answer. God’s not interested. Right? I had the same feeling at various times throughout the movie.
The thing is…
It’s not as if the God character has been entirely distant: throughout, the God character initiates, leads and guides Noah in His plan to cleanse and renew the world, as shown in Part 1. Movie God is not at all indifferent, even if Movie God doesn’t use words. Early on, while Noah is trying to make sense of his calling, grandfather Methuselah assures him “God will communicate with you in a way that you can understand”. Admittedly ,this could be construed in a pluralistic way, or perhaps it is intended to assure Noah that his dreams can be trusted.
However, in light of Noah’s eventual belief that his mission involves destroying humanity, it raises the question: Can we hear from God personally and clearly in the way Movie Noah and TC expect? How do we hear from God? Was Methuselah right or wrong?
Unfortunately, reading the above quote, one might inadvertently get the impression that perhaps Noah and TC ought to hear from God audibly, clearly and instantly; that God produces the vocal goods on an on-call basis.
Know the feeling?
I have to say that there’s something about Noah and TC’s frustration that rings true on some level. Let’s be honest, people of faith. Don’t we at times want to hear an immediate, direct and clear message from God?
Any Christian (I can speak only for them, and then not all of them), and I’m sure many other people in moments of despair as our key characters face here, cry out to God. We want God to talk to us. This feeling is not just a modern frustration. It’s the experience of God’s people throughout history. For example, the Psalmist in Psalm 86 cries out to God in desperation surely wondering if God hears his cries in his suffering:
1 Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
2 Preserve my life, for I am godly;
save your servant, who trusts in you—you are my God.
3 Be gracious to me, O Lord,
for to you do I cry all the day.
4 Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
5 For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.
6 Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
listen to my plea for grace.
7 In the day of my trouble I call upon you,
for you answer me.
The heart-felt pleas sound something like Noah’s in their pain, if not the detail. But what’s going on in Noah?
First, the scenes are perhaps more revealing of Movie Noah than Movie God. Noah shouldn’t have needed an answer to what should have been obvious – at least to all those around him, and everyone in the audience presumably (explaining why the movie was so disturbing in places). He clearly knew the creation story and what was wrong with the world. But not the solution… That’s a point I’ll come back to in a future post.
Second, there seems to be an issue of self-righteousness. Tubal-Cain appeals to his own faithfulness in asking for answer from God, as if God owes him. Interestingly, when God doesn’t answer him directly and immediately, Tubal-Cain’s rejects God. We have it totally the wrong way around if we think God is at our beck and call. God doesn’t exist for us, we exist for him, we need him, we need to listen to him. He made us and sustains us – don’t we owe everything to him?
Third, Noah experiences God’s revelation in the form of dreams and visions. Methuselah said God would communicate in a way that Noah could understand? But the problem with a picture or vision is that it depends heavily on the interpreter. How can I know what your thought was? You might say I’m meant to respond to it in my own way. But if you were trying to communicate to me a particular message, how would I get it right unless you showed me and spoke to me directly? Probably visions aren’t the best way of communicating. Most of movie Noah’s issues seem to stem from this tension.
(On this point, the Genesis text just says “God said” – ostensibly audibly but not necessarily, and it may have been a heap easier if movie God did it this way but the story probably wouldn’t have been quite so interesting and dramatic, aside from needing to voice God.)
Movie Noah clearly needs a better, clearer, revelation of God.
The full picture
While many religions claim to have received revelation from God, unique among the world religions is Christianity’s claim that God has spoken finally in a person – Jesus. This is not simply that Jesus was a prophet bringing another revelation. Rather, Jesus is the revelation; the same one through whom the world was created. Hebrews 1 puts it this way:
1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
The good news is that God has communicated in a way that we can understand – from the beginning of history to the history of Israel, culminating in the historical acts centered on Jesus of Nazareth, recorded for us in the Gospels: The message of the kingdom of heaven, of reconciliation and the hope of new life in the present characterised by acts of love, and hope of eternal life in the future. The climax of Jesus’ ministry was his humiliating death and glorious resurrection to free the world from sin: for the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). When viewed in light of promise to rescue his people in Ezekiel, this is not just another prophet claiming to speak for God but in a real sense, God himself.
How is this better than what movie Noah had? Simply that, in Jesus, we can see and know what God is like, what God requires of us. Because Jesus bids us come and follow him, the life of Jesus becomes the model for the life of the Christian: Jesus calls his followers to the same self-sacrificial life with the promise that they will be guided by his Words and transformed inwardly by the Holy Spirit. The writer of Hebrews goes on to say that the Christian life is about looking to Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith. The Christian life is founded on looking to Christ in repentance for forgiveness before God, and perfected by looking to Christ to shape our heart, mind and will.
What the Psalmist said above:
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.
finds it’s clearest expression and fulfillment in the person of Jesus.
The Christian life is often difficult to live out. It will take a lifetime. Like Noah, we’re fighting doubt, our own tendency to sin and our limited perspective on life. But because the goodness of God is already revealed abundantly in the creation, in Christ and in the transformation of our lives, what we do know of God carries us in the times, when we can’t see; when the darkness seems to veil his face.
Read the prefatory post here: Clearing the decks for Noah (2014)
Read part 1 of the series here: Noah #1 – A good God and Aronofsky’s apple.