My wife and I had the rare opportunity to go to the movies this Sunday, and we chose to watch the movie Noah, starring Russel Crowe. Here’s my reflection on what I saw:
“In the beginning, there was nothing.” These were the opening lines of the movie, which were followed by a swift reprisal of the first six chapters of Genesis according the interpretive grid of the screenwriters. Basically, creation happened, man sinned, Cain killed, and Cain’s civilizations started killing off all of the goodness in mankind. Seth’s descendants were at the mercy of Cain’s civilizations.
The over-arching story of the movie was to show the dangerous extremes of how humans have interpreted the Genesis 1-2 creation account. Noah’s character increasingly takes on the extreme total depravity view, in which he believes that God’s desire is to wipe out humanity of the face of the earth, including his family, because humanity is wicked and has nothing good in them. Although Noah didn’t seem to start with this worldview, there is a dream sequence in which Noah sees the wickedness of man, selling women for meat and indiscriminately killing and eating raw flesh, with its blood. When Noah re-tells the creation narrative on the boat to his family, he tells of how all of creation, plants and animals, were good in the sight of God. Instead of saying the God created humankind and saw that creation was ‘very good’, Noah skips that and jumps to describing the sin of disobeying God by eating the forbidden fruit and the subsequent destruction of the good creation of God. Then Noah tells his sons that he didn’t allow them to have wives on the boat so that his family would be the last humans on earth, and when they die, then God’s program of wiping out humanity would be completed.
The opposite position is illumined by the ‘King’ of the Cain-ites, the descendents of Cain. His position is one of unadulterated dominion over creation. He believes that God created humans to subdue and dominate creation, and that anyone who says otherwise doesn’t understand the purpose of creation – that humans are the pinnacle and prize of creation. Instead of seeing how terrible the devastation and wickedness has become, the ‘King’ sees this as God’s mandate for humankind and thinks Noah’s way of seeing the world is ludicrous.
What we have in Genesis 6-8 is simply a skeleton of a story. It’s not the whole story. There are few details as to what (if anything) actually happened in the Noah/Flood account. We can be reasonably sure that some sort of ‘cleansing’ occurred through a massive flood, if only because almost every people group in ancient history had their own flood accounts that they told and re-told through oral history. So, this event happened, but just as in the Bible account, we can’t be sure what happened when it comes to the details.
The story that the movie was trying to tell necessarily changed the skeleton of the Biblical account in order to demonstrate it’s ultimate, over-arching narrative – that neither total depravity or total dominion are good interpretations of the creation account. They are both prone to exaggeration and ultimately to inhumane actions, towards other humans and towards creation. Noah is so completely convinced that God wants to wipe out humanity that when he finds out his (once) barren, adopted, daughter ‘Ela’ is pregnant, he threatens to kill the baby if it is a girl. He is so convinced of the narrative he has told himself that he has become willing to sacrifice his own grandchild in order to ‘serve God’s purposes’.
So, we find Noah, at the end of the story, drunk and naked in a cave. Why is he drunk? In some ways, I think this is the big question the screenwriters were attempting to answer, and they worked their way backwards to re-tell the story.
What we can learn, what we can ask ourselves, after seeing this movie, is this: How does my view of humanity have an impact on how I treat other humans and other created things? Do I believe that humanity is totally wicked, sinful, and unable to be redeemed? Do I believe that humanity is without flaw, totally in control, without accountability?
Is humanity good, or evil? Or both? What is my responsibility as caretaker and cultivator of creation? Did Jesus come to convince us that we are completely and utterly depraved, or to lift our heads that had slouched under the weight of darkness and despair so that we can see the true goodness in all of creation, and us?
Many people (especially Christians) probably hated the movie from the start. What do they mean, ‘In the beginning, there was nothing’? The Bible says, ‘In the beginning, God…’ If you are one who gets hung up on the details (or lack of details) in the Biblical narrative, you probably will not be able to interact with the over-arching narrative of the movie. There are myriad details that have been changed to fit the story-line. However, if you’re willing to wait it out, I believe you will walk away asking yourself some deep questions about the nature of man. And, that can’t be all bad.