Noah Knows Violence

cain and abel I finally shucked out the cash to go and see Noah – the only God themed movie I think is worthy of being seen in an actual movie theater. I left generally thinking it was a great interpretation of the story and of course they took some creative liberties. But let’s be honest: the Bible story is so short and lacking dialogue that the movie wouldn’t even be worth the rental. Walking away from the theater, in my mind, I was reviewing what was good, what was cheesy, what was true to the Biblical narrative, what liberties were taken, the connections to the present day, and so much more. In the midst of all these reflections, one thing has stood out prominently for me: Darren Aronofsky brings the image of violence and evil to life on the big screen. Though it is THE reason that God (or the Creator) destroys the world, it is only mentioned a few times (Gen. 6:5, 11-13). The narrative uses words like corrupt, wickedness, evil, and violence. So how do you interpret what exactly was going in that time that was evil, corrupt, wicked, and violent?  Growing up I always saw the Noah story with a huge boat, a happy guy with lots of happy animals, and a pretty Noahs-Ark-rainbow – the only parts of the story that a kid really needs to know in elementary school. But growing up in middle and high school I remember wondering how happy this story really was. Actually this story seemed pretty violent. It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized “Wow, this is a really violent story!” It’s still really violent to me and I’ve struggled to come to terms with a loving God carrying out this violent act. I’m no pacifist (probably more so now that I’m a soon to be father), but violence has always troubled me – especially in Christian tribes. How we’re not OK with sex in movies but violence is permissible. How pro-life is completely wrapped up in birth control but hardly ever in war and gun-control. How violence is limited between human beings and does not include creation-care. How Jesus could possibly endorse killing real people from behind a TV screen. Don’t get me wrong. I’m probably not great at creation-care. I still love playing Halo when I can (though I have some pretty strong objections to Call of Duty).  But if you read Scripture, it’s not hard to realize that violence is not some sideline thing that we can ignore as minor and say “Well, we live in a fallen world so it’s just going to happen.” So many stories in the Bible call out violence as in violation of God’s intentions for the world. Cain and Abel. Noah. Moses and Pharaoh. The Psalms. Jeremiah and Lamentations. Jesus being killed in a way that is violent to both the body and the spirit (sheer embarrassment). *What has intrigued me the most about Aronofsky’s movie is actually the reason behind it that began when he was just a kid. Being afraid of this violent story in Scripture and wondering if he would be on or off the boat. That’s frightening as a kid. Aronofsky taps into this in in the movie Noah. What is abundantly clear at the beginning of the movie is that Noah (of the movie and the Bible) knows violence.

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. Genesis 6:11-13

It’s easy to assume that what the writer of this story means is human against human violence, which it most certainly is talking about. But why wouldn’t it also mean violence against the earth as well? What Noah (the movie) does really well is paint a picture of what’s wrong with the world: it’s been corrupted and filled with violence. The earth has become a place to be exploited – humanity has lost what it means to care for the Creators earth. People who can’t get on board with this are cut down. There is a point in the movie in which women and girls are being traded for meat and one can probably guess what is done with (or to) them after the transaction. And several times throughout the film, the story of Cain and Abel (the first act of violence) is either told, portrayed as a flash back, or retold by Noah himself.

Aronofsky paints a picture of Genesis 6:11-13 that opens up the viewers imagination to what a lack of shalom, a lack of flourishing, of thriving, in the world looks like. This does not look like the abundant life that Jesus talks about.

What’s troubled me about Noah is similar to what has troubled Aronofsky: What am I supposed to do with such a violent story that portrays a violent act carried out by God. Surely there were other good people on earth besides Noah and his family? This is one of those stories where I’ve put God on trial and have yet to come to a verdict.

But after watching Noah, a new question arose for me. If God had not chosen to destroy the world, would it have been done by humanity? Maybe humans wouldn’t have that capacity back then. But it makes me think twice before calling God out for such a violent act, when humans seemed to have smothered each other and the earth with violent acts. And we still do. All it takes is a peek at the nightly news to realize that we are still smothering each other and the earth with violent acts.

How will Noah lead us to think about our violent acts? How will it lead us to ponder the ways in which we had not taken up God’s longing for thriving and flourishing in the whole world and not just for a select few?

Amid the variety of movie details this element of violence had me thinking the most. I know there’s been a lot of controversy surrounding the film (more so from those who haven’t actually seen it, unfortunately). So for those who did watch the movie…

What caught your attention the most about Noah? What was something that was unsettling about the film for you? If you are a youth pastor: what kinds of conversations are you having with your youth and families about the film?

*For a thought provoking review and a great interview with Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel, check out this podcast at Homebrewed Christianity with Bo Sanders: Noah Movie Review and Interview

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