you said to eat from
any tree in the garden
just not that one
the one in the middle
the one with the best fruit
but i ate it anyway
and now i’m falling
you said to eat from
any tree in the garden
just not that one
the one in the middle
the one with the best fruit
but i ate it anyway
and now i’m falling
This is a sermon I preached on Sunday, August 6, 2017 at Ebenezer United Methodist in Suffolk, Virginia. The text I preached on was Genesis 32:22-31, Jacob wrestling with God (or was it) through the night.
quietly in the garden.
unseen. unheard. unknown.
as God breathed the breath of life into adamah,
evil slithered in the shadows.
muscles, skin, and bones walking around
breathing; sighing; crying;
placed in the beauty of the garden.
Read Genesis 9:8-17.
The rains came. The waters rose. The ark floated. The sun appeared. The dove flew. The ark landed. Noah worshiped. The rainbow appeared.
I imagine the flood as a massive time-out for humanity. God the Parent had had enough, and it was time for humanity to have a time-out. As an educator, whenever time-out is used, the general rule of thumb has always been one minute for each year of life. So a three-year-old, for example, would sit in time-out for three minutes.
Nolan Lebovitz is a filmmaker and a Rabbi. At one point in his life he made suspense thrillers. But, once becoming a father, he began to question his vocation. After deciding that he would rather do his part to make the world a better place, especially for his children, he entered seminary and became a Rabbi.
But that did not put an end to Lebovitz’ questions.
In a time in our country when products are being made overseas, jobs are rare, the economy is rocky, and politicians “debate” more than they govern, Lebovitz wonders if the answers to all of our problems can be found in the book of Genesis. Is it possible that an ancient manuscript could hold for us a roadmap to life? A roadmap to faith?
At the sound of his name, Noah has become quite a controversial figure these days. The film has been declared “unbiblical” by many, while deeply theological by others. (For example, there is this YouTube video that someone thought I needed to see after posting a comparison chart and some discussion questions.) What follows is a theological reflection on the film. I know that there will be some readers who will disagree with me, and that is okay. I am assuming that you have seen the film. If not, I recommend reading this spoiler-free review.
Entertainment Weekly was perhaps one of the first outlets to say that the director
faithfully follows the message of the slim biblical text in the Book of Genesis, but he fills the gaps with spectacular CG effects, Tolkien-esque creatures
The film is based on the Genesis narrative of Noah, the man who found grace in the eyes of the Lord, as found in chapters 6-9. The film’s production notes cite the Book of Enoch, the Book of Jubilees, and the Dead Sea Scrolls as additional sources. These are ancient texts, which are not found in the Christian canon, but were likely widely read in the ancient world.
Ari Handel, the co-writer of the film, told Jacob Sahms of HollywoodJesus.com that they started with Genesis. “The commentaries are there to draw on to take themes and questions that people have been asking about the Noah story for hundreds and thousands of years,” he said. The Genesis account wrestles with the themes of destruction and new beginnings (or second chances) and Handel told Jacob that they “wanted to humanize those issues and make the audience empathize with them.”
Adam Hamilton, minister at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, agrees that these are powerful themes in the Genesis account. The themes, he argues, gets overshadowed in the film and when “Christians insist that the stories be read like an historian’s report of ancient history.” I don’t disagree with Hamilton, but I have to wonder if what we carry with us when we enter the dark theater – our expectations, our baggage, our hopes of a great film or of a horrible film – is what overshadows the themes. Yes, the director Darren Aronofky is a self-proclaimed atheist. But that fact does not eliminate the themes of the Biblical account – the themes of destruction and new beginnings. The way the story is told is different from Sunday school – not unlike Cecil B. DeMille did with the Moses narrative in the classic film The Ten Commandments. The original Noah story was told and retold through oral tradition long before it was ever written down. The fact that artist liberties were taken, should not be a surprise.
Darren Aronofky took the lead as the film’s co-writer and director. Aronofky has been thinking about Noah and the themes of his story since middle school. The 13-year-old Brooklyn native wrote a poem called “The Dove” in which we get this theological gem:
Evil is hard to end and peace is hard to begin but the rainbow and the dove will always live within every mans’ heart.
The film begins with Noah (Russell Crowe) and his family as the only descendants left of Seth – the third son of Adam and Eve. Seth, unlike his older brother Cain who killed brother Abel, remained faithful to the ordinances of God. While the descendants of Cain kill animals to eat (they believe they gain power through the meat) and use up the earth’s resources, Noah and his family live a simple life.
One evening, Noah has a dream where the earth is destroyed. Unclear about what the dream is about, he packs up his family and home and they hike to the mountain of this grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins). Methuselah’s father was Enoch “who walked with God.” It is believed that Enoch did not die a physical death, instead he was so faithful to God that one day he just walked into eternity. These are Noah’s genes.
Methuselah mixes some drink for Noah (which has earned him the “witch doctor” nickname). Upon awaking from his sleep, Noah tells Methuselah of his dream about the world being destroyed by water, not fire. As they discuss this, Noah acknowledges that the Creator’s goal is rebirth. Water has long been the theological and spiritual symbol of rebirth. Jesus tells Nicodemus in John 3 that he must be born again, drawing upon the images of water in the womb. The sacrament of baptism reminds us that in Christ we have a new life.
Noah follows the Creator’s instructions and builds an ark with the help of the Watchers. The closest we get to the Watchers in the Christian canon is the nephilim. These are the Tolkien like creatures that Entertainment Weekly spoke of. These creatures of Earth’s rock each have a dim light within them. The Watchers themselves represent the thesis of the film – there is light within us – there is peace in the midst of evil. The Watchers are fallen angels striving to redeem themselves with the Creator, which is accomplished when they are faithful in their assistance with Noah’s call.
There are a handful of images that get played and replayed through the film. The image of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, both humans are glowing creatures of light. This is followed by the image of a black snake coming out of a green snake, leaving behind the skin. Then, the image of the fruit of the tree, beating like a heart, acknowledging that The Knowledge of Good and Evil is itself life. The fruit of the tree is picked and eaten, which is followed by the image of Cain killing Abel.
Peace has been engulfed by evil.
This series of images communicate a theological understanding of sin and salvation. When Noah tells his family the story of creation (remember that the bulk of Genesis was first oral tradition before it was written scripture), these images repeat themselves. Humanity was created in the image of God. But when the first humans disobeyed by eating the fruit of the tree, sin distorted the image of God. The image of God in humanity continued to get distorted until the point where the wickedness was so great (humanity was striving to be its own ruler – as Ham tells the human leader, “There is no King, only the Creator is God”) that God decided to flood the earth to give it new life. The themes of destruction and new beginnings.
Evil does not win.
Unfortunately the debates about whether or not Noah is Biblical – word for word from the Bible – has overshadowed Aronofky’s thesis: Evil is hard to end and peace is hard to begin. If you have seen the film, you would most likely agree with me that evil seems to prevail in the film. The film is filled with darkness and it feels worse when the storms and the rain come. Peace only seems to appear at the end of the film, represented by the broad, all-encompassing rainbow.
Noah takes the call to build the ark seriously. Humanity has rejected God and this is a serious offensive. Aronofky and Handel, as they did in other films such as Black Swan, dive into the exploration of obsession. To say that Noah goes a little crazy while he is on the ark is putting it mildly. Noah becomes so obsessed with the wickedness of humanity, that he truly believes that his sons will be the last men on earth. If Shem’s unborn child is a girl, Noah will kill her. But, if the child is a boy, he will let the child live, and he would be the last human on earth.
Noah is given an almost insurmountable job, to go build this giant ark. How could he do that? To do that and let everyone else die. What kind of power of will? What strength of purpose would you need? What weight would he have to carry? Those are things we wanted to convey through the story.
In this instance so many of us can relate to Noah in a way or another. Noah is obsessed with his mission, that he becomes blind. His wife (Jennifer Connelly) pleads with him to see the good in their sons – in humanity – which she does. But Noah is clear that the task is for humanity to cease in its existence.
When Noah goes into the human camp, what we assume is to find wives for two of his sons, he is encountered with a wickedness that is overwhelming he cannot handle it. This scene, of animal tossing, cave man like behaviors, and the air filled with cries and hissing, is a pivotal scene. Under the cloak of darkness, a raw piece of meat is thrown over the fence. A longhaired, bearded man, walking like an ape, grabs the meat. He scuttles off, passing in front of Noah. Noah watches him as his chipped teeth bite into the raw meat. As the ape-like man turns to face Noah, he hisses. In that moment the man’s face looks an awful lot like Noah’s. (I only caught this the second time I saw the film.)
Noah sees wickedness in himself. And it changes him. It hardens his heart. And he becomes obsessed with his own wickedness. He is not worthy to be saved, so clearly God’s intention is for him to perish as well.
Is this in the Bible? Literally, no. The Genesis writer provides no account of what happened while Noah and his family were on the ark. But, it is Biblical? We can argue that it is.
We believe that God created the world, and it was good. We believe that God created humanity in the image of God, and God declared that it was good. We believe that sin entered the world and it distorted the image of God within humanity. We believe that the journey we call faith is a journey of redemption, restoring the image of God back to its original beauty. We believe that in the midst of this journey, evil exists. We believe that we all have fallen short of the glory of God. We believe that through accepting the power of Jesus Christ, we reject the spiritual forces of wickedness. And we believe that the day will come when there will be no more violence, no more crying, no more pain and suffering, only the peace of the Kingdom of God.
I saw the new film, Noah this weekend. There has been a lot said and written about the film. Why you should go see it or why you shouldn’t go see it. For generations of filmmakers, the Bible has been a primary source of creativity. And for generations, there have been critics who are disappointed that the film does not follow the Bible to a tee.
I am planning to write a review of the film, but in the meantime, I put together a chart comparing the Biblical narrative of Noah as found in Genesis chapters 6-9 to the film. Yes, there is a lot more in the film than in the Bible. The Biblical story is only 4 chapters long, which is not a three hour movie.
The purpose of this post and the chart below is simply a comparison. That is all. There will be more later.
|Gen. 6:1-4||Nephilim are introduced. Walter Brueggemann calls them “strange giants.”||The Watchers|
|Gen. 6:3||Mankind has 120 years left on earth||Time frame is not given, but the idea is there|
|Gen. 6:5-7||Earth is filled with wickedness; God decides to wipe it clean. God speaks, but to whom?||We see the wickedness as depicted by the barrenness of the earth. God reveals the plan to Noah in a dream.|
|Gen. 6:8-10||Noah finds favor with God.||Noah and his family are the only ones caring for God’s creation.|
|Gen. 6:11-17||God tells Noah the plan and what to do.||This is all done through a dream and then visions from berries from Noah’s grandfather, Methuselah the son of Enoch.|
|Gen. 6:18||Noah, his wife, and their sons, and their sons’ wives will enter the ark.||Noah, his wife, his sons, and one wife enter the ark.|
|Gen. 6:19-21||God instructs Noah to bring animals onto the ark and food for the humans and the animals.||God sends the animals to the ark. Noah’s family puts them to sleep for the log voyage.|
|Gen. 6:22||Noah did as God commanded.|
|Gen. 7:1-5||Another account of God instructing Noah to bring animals into the ark.||God sends animals to the ark.|
|Gen. 7:6-16||The flood begins. “springs from the great deep burst forth” and “rain fell.”||Ditto. And its very dramatic.|
|Gen. 7:15||The animals “came to Noah”||The animals come to Noah.|
|Gen. 7:17-20||It rained for 40 days.||We aren’t told how long it rained, but it rained.|
|Gen. 7:21-24||Everything outside the ark, died.||True. Except for one man who sneaked on the ark, which was mostly a plot mover.|
|Gen. 8:1-2||The rain stops.||Ditto. The sun comes out.|
|Gen. 8:3-5||Ark rest on Mt. Ararat||The mountain looks like “grandfather’s mountain” where they built the ark.|
|Gen. 8:6-9||Noah sends out a raven. Then sends a dove, but finds no earth.||Noah’s wife and youngest son send raven, finds nothing. Then sends a dove.|
|Gen. 8:10-12||After seven days, Noah sends the dove again. Dove comes back with olive leaf.||The dove mentioned above comes back with olive leaf.|
|Gen. 8:13-14||The earth is completely dry.||Dryness happens.|
|Gen. 8:15-19||Come out of the ark, be fruitful and mulpity.||Noah says this at the very end of the movie.|
|Gen. 8:20||Noah builds an altar.||There is something altar like in the last scene when the family gives thanks.|
|Gen.8:21-22||God promises never to destroy the earth because of mankind.||God never speaks in the film.|
|Gen. 9:1-7||God gives blessing to the men to be fruitful and increase in number.God says, “for in the image of God has God made man.”||Noah speaks this blessing in the last scene.The theme of being created in the “image of God” runs throughout the whole film.|
|Gen. 9:8-11||God establishes covenant with Noah.||Again, God does not speak.|
|Gen. 9:12-17||God sets a rainbow in the clouds as a sign of the covenant.||The very, very last bit of screen time is the rainbow.|
|Gen. 9:18-23||Noah plants a vineyard, gets drunk from the wine, and lays uncovered in his tent.Ham sees his father’s nakedness and tells his brothers.Shem and Japheth walk backwards to cover up their father, no not to see his nakedness.||After the family gets off the boat, Noah drinks wine, gets drunk, and lays uncovered on the beach.Ham sees his father’s nakedness.Shem and Japheth walk backwards to cover up their father, no not to see his nakedness.|
|Gen. 9:24-28||Noah wakes from his wine and finds out what Ham had done and curses Ham’s son, Canaan. Noah blesses Shem and Japheth.Noah dies.||Ham leaves the family on his own.Noah and family are still alive as movie ends.|
It refers to the third person who is hanging out with a couple. Often times the couple might invite the third person to hang out with them out of pity. When this happens, the third wheel is usually left out of the decision making process, and tags along with what the couple has decided and planned.
We are all familiar with the story of Adam and Eve. The serpent comes along and tempts them into eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the very tree God told them not to eat from. Once they do,
They both saw clearly and knew that they were naked. (Genesis 3:7a)
A conversation takes place. A decision is made. All by the couple. While God was a part of the scene in the verses before, now God is reduced to being the third wheel. There along for the ride, but left out of the conversation that leads to a decision.
We carry a Bible with us, a cross in our pocket or around our neck. God is toted around with us, but is that all we do? Do we forget to include God in the decision making that we do on a minute-by-minute basis?
The couple is riddled with guilt after they commit the act they knew they were not suppose to. This act of eating the fruit of the tree is theologically referred to as, “The Fall.” It is referred as such because in that moment humanity for generations to come were separated from God, a result of God being treated as the third wheel.
Sometimes the third wheel feels uncomfortable when the couple cuddles or sits close on the couch. It gets awkward for the third wheel.
But not for God. God wants to be a part of what we are doing. God wants to a part of our lives. It is up to us to let God be more than just a cross in our pocket or around our neck.