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Noah

We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  –John 1:14

The last part of that verse both inspires and haunts me: full of grace and truth.  So often, I err on one side or the other, either extending grace but ignoring the truth, which makes me an enabler, both of my own sin and that of my friends. Or I am full of truth but lacking in grace, coming down hard like a hammer, squashing those I am trying to challenge and exhort.

But John tells us that the glory of Jesus was that he was full of both grace and truth. I love that it is a both/and, not an either/or statement: Jesus did not perfectly balance grace and truth, he was full of both of them at the same time.  That’s amazing, and beautiful, and glorious. It’s also something we humans (well, this human, anyway) struggle to understand.

Darren Aronofsky’s film, “Noah,” is about that struggle. Now, I imagine you have heard a ton of things about this film already, some of it profound and some of it ludicrous.  And yes, it takes a number of liberties with the story – though very rarely actually contradicting what the Bible says happened.  Mostly, it fills in the gaps in the story in imaginative ways. Aronofsky is Jewish, and the Jewish have a name for this kind of storytelling: “Midrash.”  It’s an ancient and honored tradition. Some people have found the Aronofsky’s imaginings to be upsetting and even offensive, but I didn’t. I took them for what they were: one man’s telling of a story that, if given the chance, each of us would probably tell a little differently. I like Midrash.

The way Aronofsky chooses to tell it puts emphasis on the seeming dichotomy between grace and truth. Noah sees the truth of the situation all too clearly. Mankind is wicked, full of sin, and that sin is destroying everything – himself, other people, and Creation itself. Creator has decided to send a flood to cleanse the Earth, and has chosen Noah and his family to build an ark to house the survivors – every kind of animal, as well as Noah and his family.

But this is where Noah fails to understand God’s plan, and chooses truth over grace. He is both wise and humble enough to recognize that the sin disease that has wrecked everything exists in him and his family as well. This, to me, is a marvelous revelation: Noah does not divide the world into “us” and “them,” or, more precisely, “us that God loves” and “them that God hates.” If Noah’s children bear children, then the flood will fail to solve the problem of sin. And so he comes to believe that he and his family are supposed to be the final family, and that when they die, the Earth will be completely cleansed of humans and their sin.

Let’s pause there for a moment. Perhaps one of the most important ways that Aronofsky diverges from the Biblical record is that he removes God as a character from the story. Note that I did NOT say he removes God from the story. God is very present in the story, but not as a character. God does not talk to Noah the way he does in Genesis. Instead, he speaks through visions and dreams, and perhaps through an inner voice that interprets those visions and dreams. In interviews, Aronofsky has defended that decision by saying that he feels like every time you cast an actor to play God, you demean the infinite, omnipresent Creator of the universe. I agree with and respect that. But it also has another effect, perhaps unintended, that I appreciate: it gives the Noah story a more modern feel, and makes its main character more relatable.

Because haven’t you ever said, to yourself if not out loud, “well, if God would just show up in person and talk to me in an audible voice, like he did to Noah, or Abraham, or Moses, then I would know exactly what to do!” But He doesn’t. For His own reasons, God speaks to us differently these days than He did in the days of Genesis. But for most of us, most of the time, God speaks to us in the same ways he speaks to Aronofsky’s Noah: through dreams and visions, and through an inner voice we can recognize as not our own.

And, like Noah, when we hear God speak, we think we know what we’re supposed to do, and we proceed in faith, with trembling. When Noah first receives the dreams and visions, he does the right thing: he shares them with people he trusts (his wife and grandfather) and they help him to understand what the visions mean, and he listens. But when he starts to go off the deep end, he has stopped listening. He has gone beyond what God has given him to do; he is trying to get ahead of God, to anticipate the Grand plan, though God has only shown him a small piece of it. He becomes so rigidly certain that he know what God is trying to do that, even when he is presented with a miraculous act of God’s provision (a miracle he prayed for, earlier in the film,) he sees it as nothing but a threat that must be eliminated.

Aronofsky’s Noah is a man who creates God in his own image. He has seen the wickedness of mankind, and cannot fathom that God would have any grace for his or his kind. But perhaps because Noah is made in the image of God, he cannot carry out these imagined orders. He believes he has failed God, but what has really happened is that the false image of God he has created comes crashing down. And once again, it’s the people around him — his community — who are able to show him a truer, clearer picture of God – a God full of grace and truth.  Thank God for community.

“Noah” is a movie about a man struggling to understand how God can be full of both grace and truth. It’s a struggle I can relate to, but one I’d certainly never seen before in the Noah story.  Aronofsky may or not be a believer in God, but I’m glad I watched his film, because through it I caught a glimpse of God’s glory, the glory of the one and only Son, full of grace and truth.

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