Friday 4 April 2014

Missing the Boat?

I contributed this week’s ‘Connecting with Culture’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

Said to be ‘inspired by the epic story of courage, sacrifice and hope’, and starring Russell Crowe, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah opens in UK cinemas today.

Given that religions and cultures around the world have for centuries told variations of a flood story, you’d expect the film to raise fundamental questions about the nature of God and the place of humanity in the world. In that respect, it doesn’t disappoint, with issues of life and death, mercy and judgment, right and wrong, good and evil all found in the mouths of the various characters.

Inevitably, Christians will disagree with each other as well as with the film makers about the level of poetic licence allowed in reimagining the biblical story. To be fair, Aronofsky and his co-writer Ari Handel have not made any claims of faithfulness to the account in Genesis. Indeed, the ‘silences’ of the text have been filled in different ways through the years, and the film merges parts of Genesis with interpretations of the Book of Enoch and other ancient Jewish works of a mystical bent.

Even so, one significant feature is that the flood comes not with the pitter-patter of gentle rain drops, but with a deluge from above and below. This matches the narrative in Genesis, where the flood is seen as a return to the watery chaos which existed before the world was made – a reversal of creation which then leads to a new creation. As Russell Crowe’s Noah puts it, ‘the Creator destroys all, but only to start again’.

However, unlike the film, God is the central actor – and speaker – in Genesis. Far from being an impersonal force, God is portrayed as one ‘whose heart was deeply troubled’ (6:6) with the world. And it’s God who takes the initiative, who sets his love upon Noah (6:8). It’s God who reconstitutes humanity through Noah in ways that echo Genesis 1, his relationship with humans and the created world being described here for the first time using the word ‘covenant’ (6:18; 9:8-17), reinforcing his commitment to them.

Salvation by grace and the establishment of a covenant with God through one man by which the human race (not to mention the whole of creation) is preserved ought to sound familiar to the ears of Christians. Aronofsky’s Noah might raise the questions, but only the God of the biblical Noah provides the answers.


Damaris has produced some free community resources, along with a leader’s guide, to enable groups to make the most of the film.

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