I was not planning on seeing ‘Noah’ (2014) in theaters. I don’t like secular movies about the Bible. I’m not sure anyone has made a good movie about the Bible. However, a friend of mine wanted to have thoughtful discussions about secular movies and the Christian faith and felt it was important that I see the film. So I immediately went to the theater and viewed ‘Noah’ in all its silver screen glory. I hope this writing (and it’s a long one) helps kick start the conversation with my friends. I also hope all my research on the film and the Bible will benefit you. (Spoilers ahead)
What the filmmakers did
The filmmakers, Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel, wanted to breathe life into the story of Noah and they wanted to entertain their modern audience. Their method to do this was to dramatize the decision God made to destroy all of humanity. The way they tried to accomplish this was by taking the struggle God seemed to be having with His creation and stick it into Noah. In order for Noah to have this struggle, they removed two of Noah’s daughters-in-law, replaced them with two new born granddaughters and had Noah believe God required him to murder the infants. Noah then changes his mind about infanticide, lets the children live and abandons a plot to have his family be the last family to ever live. Therefore:
Noah arranging the deaths of his family members but eventually sparing his newborn granddaughters because they were innocent
was parallel to:
God deciding to destroy humanity but sparing Noah and his family because Noah was righteous in his generation.
In the film, Noah could not go through with the destruction of his family even though he rightfully believed there was evil in all of them. He had mercy on his granddaughters and abandoned his plan to put an end to the last of the human race. According to the filmmakers, this is an exact metaphor for God not going through with the destruction of all humanity and all wickedness. God chose love and mercy on at least one imperfect family thus sparing His creation.
The film’s analogy works well, but only if you don’t believe or understand the story of the Bible.
What the filmmakers get wrong about God
The main problem with dramatizing God’s struggle is that there was no struggle. The filmmakers believed that God goes through an emotional arc of wanting to start over his corrupt creation but then has mercy on a minority of His creation- Noah and his family. But that’s not what happened in Genesis at all. Here’s why:
1. There is no tension about the corruption that continues after the flood.
The filmmakers wondered why God would destroy all of humanity except for Noah and his family (including someone like Ham) and allow the possibility of sin and corruption to continue. They assume this must have been a difficult choice for God. It must have been difficult for God to want justice so badly but want to show mercy to Noah. The film preaches that it would be just for God to destroy humanity. But by the end of the film, it is clear some of that justice was compromised for the sake of mercy. God delivered some judgment and offered some mercy.
The truth is justice was not compromised in the account of Noah. If you understand the story of whole Bible, and view the flood as just a part of that narrative, then you will see that in the end, God brings judgment to the whole world and God has His justice. 2 Peter 3:5-7 says:
For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
While God promised that he will never again bring destruction to the earth with flood waters (Gen. 9:11), Peter teaches that judgment will still come but by fire in the last days. In those days, justice will come to all sinners. The Bible teaches that all sinners will suffer the full wrath of God but for those who put their faith in Christ, wrath stored up for their sin has been satisfied on the cross. I repeat- justice will come to all sinners. The good news for believers is that they are not seen by God as sinners. All God sees the incorruptible righteousness of Christ, counted to them through faith.
So I just don’t see God going through a difficult and emotional decision in the account of Noah. I don’t see God struggling with the fate of good and evil in his creation. Certainly God is grieved by the evil in the heart of mankind. But He has no doubt about bringing justice to that evil. He planned from the beginning to punish all sin. He had to. God is Holy and must punish sin or He’s not God anymore. It’s a beautiful and powerful truth without much room for suspense or drama.
2. There is no drama surrounding the grace God had on Noah.
The filmmakers believed that Noah was righteous because he had a good balance between justice and mercy. That balance manifested in the way he treated his family. In the film, Noah was determined to bring justice to the evil in the hearts of all of his family members but at the right time, was merciful to his granddaughters. This was meant to be a metaphor of God since God was determined to bring justice to all humanity and start over but at the right time, chose mercy on a few.
After the flood waters receded, Noah felt like a failure. Noah’s daughter-in-law, Ila, believed that God simply chose love and mercy, not unlike what Noah did with her granddaughters. The audience can now start to see why God chose Noah. It was because of Noah’s righteousness- having a balance between justice and mercy.
The truth is that Noah was not chosen because of anything Noah did. Nor did God choose Noah to display a balance between justice and mercy. God chose Noah because of what God was planning to do.
Think about who Noah is. He is in the line of Seth, the godly offspring of Adam. And the Bible teaches that Jesus would come from the line of Adam through Noah to become the last Adam, a life-giving spirit (1 Cor. 15:45). God chose Noah because of the promise God made in the Garden of Eden. God promised that a descendent of Adam would crush Satan (Gen. 3:15). God chose Noah because God was never going to give up on the redemption of man through Jesus. God chose Noah because the covenant God would make with Noah would prepare the way to Christ. A genealogy from Adam to Noah is placed right before the account of the flood. It is significant that the “book of the generations of Adam” (Gen. 5:1) ends with the words “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” (Gen. 6:8) God chose Noah because of God’s covenant with Adam.
So I don’t see a balance between justice and mercy as the reason God let Noah live. God chose Noah because Jesus was yet to come. God wasn’t planning on having mercy for a few. God was planning mercy for every person who believed in Jesus Christ.
3. Righteousness is not a balance between justice and mercy.
The root problem in this film is this idea that righteousness is a balance of justice and mercy. Aronofsky says:
If you’re a parent with too much justice, you destroy your child with strictness. And if you’re a parent with too much mercy, you destroy them with leniency. So being a really good parent is about finding that balance, which I think is in the story of Noah.
They equate good with having balance. They equate righteousness with having balance. And so the filmmakers seem to impose this version of righteousness on God, on Noah and even on those silly rock monsters they call The Watchers.
In the film, The Watchers were angles with good intentions that lost their wings in their decent to earth, fused with lava rock and were oppressed by violent and evil men. They believed that God had forsaken them. So with the help of Methuselah, The Watchers hated, killed and separated from the evil men. I’m sure that was justice to them. But they had mercy on Noah and that mercy earned them a ticket home.
While this sub-plot is not in Scripture and completely fabricated, that is not the problem. The problem is this idea that righteousness is earned. And therein lies the gospel of Noah the movie. You can obtain righteousness through balance.
The truth is that righteousness is not based on a balance of justice and mercy. Righteousness is based on the holy character of God and credited to you through faith in God. The only thing that makes anyone righteous is faith in the righteous God. Romans 4:3 says:
For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
Faith in God is what makes you righteous, not balance, not any work or anything you do. And you might argue that faith is a mighty action but I believe faith is a gift from God given to you (Eph. 2:8-9).
God is righteous because he is holy, all good, all wise and fully just. To be righteous you have to be perfect. To be perfect, you have to be God. To be counted as perfect, you have to have faith in God the Son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 4:23-25).
Is this film really a problem?
I have concluded that the filmmakers of ‘Noah’ are making up a drama that isn’t there in the account of Noah and in the process, appeal to a false gospel and a false reality.
And so what? Is this a danger to moviegoers? If films aren’t meant to preach, then is this really a danger to anyone watching? If the film is not being presented as truth, does it really matter?
I think it does matter if people start buying into the drama that the filmmakers created. Listen to what people are saying:
“It is a creative interpretation of the scriptural account that allows us to imagine the deep struggles Noah may have wrestled with as he answered God’s call on his life.”
“Russell Crowe accomplishes a very difficult thing — allowing a viewer to accompany a desperate man seeking with all his will to follow God’s commands in the face of events and forces he doesn’t understand or can even hope to contend with.”
“Noah had such an intense and devoted relationship with God, but we see firsthand the spiritual challenges and journey he is on.”
“NOAH poignantly addresses the question, “Is humanity worth saving?” The conflict played out in the story is brilliant and Russell Crowe’s acting is powerful.”
“The tension of Noah’s story between justice and mercy is a good thing versus just Noah being the hero like we all grew up thinking through Church and other films.”
“For me the movie asked two critical questions: Is humankind worth saving? And, What is righteousness? I greatly a appreciated the way the film humanized the dilemma Noah faced.”
“This film captures, more than any recent film I’ve seen, the ultimate question that all great art should address: Are humans worth saving?”
I cannot know exactly what people are thinking when they say these things, but I can’t help but think- people are buying into this drama and shaping their beliefs. It’s a drama that did not happen in God’s mind and did not happen in Noah’s mind. It’s a drama that could not happen. And if people start buying into the ideas of the film, they’re view of God may be distorted. And if you get God wrong, you run the risk of getting the gospel wrong.
God is not a God who can allow an ounce of corruption to go unpunished. God is not a God who changes his mind like Noah did in the film. God is not a God who finds a balance between justice and mercy. And finding a balance will not save you. There is no hope found there.
God will judge all sin, an intention He’s had since the beginning of time. God never changes his mind and regrets nothing (1 Sam. 15:29). God is righteous. He is fully just and abounds in grace. Faith in this righteous God is the only way to salvation. There is real hope in the coming Christ.
What should we do then?
It’s not a problem that people are seeing this film. I saw the film and it made me think about my faith. That’s not a bad thing at all. The problem is that people don’t recognize the false gospel on display and how distasteful it is. A works-based righteousness like the one in ‘Noah’ will only lead us further away from the work of Jesus Christ.
My suggestion for everyone is to meditate on the gospel daily, learn how the bible defines righteousness, learn more about God’s character, learn about all of God’s promises and covenants. Maybe take a biblical theology class. Take a systematic theology class. Most of all, fully trust in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.
But I’m warning you, the more you learn and love the gospel, the more you will start to dislike films like ‘Noah’. While it’s true that God did not give artistic gifts only to the Christians, anything that distorts the gospel will hardly seem like art to you.