“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool.” Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Richard Feynman, in his 1974 Caltech commencement address, “Cargo Cult Science”
Feyman was right*. But therein lies perhaps mankind’s greatest problem. If we’re predisposed to fooling ourselves, when can we know we have stopped and finally arrived at the truth? Could I be fooling myself when I think I have finally stopped fooling myself?
Like Vizzini trying to deduce which cup held the poisoned wine in The Princess Bride, the back-and-forth is endless. Regardless of “dizzying intellect” we can still drink the wrong cup. And end up in trouble or even dead as a result.
It could well be that the greatest ruin the Fall wrought was and is epistemological: that having fallen away from God, grace and the Divine referent point, we are left squinting into a near infinity of complexity through a mere peephole. Through hard work and availing themselves of others’ peephole perspectives, some are able to widen theirs a bit. But living inside the 1,450 cubic centimeter “home” of our heads and staring through them at an expanding universe (1.3×104 Gpc3 (4.1×105 Gly3 or 3.5×1080 m3; where Gly3 is shorthand for gigparsec, which equals a billion parsecs where a parsec is roughly equivalent to 19 trillion miles), however big our little peepholes may become, they remain profoundly restricted apertures nonetheless.
But the problem is not just their size, the profound limits on what we can see and comprehend in relation to the expanse and complexity of what can be known. The lens in our peephole is also fogged with the uncertainty that comes from being inside the “system;” from being creatures within the creation. Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg – among other physicists and theoreticians – have clearly demonstrated the observational limits this creatureliness places on us.
Left entirely to ourselves and our peepholes, finding “true truth” becomes a fool’s errand. And as a result, postmodernism actually has it right for once: Truth is a chimera. Everything becomes to some degree relative, personal and situational.
And true peace and progress become impossible.
But–and this is the biggest of buts–what if there is a Classical Eternal Observer who stands outside of the vast quantum event that is creation; who, in fact, is the Creator of it? This “CEO” would have access to Truth; more would be the source of it. And if this Source was to present or reveal His** Truth to us–perhaps through a prophet or, even better, by entering the creation and then teaching and modeling the Truth–Feyman’s epistemological dilemma would be solved. We could know the Truth and that truth would necessarily make us free. We would have a foundation upon which to stand and a long enough lever to move the world. True peace and progress would become possible.
And we could stop fooling ourselves.
Once upon a time, the wisest of men boiled this all down very nicely: “Trust in the (CEO) with all your heart and do not rely on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)
* Feynman got this and many other things right. Ironically, however, he was unable to remain consistent with this key presupposition and fooled himself into thinking there was no CEO. (Psalm 14:1)
** I used the male pronoun in referring to God, the CEO, only because the Bible does. But the same Bible makes it clear that God is beyond gender; that “male and female” are a temporary–though very important–binary division for humankind created in the image of God. After the Resurrection and in the New Creation, that gender distinction, at least as we presently understand it, will be eliminated or transcended. (Matthew 22:30)
“God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already foreseeing – or should we say “seeing”? there are no tenses in God – the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up. If I may dare the biological image, God is a “host” who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and “take advantage of” Him. Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.”
— C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
I happened to catch a four-minute clip on today’s (4/17/14) episode of All Things Considered. It was one of those off-the-beaten-path stories that helps me appreciate NPR, regardless of its progressive leanings. (Actually – all things considered – I think the government-subsidized radio network has been doing a fairly good job of moving towards the middle over the last couple of years.) The spot was about a 1,348-foot-long, three-foot-high prehistoric, animal effigy mound built by the “Fort Ancient” people in Southern Ohio. Apparently, it’s the largest memorial of its kind in the world.
More evidence that being the biggest – if not always the best – is in the soil and air of our crazy, wonderful country.
But then the story took a metaphysical turn as the religious implications of the Serpent Mound and its creators was discussed. I quote from the story:
“They used sharpened sticks and clam-shell hoes and carried the dirt in baskets. Snakes were a symbol in Fort Ancient art: a great serpent ruled the underworld.”
H-m-m-m-m. A great serpent who ruled the underworld. I wonder who that might be in real life? Or in Carl Jung’s dreams?
We then meet Bradley T. Lepper, curator of archaeology at the Ohio Historical Society. We’re told this archeologist has been “visiting the serpent mound since he was a kid.”
Mr. Lepper: “My experiences here go well beyond my science. It always felt and it still feels like I’m coming to a church.”
A naturalist, Nancy Stranahan, agrees: “You’re quiet when you walk here…sensing the energy of a resting spirit.”
Waxing nostalgic for a pagan church that was imbued with the energy of a great serpent?
Cue the four-note opening from the Twilight Zone theme. I found myself flashing back to a doctor’s office from several years ago. Waiting for my name to be called, I had picked up a travel magazine lying around and read an article about the Aztec pyramids in Central Mexico. The travel writer (now there’s a job!) had interviewed a local tour guide who was formerly a Catholic priest. The guide lamented the influence of Western civilization and most specifically the Christian faith – the primary civilizing influence of that civilization. He also grew nostalgic, wishing that neither had visited these lands; that instead the indigenous Aztec culture had been allowed to continue and flourish.
And now I had arrived, fighting the impulse to imagine the guide’s wishes could be granted him: atop a pyramid, waiting for the knife to fall and his still beating heart to be ripped from his chest. For the airy intellectuals from Ohio to meet the resting serpent. And then watch him unhinge his jaws and eat.
“Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but see not, who have ears, but hear not. Do you not fear me? declares the Lord. Do you not tremble before me?” Jeremiah 5:21
I”ve fallen out of love with him; this band”s become a fetter
A quick glance back, the thought emerged
I could have done much better
Deferring hopes became as dust and settled round her soul
Shadows stretched by sinking lights collapsed into the whole.
And then one morn a sunbeam danced and flashed the gloom apart
A peak was glimpsed, its hoarfrost head
etched pangs across her heart
God”s love”s a furnace and the sparks that fly aren”t all the pleasant kind
The dross that burns to make us whole, the lees drawn from the wine.
And then she saw the man again, the man who”d one day be
Glory shot through all about
transfigured by a tree
And love reborn her breast did quake as greater light did shine
and then a greater thought emerged, so sharp and clear and fine
I”ve fallen into love with Him – or rather His love”s won
As “I will make” knelt down to take
a side to form the one
Who”d take the man and help him be the one like no one other
a brother to her sister moon, a father to the mother.
(This poem was inspired by – and speaks to – a number of things. I”ve been thinking a lot about love and marriage ever since I started studying the various issues surrounding the normalization of homosexuality and the war on Biblical marriage and gender identity. I”ve also watched as the marriages of some long-time friends have either collapsed or gone through some very rough times. Then my second son, Jared, got married. I wanted to remind him and his young bride, Tulane, how fickle human emotions can be and how easy it is to drift – unless the love of God and the anchor of the Holy Spirit”s presence burns hot in our hearts. Finally, like all marriages, the one in this poem speaks to the ultimate marriage between Christ and His bride. One reason I chose the woman to have the unfaithful heart is because each of us is that woman in our relationship with our Bridegroom and Kinsman Redeemer. May His love draw us unto Him that we can rise up with wings as as eagles and – as the moon to the Sun/Son – more faithfully reflect the light of His glory and love. Eric)
Tubal Cain: Do you really think you can protect yourself from me in that?
Noah: It”s not protection from you….
Tubal Cain: I have men at my back. And you stand alone and defy me?
Noah: I”m not alone.
(Dialog from Noah, Directed by Darren Aronofsky; Written by Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel)
Since becoming a Christian in 1980, “chasing the mystery” (Proverbs 25:2) has been a life-theme of mine. And one of the more fascinating aspects of this adventure is watching as the Holy Spirit stirs the waters of yet-to-be-regenerated human hearts, particularly people who have made bold proclamations of their unbelief as regards the deity of Christ and His atoning sacrifice. Corrupted by sin, yes, they still bear the image of their Creator and the stamp of eternity (Ecc. 3:11). And these fallen but stirred hearts will periodically flash forth truth like sparks from a primordial fire. Sections of Steven Weinberg”s book Dreams of a Final Theory, The Matrix by the Wachowski brothers and Richard Feynman”s wonder about the Fine-Structure Constant come immediately to mind as examples where even the wrath of man can”t help but pay homage to the Author of all that”s true, good and beautiful.
I believe where we find these sparks, they should be noted, celebrated and used as touchstones of prayer for the soul that gave issue to them. They can also provide a proverbial teaching moment as we point them out to people a- or be-mused by their own sin and the spiritual confusion that marks our culture.
I went to see the controversial new movie Noah anticipating at least a couple of these sparks. I wasn”t disappointed. Indeed, there were enough, I felt, to make the movie a profitable viewing experience for the mature and discerning Christian. To provide both balance and a greater context for what follows, I recommend Part 1 of my review as well as Brian Mattson”s take on the film, Sympathy for the Devil – even though I am going to disagree with some of his conclusions.
Spoiler alert: This essay is full of them.
Echoes of Paradise Lost: The most consistent point of concern, even outrage, I have seen in reviews by Christians was the film”s use of a glowing snakeskin as a talisman supposedly charged with righteous power and enlightenment. Given Genesis 3:1 and Revelation 12:9, among other verses (though we should note these scriptures refer to Satan taking the form of a serpent and not a snake) at first blush this concern is understandable. However, as I watched these scenes I saw something very different…and actually very positive from a Biblical worldview perspective.
The film features a number of flashbacks to Eden, including close-ups of the serpent in the garden. A key moment occurs as the large snake suddenly sheds the skin that later became the glowing talisman, emerging in a more sinister form and then slithering towards Eve and the Fall. The depiction of the godly lineage of Seth later using the pre-Fall skin ritualistically – or the seed of Cain (Tubal Cain) lusting after it – became in my mind a powerful symbol of man”s conscious or more often subconscious quest to return to the innocence of the Garden. Even animals (the snake) and creation itself instinctively long for this to happen. (Rom. 8:22) I was moved as I watched Noah wind it around his arm as he pronounced a benediction over the new creation world that emerged from the flood. And I later learned that this precise symbolism was intentional on the part of the co-author of the script, Ari Handel.
Man Created in the Image of God: Another frequent point of contention has been the film”s portrayal of Adam and Eve. We see them twice from a distance: luminescent beings with faint human forms. Given Aronofsky”s historic interest in the Kaballah, it is fair to assume his depiction was a nod to one of its central teachings: a dualistic cosmology describing the struggle between a higher, perfect, spiritual world of light, and an lower, evil, material world of darkness. In other words, according to this mystical tradition our pre-Fall parents didn”t have physical bodies, they were not of the earth. It was only after they sinned they became material beings.
This is, of course, rank heresy; a very persistent one that finds purchase in all manner of spiritual and philosophical traditions: most Eastern religions, Platonism, Manichaeism, Kaballah, Christian Science, Theosophy, Jungian psychology, Scientology, on and on. Ironically, one of its most pernicious manifestations is in the subtle dualism embraced by many Christians today. (See my essay Heaven is Important…but It”s Not the End of the World)
While Aronofsky might believe this heresy and his film perhaps intended to promote it, his luminescent Adam and Eve can just as easily be used to support a proposition that has deep and wide support within historic Christian belief and tradition: that Adam and Eve were created to image a God who among other things is shekinah light. While they were profoundly fashioned from the material creation – the earth (Gen. 2:7) – and furthermore that the completed material creation, in radical opposition to the teaching of Gnosticism, was declared by God to be “very good” (Gen. 1:31), as “earthlings” they were also designed and ordained to reflect as “angled mirrors” (to use N.T. Wright”s helpful phrase) the many manifestations of God”s glory into the world. It was this glory that clothed them. And it was this glory that was lost when they chose to be their own gods rather than priests and vice-regents of the One true God.
“…she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” Genesis 3: 6b,7
They realized they were naked, the supposition goes, because the reflected shikenah light went out. Their “mirrors” were no longer angled towards God but rather towards themselves. And without God, there is nothing in man but darkness. (Matt. 6:22-23)
What might Adam and Eve have looked like before this Fall? Literally only God knows. Personally I would imagine them having had greater earthiness and a less light than Aronofsky”s paradise dwellers, but I”ll accept his version for now and move on. It was close enough for government work…and Hollywood. And perhaps better than the flattened simplicity of many traditional Christian depictions.
Total Depravity: John Calvin would be proud of the movie”s portrayal of original sin”s thralldom over human nature. From an interesting, time-compressed and silhouetted history of murder to the insane debauchery that characterized Tubal-Cain”s anarchic kingdom, the film could hardly have been more faithful in depicting a world ravaged by people whose “every intention of the thoughts of (their) hearts was only evil continually.” (Gen. 6:5) Even righteous Noah and Naameh, his wife, acknowledge that at bottom they are really not that different from the people that God is judging in the flood. They too have been infected by the virus of sin.
There have been consistent complaints that Aronofsky”s made the rape of the environment God”s greatest indictment against mankind, the main reason He was going to wipe the planet clean of humanity but for the eight souls in the ark. (Eight, by the way, is the number of resurrection and new creation in the Bible. Jesus was raised on the eighth day and the gematria of His name in Greek [IHSOUS] is 888.) Personally I saw it more as a primary symbol or manifestation of man”s utter failure to uphold his priestly responsibilities to “cultivate and keep” this world (Gen. 2:15; Num. 3:7-8; 8:25-26; 18:5-6; 1 Chron. 23:32; Ezek. 44:14) – although I will admit the movie over-played this particular card a bit. But today”s church is so infected with the virus of a “this earth is not my home, I”m just a-passin” through” dualism (see again Heaven is Important…) that perhaps we can benefit from Noah”s “whack-upside-the-head” environmentalism. Few Christians get that our blue-green world – third stone from the sun – was created to be a temple planet that will ultimately be converted by a flood of purifying fire at Christ”s return into our eternal home, the new and final Jerusalem. We are called to love and steward the seed of it now. And all of creation – including Darren Aronofsky – is groaning and travailing for this to happen.
The Transcendence and Ineffability of God: Much has also been made of how God is never mentioned by name in the film. (Which begs the question as to whether “God” is really a name.) Noah and others only refer to Him as “Creator.” (Is there something wrong with that? In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Creator strikes me as a pretty good “name” for God.) And then there”s Noah”s bewilderment as he stares into the darkening sky and wonders as to the Lord”s precise plans and purposes…only to meet a deafening silence. The notion of immanent, personal God is nowhere to be found…only a distant and utterly transcendent Creator.
This is another first-blush negative that becomes a positive upon deeper reflection. We need to remember that unlike Noah, we live on the other side of the cross; of the incarnation, the atonement, the binding of Satan, the harrowing of hell, the resurrection, the ascension, the seating of a glorified Man in the control room of earth and heaven, and Pentecost and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. Rather than a silent, dark sky there”s now free access to the throne of grace. (Heb. 4:16) But even with all that, there are times when God seems silent. More to the point, there are “dark nights of the soul” – as John of the Cross called them – when the skies seem leaden and ominous and we can share in Noah”s bewilderment.
Consider that Noah and the Old Testament saints lived on the other side of redemptive history. Christ”s blood had not yet been shed (only foreshadowed in the animal sacrifices (Heb.10: 1-18)) and they did not have the kind of access to God we presently enjoy under the New Covenant. Now to be sure, God had mercy and at key moments reached out to man, sometimes in very manifest, supernatural ways. But we need to be careful that we don”t just assume that every time we read that God “told” someone to do or say something there was a burning bush and an audible voice.
Take, for example, Abraham”s sacrifice of Isaac – a key moment in redemptive history that Noah foreshadows. (More on that in a moment) The Bible doesn”t tell us precisely how the Lord told the patriarch to commit this profoundly bizarre act, one that stands in complete opposition to the Creator”s ethical blueprint. A voice? A dream? Through an angel or perhaps a Christophany? (Abraham had already experienced the latter – and would again.) Presumably it was in a manner that would leave absolutely no doubt as to the command – and I would assume the same for Noah and the building of the ark. We don”t know. But here”s an interesting thing, found in the last half of God”s command to Abraham:
“Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” (Gen. 22:2)
Note the “I will show you.” Early the next day, Abraham sets out to obey. Three days later, somewhere in the region of Moriah (where the city of David, Jerusalem, would later be built), Abraham “lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar.” (vs. 4). He saw the place. God showed and His friend saw. How that worked exactly we don”t know. But allow me to propose a possibility, one that if I ever was to make a movie or a short film on the subject I would be thrilled to depict. Abraham was walking and no doubt praying, anguishing over the horror he was about to engage. Very likely he was asking God if there was any way he could get out of it. (see Luke 22: 39-44). Perhaps the Lord was as silent at that point as the Creator was with Noah in the movie. “I have commanded you to do something, now do it.” (That would be the mark of real spiritual maturity and a deep relationship with God: that He could tell you to do something one time and count on you to do it without complaining or procrastinating.) Again, we can only wonder. But then it happens. In his anguish Abraham lifts up his eyes and sees a hill and an outcropping of rock that in the morning shadows looks oddly like a human skull, a stark symbol of death. And suddenly he “knows” – without any voice prompts – that this is the place.
But what he doesn”t know is that approximately 2,000 years later, the true Father would provide the ultimate lamb, His own Son. And that He would be crucified on precisely the same spot. (Mark 15:22)
Speculation? Yes. But it falls well within the sketchy Biblical narrative. And I”ll bet anyone a dinner in the New Creation that we”re going to find out that it”s true. (Also that it”s the same place where David displayed Goliath”s severed head to the city of Jerusalem. (1 Sam.17: 54) In time “Goliath of Gath” became Golgatha.) And I”m praying that Aronofsky will one day be redeemed by Christ so we can talk and reflect together about what he got right – and wrong – in his meditation on the Noah story.
Back to the film, I would have liked to have seen a more direct communication between the Creator and Noah concerning the command in Genesis 6:13-14. And I would have preferred that Aronofsky not have used the drink given to Noah by Methuselah (which doesn”t necessarily have to be shamanistic or involve a hallucinogen like many insist; see for example Numbers 5:17, 24) as the plot device to convey the Genesis 6 command. But besides this, I actually saw the silent sky and the use of the more formal “Creator” as effective symbols for man”s tragic separation from God as well as the need for His followers to live by faith and Human pancreatic enzyme activity is reduced when incubated with most fiber sources. not sight.
And for goodness sake, let”s not forget how Aronofsky concludes the film: with the dark skies being rolled up like a scroll and new creation light exploding through the heavens. If that wasn”t a very personal God shouting to Noah and the entire human race of His love and redemptive purposes, I don”t know what is. I almost leaped out of my seat and started shouting “Hallelujah!” when I saw it.
The True Heart of Darkness: Most people view “sin” as simply a matter of doing something wrong: lying, stealing, committing adultery or murder, etc. And to be sure those things are sins. But the Bible goes much deeper than that, diagnosing its root as flowing from an attitude of heart; our inborn, default nature as humans who have fallen from grace. C. S. Lewis described this well in a number of places, perhaps nowhere better than in The Great Divorce:
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it.”
At bottom, true evil flows not so much from the flesh-bound person who lusts, but from the pride-bound heart that consciously seeks to be its own god and to transcend God”s categories of good and evil. And this reality is powerfully depicted in Noah through the character of Tubal Cain. Nietzsche”s consummate ubermensch, only Heath Ledger”s portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight compares. His effort to commandeer the ark and then hijack the new creation in order to conform it “to his image” is as clear an example of the epistemological root of satanic evil as I have ever seen in a movie. Great spark, Aronofsky – whether you knew what you were messing with or not. And by the way, please consider whether you may be guilty of a more much subtle version of the same thing.
Methuselah – His Death Shall Bring Judgment: Anthony Hopkins does eccentricity well and it”s on full display with his Methuselah. However, some critics are complaining that he was too weird, even shamanistic. Once again, I think people are assuming too much; that just because Aronofsky is not a believer and is interested in the Kabbalah and other Gnostic teachings – which is true – that all of Methuselah”s unconventional mannerisms and practices need to be attributed to the occult. I”m not going to deny that it could have played a part in Aronofsky”s intentions for the character. But I don”t really care – except for what it means in relation to the director”s spiritual condition. Read the stories of the prophets in the Old Testament, particularly Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah. These guys were as eccentric as all get out and at times did things that make Hopkin”s Methuselah look normal by comparison.
One Christian reviewer decried his laying on of hands and Ila”s barrenness being healed as occultic. Say what?! Check out Elisha”s healing technique in 2 Kings 4:34. Or Jesus” in John 9:6 for that matter. And I”ve already touched on the drink he gave Noah. I wouldn”t have used that particular plot device. But given odd passages like 1 Samuel 28:7-19 and the aforementioned Numbers 5:17,24, I don”t think it necessarily stands outside of what”s allowed scripturally.
But more to the point, I loved the tender and poignant plot device surrounding the oldest man”s hankering for fresh berries. I saw it as just another desire for paradise lost and the fruit as a trace relic of the Tree of Life. As the rains begin to fall and fountains of the deep open, we see him, half blind, searching for berries as if he were a happy child. He finally finds one and pops it into his mouth and smiles…and then a wall of water sweeps him away. No Tree of Life for man until the Messiah puts out the flaming sword with His blood. No entry into Eden until the veil in the temple is torn from top to bottom. (Matthew 27:51) Another nice spark, Darren! And you probably had no idea.
It”s also interesting that he had Methuselah killed by the flood. While there is some debate as to what the name Methuselah means in ancient Hebrew, “his death shall bring judgment” is one consensus choice. And so has grown the belief within Jewish and Christian mystical traditions that the death of the oldest man to ever live signaled the flood and the end of the primeval world.
Hating Our Own Lives: Besides perhaps the snakeskin, the other most common complaint is Noah”s demeanor after the family enters the ark. He snaps and becomes – and here I quote one pastor”s review – a “homicidal maniac” who sets out to kill members of his own family.
Once again, let”s take a deep breath and consider: Noah has been tasked to do something that I”m sure in moments of doubt (we all have them) must have seemed manifestly absurd and cruel. (This is another thing the movie does a good job of portraying, just by the way.) And according to the Biblical account, the Lord didn”t give Noah a long and detailed explanation that could have helped alleviate every doubt that might arise. No, just trust and obey Noah. (Anyone familiar with the Bible and has walked with God long knows that this is pretty common in His dealings with us.) I can easily see – and sympathize – with the conclusion he comes to in the movie: that sinful man is the problem (and yes, as mentioned, Noah rightfully understands that he and his family are also sinners at heart) and that therefore once creation is renewed, he and his family need to die natural deaths and leave the world unstained by human fallenness.
There is no hope for procreation as Aronofsky has constructed the situation. Noah and Shem”s wives are supposedly barren and Ham and Japheth are without wives. (This is one of the few times in the movie where Aronofsky unambiguously denies the clear Biblical narrative. (See Gen. 7:13) Given his plot line, I understand why. But the Bible is the one book you should never tinker with in this way and to this degree. There were more biblically faithful alternatives.) But when Ila, Shem”s wife, turn up pregnant Noah declares that if a daughter is born, she will have to die. Based upon what Noah earnestly believes about the nature of his mission, his position here is far from maniacal. And the fact that he has to set his face as flint to prepare himself and his family emotionally for this eventuality isn”t an indication that he doesn”t care – clearly he cares deeply – but more a glimpse into his steely resolve to obey the Creator at all costs, even to his own hurt. And this, like it or not, is the highest form – according to Jesus a requirement really – of being a true follower and disciple of God. (Luke 14:26)
All this sets up another of my favorite scenes in the movie: Noah stands on the deck of the ark with Ila and the twin, new-born girls. She who was formerly barren (think Sarah) and with the miracle birth (think Mary) with breaking heart submits herself and her babies to the will of the Creator as channeled through Noah. As he prepares to bring down the knife I was instantly transported – intentional by the filmmakers I”m sure – to a similar scene that would take place some three-hundred years later as another patriarch was prepared to do the same thing with his son. Abraham”s hand was stayed by the “angel of the Lord” (likely Jesus) speaking from heaven. Noah”s was stopped by love. And another spark flashes heavenward.
There”s more I could comment on (the Watchers, Ham”s leaving to find his destiny – and presumably a wife) but my review has turned into a mini-book. I”ll close with this: This movie like any movie is really two films: the one that flickers on the theater screen and then the one that plays out on the screen inside our minds and hearts. I opened this essay with dialog from one of my favorite scenes in Noah and one that was featured in the official trailer for the film:
Tubal Cain: I have men at my back. And you stand alone and defy me?
Noah: I”m not alone.
In one Christian reviewer”s mind, Noah”s calm, firm response to his enemy”s threats – “I”m not alone” – was only a reference to the Nephilim (the Watchers). And thus it was just another example of Aronofsky”s and the movie”s godlessness.
No surprise here: on my screen it was a powerful Psalm 2 moment. “Rage away and kick against the goads, you silly little man. Your Creator laughs…and His fury is about to fall.”
Noah was anything but alone. (2 Kings 6:17) I was profoundly blessed to be reminded by the film that I am not alone. And my prayer is that Aronofsky and everyone who sees Noah will be reminded – or haunted – by the same great truth.
Source of all life, beauty, truth and goodness, you have created all things, to fill your creatures with every blessing and your redeemed children to the joyful vision of your light. Countless hosts of angels eternally stand before you, basking in your splendor, praising and enjoying your glory and perfectly accomplishing your will.
We thank you for the torn veil and our free access to this same reality through the blood of Christ. We join the chorus of these angels, with all your firstborn who are written in the Lamb’s book of life and all the departed whose spirits have been made perfect. United with them, and in the name of every creature under heaven, we praise your glory and desire to do your will as we declare:
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.
Celebrant: Father, we acknowledge your unfathomable greatness. All your actions show forth your wisdom, love and power. You formed man in your own likeness and set him over the whole world to serve you and to reflect your image, your glory and your dominion into and over creation. Even when man disobeyed and lost his fellowship with you and the light of your glory, you did not abandon him to the power of death, but helped the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve to seek and find you. Again and again you offered a covenant to mankind, and through the prophets taught us to hope for salvation.
Father, you so loved the world that in the fullness of time you sent your only Son to be our Savior. He was conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary, a man like us in all things but sin. To the poor he proclaimed the good news of salvation; to prisoners, freedom; to those in sorrow, joy; to the blind, sight; and to those leprous with stain of sin, the cleansing power of his blood. In fulfillment of your will he gave himself up to death; but by rising from the dead, he destroyed death and restored life. And that we might live no longer for ourselves but for him, he sent the Holy Spirit from you, Father, as his first gift to those who believe, to complete his work on earth and bring us the fullness of grace. Father may this Holy Spirit sanctify these offerings. Let them become the body and blood of Jesus Christ our Lord as we celebrate the great mystery which he left us as an everlasting covenant.
Lord, we are not worthy to receive you. But only say the word and we shall be healed.
Celebrant: He always loved those who were his own in the world. When the time came for him to be glorified by you, his heavenly Father, he showed the depth of his love. While His life was lost the on that bloody Friday, it was given to us the night before when, at supper, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying:
Take this, all of you, and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you.
In the same way, he took the cup, filled with wine. He gave you thanks, and giving the cup to his disciples, said:
Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.
Celebrant: Let us proclaim the mystery of faith:
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
Dying, Lord Jesus, you destroyed our death. Rising you restored our life. Ascending and being crowned and seated at the right hand of the Father and extending the scepter of your righteousness over us, you have inaugurated your New Kingdom reign and restored our vice-regency over this earth. Come to us now in glory and grant that we might better reflect its many-splendored light into your creation. As we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death and your Kingdom until you come again in glory. Lord, by your cross and resurrection, you have set us free. You are the Savior and Lord of the World.
Celebrant: Father, we now celebrate this memorial of our redemption, this foretaste of the consummate wedding supper of the Lamb. We recall Christ’s death, his descent among the dead, his resurrection, and his ascension to your right hand where he rules heaven and earth as a glorified man (by corey jefferson). Looking forward to his coming in glory – when we too will be transfigured and become the Bride made fully ready as all the redeemed of the Lord will become one even as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are One – we receive his body and blood, the acceptable sacrifice which brings salvation to the world.
Lord, look upon and bless these elements that manifest his sacrifice. By the Holy Spirit, may they become the true manna that comes to us from heaven; the very body and blood, life and power of our great Kinsman Redeemer. By this power deliver us from all evil and grant us the grace to purify ourselves even as you are pure in preparation for that great day and a better resurrection. And may the Holy Spirit gather all who share this one bread and one cup into the one body of Christ, a living sacrifice of praise.
(Eat, drink and pray.)
Well, the hills are alive with the sound of musings. Fighting fundamentalists on both sides of the theological/epistemological divide are either condemning or defending the fever dream that is director and co-writer Darren Aronofsky’s take on the ultimate disaster story. Not since The Last Temptation of Christ has a film based – however loosely – on Holy Writ inspired this level of controversy, defensiveness and vitriol. And I predict that this one will have more staying power because Noah is a better film – technically speaking – than Scorsese’s tedious, rambling (but in a few moments still brilliant) exercise in cinematic heresy. Even more importantly in our “bigger is better” world, Noah is an epic, $130 million, special-effects-driven spectacle – where poor Martin had to scrape by on a comparative shoestring; a sleeping-bag movie versus Darren’s tentpole.
In Part 2 I will review Noah from a theological perspective. Artistically I would give it 3.5 out of 5 stars. But then my expectations were very, very high. I figured that if Aronofsky could produce the amazing Pi for $60K, surely he could give us a new Citizen Kane or 2001 Space Odyssey when his budget was 216.66 (note the three sixes) times that. Alas, Noah is just another example of how money can’t buy perfection..
But it still is a pretty amazing film, technically and aesthetically speaking.
But before I offer my thematic analysis in Part 2, I would like to invite my Christian readers to join me in a thought experiment.
First, to director and co-writer Darren Aronofsky’s spiritual status and baseline worldview: Much has been written about his professed atheism, with two-fisted atheists proudly claiming him as one of their premier prophets. On the other side, more than a few Christians are locking and loading on his unbelief as proof of a sinister (satanic?) conspiracy to intentionally twist the Scriptures and redemptive history as if they were some gigantic wax nose. Of particular note: Aronofsky’s glaring (or perhaps cryptic) comments about his Biblical epic being “the least biblical biblical film ever made.” Personally, having seen The Greatest Story Ever Told, I think he is both wrong as well as perhaps being intentionally provocative.
But regardless of whatever labels Darren Aronofsky uses or are assigned him by atheists and theists alike, I don’t think he is anymore an atheist than Mark Twain was. A “Christ-haunted” artist – to use Flannery O’Connors useful descriptive – Aronofsky’s adherence to the two central tenets of anti-theism seem apparent upon closer examination: 1. He doesn’t believe in God, and 2. He hates Him. Except in his case it is not so much hatred as it is the all-too-common drive to find an impersonal substitute (which, to be sure, is a form of hatred). Like every other human (see Rom. 1:20), Aronofsky’s soul intuitively senses the overwhelming evidence for design, purpose and pattern in both the cosmos and the human “knowing” of it all. But in his innate fallenness and drive to “suppress that truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18b) in order to maintain his own autonomy (ironically like his Tubal Cain character in the movie), he has invested his considerable gifts in exploring these patterns and archetypes… but then pulling back from their Source and replacing God with an amalgam of monism, pantheism, Eastern mysticism, numerology/Kaballah, environmentalism and whatever else strikes his fancy at the moment.
Consider, for example, these excerpts from an interview he gave to ChitChatMagazine.Com concerning the aforementioned movie, Pi.
“I think we’re meant to know everything, it’s just a matter of when and how. I think this knowledge of God precludes the existence of the ego and the self and that as Max gets closer and closer to finding this universal order, his own self starts to disappear more and more. That’s the underlying conflict of the movie.”
“(When) you’re walking around the Western Wall in Jerusalem with a backpack, you get brought into religious sects that introduce you to mysticism, that show you the beauty and magic of religion, to bring you back into the fold and away from Satan. For me it didn’t quite work, because the devil has some nice toys. I did come away with some nice stories and some good ideas. That was the seed for a lot of the Kabbalah stuff in the film… There’s some stuff that would blow your mind and we brought that to Pi.”
“The film [though] in a lot of ways is anti-religion and pro-spirituality. I think a lot of religious groups often forget why and what they’re doing. Anyone who believes that they should kill in the name of God I think, has totally lost all sense of spirituality. You know, that’s not what it’s about.”
And then there is this from an interview he did with FilmMonthly.com on The Fountain, a profoundly spiritual meditation on life, love, death and transcendence.
Question: “What’s your take on God? Are you religious? Do you believe in God?”
DA: “I think the themes of The Fountain, about this endless cycle of energy and matter, tracing back to the Big Bang… The Big Bang happened, and all this star matter turned into stars, and stars turned into planets, and planets turned into life. We’re all just borrowing this matter and energy for a little bit, while we’re here, until it goes back into everything else, and that connects us all. The cynics out there laugh at this crap, but it’s true. [Laughs] The messed up thing is how distracted we are and disconnected from that connection, and the result of it is what we’re doing to this planet and to ourselves….Whatever you want to call that connection — some people would use that term God. That, to me, is what I think is holy.”
Reading this and watching his movies, it’s clear that at heart Aronofsky isn’t even close to being the crass materialist true atheism demands. He’s very interested in what lies beneath and beyond the “now” of temporal existence. Death may well not be the end – as The Fountain explored – but rather the “road to awe.” (I love this line, though as a Christian I would substitute “door” for “road” – as well as caution people that for many, that “awe” will be “awe-ful.”)
Now back to our thought experiment. Imagine yourself a missionary to a pagan land. Understanding that the “lights” of regeneration have not yet been turned on, you fully expect to find darkness and all manner of idolatry and spiritual confusion. But you also hope to find some glimmers of the light that springs from the image of God yet present deep in people’s souls; the dissonant echoes of an eternity that percolates within their hearts. What happens – or at least should happen – when you stumble across these imperfect artifacts of a paradise that has been lost? Condemn their imperfections? Throw out the embryo of truth because it has been soaked in some very dirty bath water?
Even a casual glance at Jesus’ MO (e.g. see “the woman at the well” account in John 4) or Paul’s atop Mars Hill (Acts 17: 16-34) makes it clear that to do so would be to miss the heart of God and the opportunity for the Gospel.
Now I understand there are thresholds here. A missionary to a tribe of cannibals can perhaps find an opportunity to use their manifestly satanic practices to introduce the concept of substitutionary atonement or even the Eucharist. But that doesn’t give him the liberty to sit around and observe one of their rituals. You can’t condemn something while being a passive – or worse, active – witness to it. And for that reason, I would never endorse a Christian watching a movie so utterly and irredeemably blasphemous as The Last Temptation of Christ.
But as I will argue in Part 2, Aronofsky got far more right or close to right than we should have ever expected given his spiritual and epistemological baseline. It really is not too much of a stretch to call it something of a miracle, a moment when the echoes of eternity rang surprisingly loud and true, despite whatever other thematic defects are in the film. Personally, I believe we have been given a interesting teaching moment, not unlike what Jesus and Paul experienced in John 4 and Acts 17 respectively.
Aronofsky and our broader culture are hearing the echoes, sensing the outlines of something deep and transcendent. They are seeing men walking about (literally in Aronofsky’s case) as trees (Mark 8:28). Always learning but never able to come – by themselves – to a knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 3:7), they “cannot discover the work God has done from beginning to end.” But by God’s grace, and with our humble, loving and measured assistance, they yet may.
In Orwell’s classic dystopian novel, the fascist government of Oceania and its enigmatic dictator Big Brother attempt to brainwash the masses to accept non sequiturs like “war is peace” and “ignorance is strength.” But in the real world such paradoxical memes inevitably lead to mindlessness – or madness – or are forced to eventually give way to the constraints of cognitive dissonance: the psychological stress that results from holding conflicting ideas or values simultaneously. Hundreds of peer-reviewed studies have shown that people are profoundly motivated, consciously or subconsciously, to achieve consonance – to reduce this conflict or dissonance – by eliminating or at least suppressing one of the conflicting ideas.
For individuals who find themselves experiencing erotic, same-sex desires for the first time – and let’s acknowledge that for most these feelings are involuntary – cognitive dissonance in the form of guilt or shame is very common. A good example of this was described by Robert Bauman, a conservative, pro-family Republican who served as a Congressman from 1973 until he lost re-election in 1980 following a scandal involving a sixteen-year-old male prostitute. In his 1986 autobiography, Baumann recalls the homosexual feelings that later began to emerge when, at the tender age of five, he was molested by a twelve-year-old neighbor, thus joining the hundreds of thousands of other victims of sexual abuse who would come to experience same-sex attractions.
“This was not a matter of chance attraction to a forbidden object. This was a frightening force from deep within my being, an involuntary reaction to the sight, smell and feel of other boys. I neither understood nor accepted it. And I came to hate myself because of the presence within me of this horrible weakness, this uncleanness of spirit over which I seemed to have no control.” Robert Bauman, The Gentlemen from Maryland: The Conscience of a Gay Conservative (New York: Morrow, 1986), p. 163
Homophiles (people who like (from Greek philos, love or like) or support the normalization of homosexuality) love to blame the negative feelings Baumann experienced on the projections and expectations of a “homophobic” culture. But studies show that even in the most “gay friendly” societies – like Holland and Denmark – the higher levels of psychological problems found among homosexuals are essentially the same as for those in less “enlightened” societies. The reason for this is that the dissonance, the guilt, is rooted in the individual’s conscience and not the culture. Because humans are created in the image of God and the binary, male-female unity is a vital aspect of that image (Gen. 1:27), each of us possesses a deep-down, “written on our heart” knowledge (Rom. 2:14-15) that homosexuality is abnormal and wrong. As a result, when a person first experiences homosexual desires, cognitive dissonance like Baumann described is the inevitable result.
The same-sex attracted person can reduce this dissonance by affirming their conscience and rejecting their homosexual feelings as wrong, refuse to act upon them – in other words embrace abstinence – and then seek help in dealing with the root causes of these inclinations in the hope of joining the many others who have transitioned into heterosexuality.
The other option is to embrace the homosexual identity and then set-out to muffle or, preferably, silence the conscience by convincing oneself that being “gay” really is okay.
The most common first step here is to enter the same-sex-attracted-feedback loop that is the “gay community.” This can be a LGBT club at school, a gay-pride march, an activist group, immersing oneself in gay-affirming pop culture (music, television and movies) or simply hanging out or hooking up with other same-sex attracted people.
And yet even with all this, the conscience can still nudge; dissonance can still rear its ugly head. And so the next step in eradicating any residual conflict comes through what psychologists call confirmation bias, the rejection of any and all evidence or testimony that dis-confirms, that negates, disapproves, questions or even simply ignores the validity of one’s position. And so every reminder – any suggestion from any source – that homosexuality isn’t every bit as natural, good, moral and conducive to individual and cultural flourishing as heterosexuality has to be eliminated.
A perfect example of confirmation bias can be seen in the work of homosexual activist Wayne Besen, founder of Truth Wins Out, a not-for-profit created to counter Focus on the Family’s now defunct Love Won Out’s ministry to people coming out of the homosexual lifestyle. Besen has been extremely vocal in insisting there’s virtually no such an animal as an “ex-gay,” making that assertion the virtual focus of his calling.
Now here’s an incredible thing: Oprah can do shows about women who lived as heterosexuals for decades and then one day embraced their inner sexual fluidity and jumped on the broad gay-way. But according to Besen and many other homophiles, the same thing can’t possibly happen in reverse. The thousands of people who have self-identified as homosexuals and lived the lifestyle – sometimes for years and even decades – and that are now happily married to an opposite-sex spouse or are celibate and waiting on one: a.) Were never really gay in the first place, or b.) Are living in denial, suppressing their true nature and desires, often out of what Besen describes as misplaced religious guilt.
Are you kidding me? Imagine an inebriation activist who insists that there’s no such thing as an ex-drunk because he and some other buddies couldn’t stay on the wagon or never really wanted to get on it. According to them, every alcoholic who is now sober was either never really a drunk or is now just living a lie.
This is all just confirmation bias on steroids.
And make no mistake about it, denying that there’s such a thing as an ex-homosexual is just the beginning. There are many in the homosexual community as well as the homophiles that support them who have been emboldened by the growing acceptance of gay marriage and other trends in the culture. The gloves are coming off as they are driven to eradicate every vestige of dissonance, any trace of mores, behavior, thought, tradition and public policy that in any way suggests or reminds people that heterosexuality is normal, God-ordained and morally or ontologically superior to homosexuality.
And that is precisely why the slippery slope exists…and gets steeper and steeper as we descend.
and beholds things as they are.
With singled eye, her form grows bright,
moon-bride to the Morning Star.
No glory hers, no image fine
without the Bridegroom’s light.
As cross the sky He runs His course,
burning towards His wedding night.
When she’s complete, each cell in place
from darkened sea is called
The land, the garden, each living stone
quarried from the first man’s fall.
From days of old, with love-light lost
the best that she could know
Were shadows, outlines, fading forms
what glory’s left…mere afterglow.
But now is drawn from Adam’s side,
pierced by death and angry sword,
Water, blood and new Eve bride
conceived by love and shaped by Word.
An angled mirror, her true love’s light
in to the darkness spreads
A foreglow now that rules the night
as little leaven shapes the bread.
“The river of truth is always splitting up into arms that reunite. Islanded between them, the inhabitants argue for a lifetime as to which is the mainstream.” Cyril Vernon Connolly (1903-1974) English intellectual, literary critic and writer, editor of the influential literary magazine Horizon.
Connolly’s quote is a profound one – and never more true than among Christians. We are netted out of the guppy bowl of self by the true Fisherman and then placed in an ocean of truth. And before we know it, many (most) find themselves joining a school of other fish in some estuary of denominationalism and tradition and telling themselves – and arguing with others – that they have found the Mariana Trench.
Now don’t get me wrong. I believe in Truth, the absolute kind that shines like a diamond and is even more hard. I have no problem with denominations – tribes in His Kingdom, I prefer calling them. And I deeply appreciate tradition. Few of us would be Trinitarians without it. What I don’t like are people and groups who claim to have chased the mystery (Pro. 25:2) and caught it. Who chastise other God-fearers who don’t hold to the “truth” they’ve bagged with a cry of “they just need to read and believe the Bible.” (Probably the best example that comes immediately to mind are those who write Dr. Hugh Ross off as a heretic because he believes in an old-earth and animal death before the Fall.)
My calling in God is to try and faithfully present and defend the Truth. And thankfully much of its greater outlines are so straight-up and well-defined that a child can see and understand them. And as a result the overwhelming majority report for 2,000 years (or more) is locked and loaded in agreement: Jesus is God, He died on a cross and rose again bodily from the dead, that salvation from sin is made possible in and through Him alone, etc. There are even some moral/social Truths we can hold on to like the horns of His altar: that murder is wrong (including the murder of little children who happen to be temporary aquanauts in their mother’s womb), that sex is a wonderful and powerful gift from God that is to be unwrapped only in the marriage bed by a covenant-bound man and woman, etc.
But when it comes to getting all the colors right within the broader outline, truly only God is up to the task. Perhaps we will be as well when we cross over the the thinning membrane that separates this world from the New One that is rushing towards us like a comet. (My personal theory is that one of the joys of Eternity will be plumbing the infinite depths of Truth – of the mind of God – without ever arriving at the bottom.)
So in the meantime I’m trying, as Blind Willie Jefferson sang, to “read my Bible often and try to read it right,” ever keeping it mind the second verse: “As far as I can understand, it ain’t nothing but a burning light.”
Try and get all that light in your head and it will likely explode. (Exo. 33:20)
PS. That is such a good closing line I hate to mess it up by rambling on. But for the sake of driving this point home in a personal way: I am known for staking a position on certain theological perspectives that could fairly be called “colors within the broader outlines.” For example, I have written articles and produced videos defending a Reformed/Calvinistic perspective on salvation and grace. Ditto on partial preterism and a post-millennial eschatology. But I remain good friends and a co-laborer in the Gospel with people who share differing views on these matters. And while I do believe (Rom. 14:5) that my position is correct – meaning Biblically accurate – I try not to be a jerk or dogmatic about it. I know there is deep mystery here. When I do see Him as He is – and in a twinkling of eye am transformed (1 Cor. 15: 52; 1 John 3:2) – if in that rush of perfect light I see that I was wrong about any of these things, I trust my response will be to laugh…and then worship.