Tuesday, April 29, 2014


There are plenty of reviews of Noah both pro and con (and some that are both pro and con).

Here are a few worth reading:
http://reknew.org/2014/04/things-i-liked-and-things-that-bugged-me-about-noah (I have a little more creative imagination than Boyd and can adequately reconcile the issues he raises about Ham, but I appreciate his concerns.)

In light of a "review", I will just give some of my impressions.

To start with, I don’t get the hate. I don’t get the hostile criticism from Christians over this movie. Aronofsky is presenting a “modern day midrash” based on biblical and extra biblical sources, that’s all. This is an ambitious and bold movie worthy of the story it told. It was both pretentious and powerful, especially in its subtleness. It was weird and yet strangely natural. It beautifully portrayed the antediluvian world as magical (enchanted is probably the better word) even in its expanding desolation before the Flood. The characters were (mostly) memorable and the acting was (mostly) outstanding. Did the movie stray from the biblical narrative? Sure. Did it embellish the story? Yes, of course. This is a dramatization. Were there things about the movie that I would have done differently? Probably. But this is Aronofsky’s vision, not mine. And I thoroughly enjoyed watching his take on Noah and the Flood.

After the opening sequence that briefly reminds us why this story becomes a necessity (according to the bible), we see a young Noah with his father being confronted by Tubal-Cain. I knew immediately that I was going to enjoy this movie. Why? Because already Aronofsky was declaring that this was going to be a story about real human beings living in the context of the real struggle of human nature and calling. We can so quickly read through the Flood narrative that we forget the human component. Of course we know that the bible says that man was wicked and that “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” and that the Lord was “sorry that He had made man on the earth”, etc. But do we take the time to consider that these people were mothers and fathers, sons and daughters…and children like us? Do we think of them as struggling with day-to-day living in an environment that is harsh and unforgiving…and destined for destruction? Do we identify ourselves and our families with them in their aches and pains? Or do we read the quotes above and think of them only as monsters that must be wiped off the face of the earth? Aronofsky forces us to slow down and see this story through the eyes of real human beings with real human issues—like us. To that I say, “Thank you, Mr. Aronofsky.”

Some Christians will have a problem with how Aronofsky portrays Noah’s understanding of God’s call. I don’t. It made Noah’s character profoundly human. I found it very appealing and compelling to see Noah struggling with the decision he thought God was calling him to make. The “righteous” Noah was determined to be faithful to the end—at all cost. Aronofsky brilliantly brought the story of Noah to life, but it was Russell Crow who brilliantly brought the man Noah to life.  

I especially liked how Crow captured the torment of Noah struggling with the sense of his own personal depravity. One of my favorite scenes in the movie was when Noah snuck into the “kingdom” of Tubal-Cain to find a wife for Ham (creative story-telling, I know) and was confronted with reality of his own wickedness. I think it was in this moment that he realizes that he and his family were really no different than the rest of mankind and deserving of the same fate; and I think it was this awareness of the evil that was still in him that clouded his understanding of God’s command. This realization goes a long way in explaining how he could have mistakenly understood God’s call; it also gives us the clue to the conflict we see not only within Noah’s own psyche but with him and his family as well, especially Ham.

(This is important. If we read the Noah story without a sense of the gravity that must have been weighing on Noah’s conscience, then we are making of it an unbelievable myth with no human connection at all. The Noah character in the movie makes me think of how incredibly torturous it must have felt to Abraham to believe that God called him to kill his own son. Abraham didn’t joyfully and without hesitation take to that task and I can’t imagine Noah doing so either. Like Abraham, Noah must have had tremendous internal conflict about the task he believed God called him to undertake.)

Speaking of Ham, I think his character was the most compelling of all. From the moment we see the young Ham being reprimanded by his father for pulling up a flower (a key scene) we are witness to the slowly deteriorating relationship between the two. I loved this storyline. Aronofsky presents a creative and believable account of the relationship between Ham and Noah that would eventually lead to Noah’s cursing of Ham’s son. And the beautiful part, in my mind, is that Ham is a sympathetic character. Even though we get a glimpse of the mischievousness (rebellious spirit?) of Ham early on, it is Noah’s determination to obey God (as he understands the command) that exacerbates Ham’s growing resentment of his father until, finally, there is no hope of reconciliation. There were times in the movie that we should all be able to identify with Ham and feel his pain and anguish. I appreciated this very much because in the biblical account it is so easy for us to condemn Ham and just dismiss him as a wicked son; we don’t get a chance to see him as a child growing up in a time and situation that is beyond our imagination. He deserves to be given an authentic life and Aronofsky’s vision is effective and satisfying. And Logan Lerman’s performance here may have stolen the show.

Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson also deliver strong performances as Noah’s wife and “adopted” daughter respectively. They made it easy to empathize with their characters. At one point during a particularly emotional confrontation between Naameh (Noah’s wife) and Noah I felt like slapping Noah’s face for her. Another stand-out performance was Ray Winstone playing Tubal-Cain. He personified the “wickedness that is in man’s heart” even as he could cry out to the seemingly silent God to speak to him.

And what about the Flood itself? Like the movie Titanic, you knew it was coming. And it was…fine. As far as special effects goes, it was what we should expect from Hollywood: big and explosive. When the waters under the earth opened up and all hell broke loose, so-to-speak, we are witness to destruction on a massive scale. But in my mind the power of God was not to be seen in the awesome destruction of the flood but in the subtle work He was doing in Noah’s heart. It took a while (all the way to the climactic scene, as to be expected in good movies), but working mightily through Noah’s family and directly through Noah’s conscience, God finally broke through to Noah to ensure the salvation of human kind. This is power worthy of our God!

We didn’t go into this movie with any preconceived notions of how “biblical” it was going to be. Frankly, we didn’t care. We were just looking forward to seeing the Noah story brought to life. And we weren’t disappointed. Whatever and however many liberties Aronofsky took, I don’t think the “truth” was compromised. I thought everything fit the biblical story quite well, even when it strayed from the biblical text. And that includes the more fanciful way the movie identified and incorporated the “Watchers” into the storyline; at first I was a little annoyed, but as the movie progressed I saw the value in this.

There was only one moment in the movie where I began to think that Aronofsky definitely went too far, and that was the scene in which Ham goes into the kingdom (camp) of Tubal-Cain to seek a wife. That Ham did this as part of the story was not a problem (even if it may not have been “biblical”). In fact, I’m sure everyone who saw this movie was rooting for him the same as us. It was Noah’s action that was the problem. At the moment it happened, what Aronofsky had Noah do disappointed me. I initially wished he would have had Noah do what I’m sure everyone in the theater was hoping he would do (and, in fact, what it appeared Noah was about to do). But after reflecting on the turmoil going on in Noah’s mind throughout the movie (and acutely in this particular scene), what he did makes perfect sense even though we didn’t like it at the time. Again, Noah was human—like us. Even his “righteousness” was tainted by that fact. So even this scene, as disagreeable as it initially seemed, works powerfully to bring Noah the man and the story to life.

“Biblical” (whatever that means) or not, this movie worked for me. Not only do I think that God is not upset about this movie (nor, I believe, should Christians be), I believe He can (and will) use it to bless and bring many to faith. To God be the glory. Amen.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Israel, Zion, Jerusalem and the World...or

...How Zechariah Dispels the Myth of Christian Zionism and Dispensationalism.

In this excellent teaching (here) from SGCC Denver, we see how God’s promised restoration of Zion is actually God’s restoration of the world. God isn’t interested in preserving a particular piece of geography—He wants to recover and restore the whole of His creation. God isn’t interested in the redemption of one particular nation—He wants all people of every tribe, tongue and nation to enjoy the redemption and restoration He has secured in His Son. God’s interest in His “chosen” nation was for Israel to be the light of God’s presence to the whole world so that every nation would come to know Him and live with Him as “children of the heavenly Father”. And in Christ, God has accomplished His goal! In God’s eyes there is no more Jew and Gentile—there is only humanity. God has fulfilled His purpose through His “Servant” and has called all humanity to Himself.

God’s purpose to bless all the families of the earth in Abraham and His promise to make Abraham the father of a multitude of nations has been fulfilled in Israel—in the true “Israel”, Jesus the Christ, the One in whom the nation of Israel has found its fulfillment, its destiny. Israel is not first and foremost an ethnic nation; it is a concept, an idea. “Israel” is a people, to be sure—the people of God, even the (religious) Assembly of God (Hulst). As the Assembly of God, Israel is “…the religious community which finds its unity in the word and law of Yahweh, and therefore ultimately in Yahweh Himself” (A. Hulst, quoted in Larondelle, pg. 84). But more specifically, “Israel” connotes “son” of God, as I’ve written about before.
In other words, God’s promise to Abraham (and thus to Israel) was fulfilled in the one “seed” of Abraham, the true Israel, Jesus the Christ. The New Testament (even Romans 9-11 and the book of Revelation) know nothing of a fulfillment of “Israel” apart from the Church. There is no separate “dispensation” for the nation of Israel. The Temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed and God never intended it to be rebuilt. If it is rebuilt it will be an affront to God who sent His Son into the world as the true Temple, as Immanuel—God with us! There will be no Temple in the New Jerusalem because “the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” God has accomplished His goal to “sum up everything in the heavens and earth in His Son.” When the curtain of separation between God and man was ripped in two (from the top to the bottom) upon the crucifixion of our Lord, God attested/confirmed with unmistakable clarity what Jesus proclaimed on the cross: “It is finished”! God’s purpose to recover and redeem His people—the “Israel” of God— and the whole creation has been accomplished. “Israel” has been fulfilled (not replaced) in Christ as the Spirit builds the “assembly of God” in Him from every tongue, tribe and nation.

Zionism (Christian or otherwise) is blasphemy. It is a return to the types and shadows of the Old Covenant. It is a denial of the meaning and purpose of Israel. It is a denial of the truth that God has accomplished His purpose in the world and for creation. It is a rejection of the Gospel because it is a rejection of the once and for all completed work of Christ. Jesus said, “It is finished!” Do we believe Him?

God has returned to Zion. Immanuel has come. God is with us. Amen and Halleluiah!

p.s. For further reading, one of my favorite books that completely dismantles the myth of Dispensationalism is, "The Israel of God in Prophecy: Principles of Prophetic Interpretation" by Hans K. LaRondelle. Another book that accomplishes the same goal is, "The Bible and the Future" by Anthony A. Hoekema. O. Palmer Roberston has written a very helpful book called, "The Israel of God: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow", that helps us to understand prophetic and typological aspects of "Israel".