Five Biblical-Theological Themes That Aranofsky’s “Noah” Got Right

Darren Aranofsky’s Noah just came out in Redbox a couple days ago. I didn’t get to see it in theaters, but Lara and I have been waiting expectantly for the chance to see it, and I must say, I was not disappointed. In fact, I was blown away; I loved it.

I know not everyone had the same reaction, particularly in the Evangelical world. As controversy swelled and tempers raged soon after its theatrical release, I was deeply saddened. No, you are right: this may not not necessarily be the Noah we are used to from Sunday school. But before we claim that the movie is un-biblical, let’s think about what we mean. After seeing the movie for myself, I am convinced that Aranofsky’s Noah provides us with richer (and more accurate) biblical theology than many of the iterations of the flood story that we are used to. If we approach the movie with reasonable expectations, and put on our theological glasses, we might just walk away knowing God in a more profound way.

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So here we go: Five Biblical-Theological Themes That Aranofsky’s Noah Got Right:

1. The Image of God and the Creation Mandate

Inserted into dialogue throughout the movie are statements presenting the overarching worldview of the characters. This worldview boils down to two points: 1. Mankind was created in the image of God, and 2. Mankind was given a mandate to care for Creation. This in fact is the exact framework that is given to us in Genesis 1:27-28:

God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

This worldview is evidenced by the actions of the two factions in Noah: Noah’s family, who understands that their status as image-bearers binds them to their Creator, giving them responsibility to rightly steward and care for Creation; and the followers of Tubal-Cain, whose status as image-bearers make them feel entitled to abuse and exploit Creation without restraint. In the end, Noah’s worldview is justified, and we are challenged to more humbly accept the role of steward and caretaker that comes with being made in God’s image.

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2. Wickedness of Mankind

Noah depicts a world that is broken because of sin. The wickedness of mankind has brought deep-rooted damage to the moral, relational, and natural ecosystem. At the close of the movie, Noah’s daughter in-law speaks to Noah and highlights this important biblical theological theme. She states something akin to: “The Creator chose you, Noah, because he knew you would see the wickedness of mankind and would not turn aside.” Noah does not sugarcoat the reality of man’s inclinations; the movie forces the viewer to stare deep into humanity’s soul and see its corruption.

We see in Genesis 6:5-6 that this painful reality is reason why God chose to send the Flood in the first place:

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.

If you have seen the movie, you may have become increasingly uncomfortable when Noah surmises that God’s judgment is to fall upon all of mankind, including Noah’s family. It is powerful when Noah comes to terms with the reality that sin is not something foreign, but is inescapably a part of even himself, his beloved family, even his unborn grandchildren. Noah determines to make sure that his line does not continue, so that Creation will be free from the wickedness of humanity. I found this creative plot twist to be disturbingly ingenious. Does it not remind us that all of us fall under God’s judgment for having broken relationship with Him? This sin is not simply private, it damages relationships, morality, and even nature. Without God’s mercy, there is no remedy.

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3. Noah as Second Adam and God’s Chosen Steward

As Noah interacts with the Watchers (who are based on Jewish mythology rather than deriving directly from Scripture), one of the group named Og makes a profound observation: “You remind me of Adam.” Indeed, Noah is portrayed as a kind of new Adam through flash-backs to the Garden of Eden.

In the biblical text, there are profound literary and theological correlations between Genesis 1 (Adam) and Genesis 8 (Noah). Most notably, both are commissioned in God’s image (Gen. 1:26; 9:6), both are commanded to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28; 9:7). Animals also play an important role in the exercising of their image-bearer roles (God brings animals to Adam for naming, Gen. 2:19; God brings animals to Noah for delivering, Gen. 7:15).

Noah is God’s steward, as was Adam in the Garden. As the chosen caretaker, Noah was to be God’s representative on earth, exercising His rule and reflecting His character. In Noah God attempts to start over (after the failure of the first Adam) and set the world aright again.

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4. God as Creator and Re-Creator

One of my favorite parts of the movie is when Noah and his family are sitting in the ark, traumatized and saddened by all the death occurring around them as God judges the world through the Flood. In this moment, Noah gathers his family around and says, “Let me tell you a story. This is a story that my father told me, and his father told him, and which I now tell you. In the beginning…” What follows is a beautiful and creative cinematic journey through the story of Creation found in Genesis 1.

God is constantly referenced in the movie as “the Creator” by friend and foe alike. Creation theology undergirds the cinematic narrative, as is the case in the biblical narrative as well.

Furthermore, the biblical Flood story also uniquely portrays God as un-creator and re-creator. In the flood, God brings back together the waters that He originally separated in Creation (Genesis 1:6), reversing his Creative efforts and allowing disorderly Chaos to spread once again. Noah’s daughter in-law asks Noah in the movie: “So this is the end of everything?”

Noah responds profoundly: “The beginning. The beginning of everything.” This is what makes the deeply disturbing story of the Flood so profound: God has not given up on his Creation. Though cleansing must happen, it is not the end of the story. God is still Creator, even re-Creator, and will start again. God is ever a God of newness, and in Him there is always hope for new life in the midst of destruction and pain.

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5. The Problem of God’s Silence

This final theme does not find its rooting in the biblical text. God’s absence in Noah could be seen as a major shortcoming, as God is a very active player in the Genesis account. I, however, find the theme of the God’s silence intriguing and challenging at the same time. Multiple characters in the movie cry out to God, pleading with him to speak again as he did of old. Even God’s charge to Noah is somewhat ambiguous, leaving Noah to fill in the gaps as he does his best to obediently fulfill the mission he has been entrusted with.

The movie raises very important questions: What does it mean to be obedient to God when his voice is unclear? When God appears to be silent, how ought we cry out? How do we live out of faith and hope when God seems far away? These are not easy questions, and there are no easy answers. But we must learn to cry out with honesty (see Psalm 42, 44; Habakkuk 1), waiting expectantly for God’s response.

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