Are you tired of the back and forth on the Noah movie yet? I am. No, that’s not quite right. I was before it started. Most of what I have read runs along the lines of should we see it–no, I won’t–yes, I will–it does not follow the Bible–it brings in other traditions–an atheist made it–for crying out loud, it’s a movie–it’s too ecological, its too fanciful, ad infinitum. However, few have noted how much beside the point the whole debate actually is. And those in the debate are all really talking about much more than the merits of the movie. You might get the impression that future of civilization as we know it is at stake.
An analogy might be helpful. Imagine a group of kids playing marbles at the entrance of the Superdome in New Orleans just before a Saints game is about to begin. Further imagine that the kids are so intense in their game, that they are oblivious to what is going on around them–all those very loud Who Dats working their way around the kids playing marbles. Now allow me to stretch the image a bit more: the kids really believe there is only one big game and it is the one they are playing right now–their game of marbles! Of course, this is not likely to happen ever, nor should it really. But in a way it has.
Only a few weeks ago, a substantive movie won the Oscar for best picture, worthy of the amount of debate the Noah movie has received but unlike, the Noah movie, it is the real deal. Of course, I’m speaking of “Twelve Years a Slave,” the story of Solomon Northup. But it would appear that the frivolous movie and the flood of reviews it provoked overwhelmed the more substantial movie.
We could point to the respect for historicity (or at least respect for the narrative as Solomon told it) as one of the distinguishing features between the ways the two movies told their respective tales, but what I have in mind is much more important than this. Both movies are about sin, punishment, and the possibility of new beginnings. Both are about the human destruction of God’s creation.
However, the Northup story deserves far more attention from thoughtful Christians than the story of Noah as (mis)represented in the movie of Noah. All the debate in the world on the historicity of Noah, the reliability of the biblical story of Noah, or the proper way to read the Noah story is likely to change no one’s mind. And even if people do change their mind in either direction, either pro- or con about Noah, nothing substantive will have change in our world. At best, we are amusing ourselves to death, and, at worse, we are avoiding through our pseudo-intellectual debates, issues that actually require thoughtful Christian attention: how we treat others (or the other).
Almost biblical in his prophetic proclamation, the liberator of Solomon, in the book and the resulting movie, Samuel Bass, warns the obstinate master, Edwin Epps, thus: “There’s a sin, a fearful sin, resting on this nation, that will not go unpunished forever. There will be a reckoning yet—yes, Epps, there’s a day coming that will burn as an oven. It may be sooner or it may be later, but it’s a coming as sure as the Lord is just” (268 in the original 1853 ed.).
Frankly it is easier to talk about the historicity of the biblical text or how the movie misread the biblical story of Noah than it is to talk about the fearful sin, as Sam Bass called it, and its lasting consequences on the real world in which we live. So have we bound Solomon to set Noah free?