Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Noah

Wesley Hill imagines how the Apostle Paul would have read the story of Noah and how the film gets it backwards:
...Paul has a habit of locating the explanation for divine mercy and grace in God’s own determination to have mercy rather than in the worth or character or achievement of its recipients. ....

Paul didn’t talk about the Noah story in his extant epistles, but here’s how I imagine he would have read it.

Noah found favor with God, says the text of Genesis (charis, or “grace,” in the Greek translation of Genesis 6:8). And, for Paul (in contrast to many of his fellow Torah-reading contemporaries), “grace” is defined as a gift given to the unfitting (Romans 4:4-5). Genesis subsequently notes that Noah was a righteous man (Genesis 6:9), and according Paul, that’s the proper order: first grace, then the status of righteousness. It’s not that God found someone who had already attained a certain level of goodness and then crowned it with the verdict of justification. For Paul, the reverse is true.

And this is what Aronofsky’s film complicates. ....

...[N]ear the end of the film, Emma Watson’s character, Ila, gives up the game. She says to Noah that perhaps God preserved him because God knew that he had a merciful heart. Perhaps, she speculates, that’s exactly the sort of person God could count on to renew the world non-violently, peaceably, and responsibly after the flood. And in this way, the film ends up locating the rationale for God’s mercy in some native spark of goodness in Noah that will, viewers hope, make the new, post-flood world more livable than the antediluvian one. ....

The point of the Noah story...is not that Noah possesses in himself the seed of a better humanity. The point is that God promises to show mercy, even when Noah’s offspring prove just as violent and evil as the descendants of Cain. [more]