Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Noah: The Untold Story, Part 2

I liked the depiction of Tubal-Cain and his rebellious attitude against God. Many point out that he quoted Scripture, but they miss that he quoted it like Satan would: 90% accurate, 10% twisting. And the evil is in the twisting part. An example is how he points out that mankind is made in God's image, and given dominion. But his idea of dominion is being an equal with God, which is exactly Cain's error and why he killed Abel and departed from God, heading to the land of Nod (wandering).

The one, big, missing aspect that the story had was animal sacrifice. This demonstrates the filmmakers, and many Christian's lack of understanding, Scripturally. Cain's sacrifice of the first fruits of his garden was rejected. Not because it wasn't good enough, but because it wasn't brought in faith. Abel's burnt offering of the best of his flock was accepted. Not simply because God desired a burnt animal sacrifice. God has no pleasure in the destruction of any part of His Creation. Abel's sacrifice was accepted on account of his faith in God's planned provision of a sacrifice: Jesus Christ. It was Abel's heart of faith that mattered. And it was Cain's lack of faith that was the difference.

Genesis 5 is the chapter of death. It details the line of Adam and how each one died. The epitaph, “and he died,” is repeated over and over. Moses, the author of Genesis, is indicating how Adam's rebellion against God resulted in physical death. In Chapter 4 we see the descendants of Cain and how their line is marked with spiritual death. The point is driven home in Genesis 6 when God sees nothing but evil in the hearts of all mankind, save for Noah. What happened? Faith died in their hearts. Mankind wandered away from looking for a sacrifice, symbolized in the burning of an innocent animal in their place for their rebellion against God. Instead, they turned to their own intellect, industry, music and pleasure for satisfaction. I suspect the pre-Flood peoples had religion all over the place, just like today. I suspect they built temples and had gatherings where they worshiped … something. They likely worshiped The Creator! But they did so without faith in God's provision of a sacrifice. They did so without taking an amimal in faith and offering it to God as a burnt offering, representing their need for one who would crush the serpent's head (Jesus, dying on the cross, removing Satan's power over those with faith in Christ).

The movie lacks any animal sacrifice. So, the movie languishes in an attempt to figure out why God chose Noah. Was it because he could “get the job done?” Was it because he was better than others? Because he didn't pick plants he didn't need? Because he was a vegetarian? The filmmakers don't seem to really know. And the lack of animal sacrificing is key to this ambivalence. Aronofsky is like Cain: He doesn't recognize the significance of faith in Christ. He doesn't view himself as a sinner in irreparable violation of God's character. He doesn't recognize his need for an innocent sacrifice to take his place under God's just wrath for sin.

For those who have seen the movie, look up a study Bible and read the notes about Noah. Or write comment below with a question. I'd be happy to discuss the implications of Noah's account. It's a fascinating story that didn't really need the embellishments that were added to the movie.

The story has Noah, with brothers and sisters who reject God, standing alone in a world of beauty, walking with God in faith, then being instructed about the world's coming judgment. Noah would have had siblings, neices and nephews that were heading for God's rightful wrath. He would have been encouraging others to turn in faith and bring their sacrifice to God. While building the ark, looking like a madman to those around him, he would have been pleading with them to join him in the ark. Imagine the spectacle of those who disbelieved, when animals started marching into the ark. 120 years went by as Noah build this structure and sealed it with pitch. Then animals start heading to the ark, much like animals will flee from an area before an earthquake. They should have known something was happening. Maybe they did.

Then Noah entered the ark and the door was mysteriously shut. One door. Now closed. Then 7 days passed. Nothing happened. Imagine the ridicule. Imagine the doubt Noah might have had. Imagine what his family thought.

Then the rains came and the storm swells rose, the fountains of the deep burst forth and hurricane-force winds blew. The millions of people were swept away, drowned. Children, women, men, everything. The cities that Cain's descendants built were buried in sediment, the animals were killed while grazing, mammoths frozen in place on mountaintops that rose up as the continents broke free and crashed together, forming mountain ranges.

Noah then spent a year in the ark. The storm raged for a month and a half. The waters prevailed on the surface for six months. And dry land did not appear for another six months. Noah and his family spent time in a dark, wooden tomb with animals for all that time. Noah did not hear from God during that time. Imagine the desolation and strangeness of being cooped up in a structure for so long, tending to the animals and eating preserved grain, fruits and vegetables.

The world that awaited Noah was ravaged by God's fearsome judgment. Death floated on the waters and was buried in the mudslides of the land that appeared. The worst post-catastrophic images we can summon are nothing compared to an entire world absent anyone other than the few members of one's own family.

God's moral character is nothing to offend. That's the message of the Flood. We all have offended God's moral character. We know this because we can't stop fighting with each other. We can't stop gossiping. We can't stop coveting. We lust, we steal, we want what's not ours. We're brimming with pride, leading to envy and strife.

The story of Noah is a warning: absent faith in God's sacrifice, Jesus Christ, and His Lordship, we will all face God's just wrath. Not by water, but by fire. The people of Noah's day didn't listen, and suffered God's judgment.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Noah: The Untold Story Part 1

Noah, the Paramount Biblical “tentpole” film has grossed close to $200 million by now, if not more. World-wide ticket sales suggest that millioins of people have taken in the movie, which suggests they have at least a passing interest in the story.

With all the fanfare about the movie, from its vocal Atheist writer/director, to the “disclaimer” that Paramount put on marketing materials, I decided to watch the movie on one basis: Does it work as a movie. In other words, I'm not looking for Hollywood to faithfully exposit scripture. I trust them to illustrate God's word less than I do the average pastor in churches (who are, arguably, trained to do that well). I'll leave my reasons for my skepticism for some other post.

So, here goes with my thoughts on Noah. And, for full disclosure, I had to whittle this down a bit. Noah paints a post-Fall world inhabited by the rebellious descendants of Cain, the first murderer in harsh, forbidding tones. The movie recounts that mankind fell out of harmony with The Creator's world and spread destruction, being a cancerous ink blot on what was once beautiful. Noah, we learn, is the last descendant of the line of Seth, Adam's only good child after Cain killed Abel.

The setting is good, narratively. We have a seemingly dying remnant of goodness in the face of a massive population of murderous evil doers. Unfortunately, the movie uses this imagery in a way that it becomes a bit of hyperbole and edges the story into unbelievable fantasy. It's like Aronofsky wanted to paint an impressionist painting and yet have realism at the same time. It doesn't work. When I see the barren, charred, black landscape with tees ripped and burned, I wonder, where would any animals live? What do people eat? Granted, the Cain civilization allegedly eats meat, which is depicted as evil (a concept that is not made up apart from the Bible—God told Adam that he gave every plant for food, not every animal. God does not permit mankind to eat animals till after the Great Flood). But, if there are no plants, the planet is barren, there wouldn't be animals, there wouldn't be food. So, how are people surviving at all? It doesn't make sense. Then, Methuselah lives on a mountain that appears to be lush and green, but he claims he hasn't had any berries in a long time. He really likes berries. It begs the question, what does this old man eat? Apparently, he just drinks tea.

Then, the cursed angels from the Book of Enoch (an extra-Biblical text) show up and make the film look a bit like a Lord Of the Rings knock-off. It doesn't help the realism factor.

Methuselah gives Noah a seed from the original Garden Of Eden, which, when planted, seems to re-create the garden, complete with 4 rivers, as described in Genesis 2. Then, the animals all start showing up. From where? We're not told. It's just as much a surprise to the characters in the film.

The movie gets the general aspects of the story right: God has looked down and seen the wickedness of mankind and determined that He would have to destroy them with a world-wide flood, wiping the slate clean, as it were. Noah was chosen by The Creator to build an ark from the trees that were raised in the new Garden of Eden that sprouted, to “save the innocent.” In broad brush-strokes, this is what the Bible tells. I've seen this portrayed in children's story books the same way. It's simplistic, but generally accurate.

The movie also addresses the total depravity of mankind when Noah seeks wives for his two unmarried sons, Ham and Japheth. He witnesses the rancorous behavior of the people of Cain's city and is given a glimpse of the fact that all of them are just as wicked, himself included. Naturally, what separates Noah from the likes of Tubal-Cain is that God has seen that he's obedient to God's design—depicted in this movie as harmony with Creation—and that obedience allows God to talk to him and save him. Nonetheless, Noah becomes convinced, on his own, that mankind is the plague that God wishes to wipe clean, so no one should procreate.

This leads to the most controversial part of the movie, the crazed lunatic Noah. Many bristled at the idea of Noah being portrayed as murderous and a religious fanatic. For me, it seemed to be a warning against developing convictions about what God wants, absent a message from God. After all, Noah was told by Methuselah that God will speak to him in a way that he can understand. Thus, the visions that Noah has, indicating that he should build the Ark for the animals and his family. Noah never gets a vision about killing his family. He arrives at that on his own. And he's in personal turmoil. His turmoil continues until he realizes that wasn't The Creator's intent, and embraces the new beginning that is before him and his family.

In the end, the movie gets a passing, but average grade. The visuals are compelling, but a bit overdone and sometimes corny. The story, while staying broadly faithful to the story from the Bible, veers into melodramatic themes that drag the movie down.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review

I doubted whether a great Captain America movie would ever be made. I remember when the idea of super hero movies, other than Superman would ever get made.

Then there was Batman in 1989. But there was a long dry spell before anything else happened. The 1990s direct-to-video Captain America was rather painful to watch, though it made some attempt at being more comic-accurate than the 1970s TV movies.

Then came X-Men, which was okay. Not really my cup of tea, but okay. Then ... Spider-man. That was awesome. Sam Raimi and Sony translated Spidey from comic panel to silver screen seamlessly.

I waited for Captain America, sure they would be able to do the same for him. It would be another 10 years before that would happen.

I both feared and anticipated the movie, thrilled that it was being made, afraid of what they might do to make him more "relevant."

Thankfully, they kept his origin true and his morality spotless. He's like the Marvel Super-man, only a little more like Batman since he's not invincible with new powers whenever he needs them. He's unlike Batman in the way he lacks an endless supply of utilities in some magical belt.

I digress.

The first film bit off a lot for one movie. They introduced Steve Rogers, an orphan with a heart full of compassion for the downtrodden in the world and a North Star moral compass, always true. As he tells Natasha in the current movie, "I never lie." He doesn't. I like that.

They introduced him, gave him his powers, had him fight Hydra the whole of WWII and then froze him and brought him to modern times and introduced him to Nick Fury. That's a lot. More than the casual movie-goer can digest in one movie. And I think the character development suffered because of it.

But Marvel has done the same with their movies as they did with their comics--they've built critical mass (not necessarily the film critics, all the time). They have momentum and Easter eggs and after credit scenes and one-shot mini-movies ... They cross over the characters into other movies. This is all pretty exciting in a Saturday morning comic strip sort of thing. People like to connect the dots.

I do, too.

So, we come to Phase 2. Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, and Captain Americia: The Winter Soldier. IM3 was decent. Funny, fast-paced, but rather stupid in the end. As others have pointed out, it was the plot of The Incredibles. Thor: The Dark World, I thought, was excellent. Took the character to other realms, introduced ancient mythology and gave Thor time to show his self-sacrificing nature. And there was love interest, relational growth between him and his father and mother. There was pathos and swelling music during sad times as well as heroic action.

The Winter Soldier stands apart from those two movies. The plot is very timely and smart. It bites off a lot, just like the first one. But this time, it's not just the introduction of Sam Wilson--The Falcon, Sharon Carter--Agent 13, Brock Rumlow--Crossbones and a little more Nick Fury. The movie centers around the hot-topic of the day--Security vs. Freedom. This would have been relevant during the Bush years with the Patriot Act, but even more nowadays with the terror target drones from the Obama administration.

So, while The First Avenger felt more like a 1940s action-adventure serial, this one feels more like a hard-hitting political action thriller akin to The Bourne movies, only harder. The fact that there's super heroes in it is beside the point. You almost forget that amid the execution strike teams cutting off traffic on a bridge and gunning down everything in sight. The Winter Soldier is a vicious assassin unlike any other villain so far in the Marvel movies. He's ruthless and cold, without any charm (unlike Loki).

Where this movie suffers, though, is character development and pathos. While Thor had the love interest and the family ties, Steve Rogers only interacts with other spies, super heroes and extra-ordinary war veterans. In other words, we don't have clear access to his character's dramatic situation. It's hard to feel for a character that we can't truly understand. Not many of us lived through the Great Depression or fought in WWII. None of us can truly know what it's like to wake up in a world that would look like something from an H.G. Wells novel.

And, it isn't easy to get that sense from the way Steve is presented in this movie, or even in The Avengers. Aside from his comments about the new things he is discovering, we don't feel this change.

One part that almost does the job is when he goes into his apartment and some 1940s music is playing on a record player. But that scene is a bit too little to convey anything in light of the burst of action that happens right after that moment.

Overall, I think the movie is a great political action thriller and one of the best Marvel movies so far, in its own right. What it lacks in character development (like with Thor) it makes up for with story and action prowess.

But here's my wish list (and this goes for all the action/adventure/thriller movies that come out). Slow down and tell a personal story. Let us get to know the character with more than a bullet point list of history. Who IS Steve Rogers? What does he like to do? In the movie, he's asked that and he says, "I don't know."

That's not a good starting point for character development. In other words, Captain America is only a crusader for justice, nothing more.

I'd like to see him demonstrate his other interests. In the comics he loved to draw. Maybe he would enjoy old movies (he was at the movies in the first film before he got beat up). Perhaps he would be involved in an apartment social mixer. Or even a SHIELD social event.

Any one of those things would make him more human to the viewer.

I kept finding myself comparing The Winter Soldier to the TV show CHUCK. Steve would be Chuck, the asset. He's got skills in his body and mind that no one else can duplicate, though they've tried. He's got an old fashioned sense of right and wrong and a straight-arrow moral code which doesn't bend. Yet he's surrounded by gray-scale spies that are caught up in a program that is actually being run by an evil organization to which they've been blind.

Personally, they could have taken Natasha, the Black Widow, out of the movie, or lessened her role, and had more interaction with Sharon Carter, who could have been his secret "handler." Along with Nick Fury, who would be the hard-nosed, secret-wielding spy, Steve would be wondering what to believe (kind of like Chuck). They could have spent time with him making friends who don't realize he's Captain America and show him try to explain how he's feeling, while keeping his spy life secret.

That would have reduced the scale of the movie, perhaps, but would have made him more personal to the audience. Then, when events are set in motion, we would care more deeply about Steve and feel the shock of him learning about Sharon, etc.

That's my wish. A little less action, more character development.

But overall, a solid movie, albeit a rather fast-paced action-heavy one. Thankfully, it at least raises some political issues, keeping it from sticking to the floor of the movie theater with the rest of the popcorn. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Brothers of Christ

I'm so saddened by the state of this world some times. It's hard to see good when we're surrounded by so much madness. On one hand you have cults that lure people in under their mind control and use religious rites and emotional manipulation to draw people into a false race for 'heaven' of some sort.

Then you have the television evangelists and the mega church slicksters who promise wealth and good times here on earth.

The evangelicals rightly point out that those groups are "false teachers." But then we get the mainstream evangelicals hocking the Bible for money in tracts, movies, cups, mugs, jewelry and other junk.

Recently, Hollywood (you're supposed to jump back in sudden fright at that word, because it's eeeevil) produced a movie about Noah. Or, based upon the character that appears in the Bible, among other ancient texts. Unlike others, I never expected an atheist to produce a faithfully Biblical movie. Evidently, in addition to using the Book of Enoch, the director drew upon the Kabbalah.

Some Christians have endorsed the movie. Others have come out with cries of blasphemy as if the studio and director are attempting to deceive people and twist scripture. They have taken this up as a crusade to defend God and the Bible.

Personally, I wish Christians were so inclined to defend God's word where it is truly being twisted and where people are routinely being deceived: in churches the world over!

I'd like to see Christians show compassion for the lost like Paul did when he preached on Mars Hill, surrounded by pagan deities and false doctrine.

I know, we've got plenty of heresies that have sprung from Mars Hill, too. Some have justified using cheap marketing techniques to "attract" people to Christ, as if that's what Paul was doing.

And while Paul's approach might be debated, he certainly didn't go out and condemn people and slander them. He didn't go around rustling support for how pagan and blasphemous they were. He didn't incur their hate and then go telling everyone what a martyr he was or point out how much he was suffering for Christ.

How will the world learn of God's love, if not from His vessels? God's love doesn't point an angry finger, spew hateful words or berate the sinner. Jesus didn't chase the sinners around with a whip and tell them how blasphemous and evil they were.

Actually, he did that to the religious leaders. He reserved words like "brood of vipers," "hypocrites," and "dead men's bones" for the self-righteous, self-aggrandizing men who condescended to everyone else about doctrine, The Law, theology, etc. They had the P.H.D.s, the Masters of Divinity, the weighty Theses and stern looks toward the rabble they hoped to lead. And Jesus said they bound men up with heavy burdens and made the twice the sons of Hell as they were.

These men are still around. They still "lead" the church. They're the scribes and Pharasees who rail against a Hollywood movie, yet tune in to TV and consume the whole of our culture. They rail against those evil pagans, not blinking at the pride swelling in their hearts for their own righteousness.

Christ followers are not supposed to be like that. We're supposed to be respectful of everyone. We are to humble ourselves and put others first. We are to show the love of God, not in getting reviled because we're jerks, but in humbling ourselves in the face of those who would revile us for our faith.

So, I'm feeling all alone out here. Not that I think Christians should or shouldn't see a Hollywood picture called Noah. We shouldn't endorse it or denounce it. It's the world. But we should humble ourselves in service to those around us. We should esteem others and treat them with respect.

We should behave like son's of God and brothers of Christ.