With Noah coming out and setting all sorts of records this weekend, Christians have entered into a strange era in the history of popular culture in America. We are in a season when the entertainment world is trying to tell (and sell) us our own story.
The huge success of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ set a new precedent in Hollywood. The industry found a mother lode in faith-based entertainment. $600 million is not going to go unnoticed in Hollywood. Whenever a big success like this happens, moviemakers study what happened and turn it into a formula for a rash of other movies that try to hone in on the success. The Passion created a new market. It brought people into the theaters who had hardly ever been there before. Churches went nuts. One church in Georgia has gotten into the act making its own widely successful movies. Facing the Giants and Fireproof have paved the way for Blindside, God’s Not Dead and Heaven is For Real, just to name a few.
Something about the world telling our story seems backwards. They’re finding parts of our story they’d like to tell; they are consulting with us on how to tell it; we debate about their chances of getting it right; we all go to the theater and judge their efforts. I remember when we were going to save the world with our guitars. Now the world is singing our song and I’m not sure anyone’s getting saved.
I think we need to look for a silver lining here. What can we get out of this?
If we are going to get anything meaningful for faith out of a movie like Noah, we need to get way beyond the “Did they get it right?” debate. Of course they didn’t. Christians wouldn’t be able to get it right either. Creating a two-hour dramatization of a story that takes up a few paragraphs in the Bible is going to be full of creative interpretation, whoever tells it. The value of dramatizing a biblical story is to help the story become more real and the characters more human.
Numerous times in my own work I have attempted to capture a biblical story in writing as a novelist would. In doing so, I place myself in the story – let’s use the Last Supper as an example – and I imagine myself at the table thinking and feeling with the disciples. What does it look like, what does it smell like, what does it taste like, what are the sounds I hear, and what must have been going on in the mind of a disciple? Will I be right? Of course not, but I’ll be close, and in the process, the story comes alive. The point is to identify with the characters and allow a one dimensional story made up of words on a page to become real in my imagination. The end result of this exercise is always to have my faith enriched as the reality of what had to have happened comes home to me. If it wasn’t exactly what I imagined, it was certainly something like that.
The other value of having a biblical movie like Noah get the media attention it’s getting is that the subject came up. The story of Noah is now a cultural event. You can talk to just about anybody about it, and when you do, the main themes of judgment and salvation are the ones that are most prominent. Imagine that: Hollywood giving us the opportunity for a cultural conversation about judgment and salvation. If God judged the earth once, He can do it again, but, just as in Noah’s day, the important thing is that He always provides a way out. Yes, He is a God of judgment (who would want a God who wasn’t?), but He is also a God of mercy, and He always provides a way to Himself through faith.
Like all Bible stories, this one, too, ends up with Jesus, and that’s where we all want to be.