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If there were a manual for interacting with Bible stories, I would like to think the first line might be something like, “Forget everything you know.” The second line, “Engage your imagination fully.” In such a world of wonder and mystery, a world of wild spaces and untamed humanity, one easily gets lost when navigating with a 21st century mind. To imagine that God is a God of wildness, wonder and mystery, the Divine one who is constantly creating would be to unlock a door to a heart that has been sealed by industrial strength guilt, shame and fear. These were the very forces that overtook Adam and Eve (according to the old, old story).
Speaking of ancient humanity and creation stories, I really thought “Noah” was a decent movie, a great story and a wonderful jaunt for the imagination, and here is the key word, imagination. Let’s face it, if the movie was merely based on the scant literary information found in Biblical text, it just wouldn’t be that great of a movie. We forget, so often, that when we are reading the Noah Bible story of Genesis, we’re using our imagination to interact with a story and to expand meaning. The movie re-imagines an ancient story, inviting us to do more of the same. If we were part of that early community to whom the story first belonged, we might be sitting around a campfire or a dinner table listening to Uncle John tell us about how we came to BE in the world and our imagination would be on fire.
“Noah” re-imagines a world where the ancient human is completely dependent on the Creator (the movie’s language) to sustain daily life. The Creator provides according to the Creator’s will, which is basically Divine goodness. The Creator places this goodness in the human self and the development of the self is intended to unfold according to this awareness (that is, if not for the tragic garden event.) This is Noah’s language throughout most of the movie as he tries to follow his understanding of Divine will.
However, in this early, ancient world of 10th generation humans, the spirits of good and evil are at full on war, within and without. How do you depict a war of good and evil waged in the human soul? The Nephilim roam the earth, evidence of God’s footsteps in the garden still appears now and then and from this garden emerge the two paths, light and dark, the divine and the shadow sides of human nature. Even Noah is complicit (the human struggle) as the movie suggests, under extreme pressure and on the brink of insanity, he moves towards the dark side himself. The whole world was literally on his shoulders, we would all crack a little, if not a lot, under such pressure with no entourage to do political spin on our behalf. In such a world, the Watchers, magic berries, sleep inducing herbs, seeds of Eden and golden fire rocks seem to make sense. The Bible world is not a flattened out reality, the one that we sometimes live in when we overlay our millennia of information and technology (not to mention 2000 years plus of theology) over such ancient creation stories. There are many layers, helpful though they are, to peel back.
To engage Bible story with imagination might also give us the courage to take the God we have created in our own image out of the box, the box we’ve built for a God we can manipulate and comprehend. The truth is, the Divine will still be the creative force of our universe, not to mention all the other numerous galaxies that float and hover around us, long after we are gone. This is a mystery we’ve been trying to capture since we knew how to speak and dream and tell stories.