Justice, Mercy and that Awkward Moment with Ham – Reflecting on Noah Post 3

I keep thinking and blogging about the movie Noah and have found it to be an appropriate exercise throughout Lent. If you are just stopping in, welcome and consider this your spoiler alert. If you’d like some earlier context, check out earlier posts “Presuppositions and Expectations – Post 1″ & “The Complexity of Calling – Post 2.”

By far my favorite part of Noah was the tension between justice and mercy. The plot twist of watching a Noah who has either gone mad or is truly convinced that the Creator has called him to consider such extreme action is powerful to say the least. Now we know that Noah is not actually going to kill any member of his family, you know because it kinda contradicts the story of human history (even if one does not take the story literally). In that light, the movie becomes an odd conspiracy theory/scandal not a modern retelling of an ancient apocalyptic account. Further, it’s not like Martin Scorcese directed it and made Noah into the prequel of The Departed. (Can you imagine that – everyone getting killed by the antagonist then a rhino runs him over just before the credits roll while a children’s choir sings, “Rise and Shine, Arky, Arky”). Whatever one wants to say about the movie, Darren Aronosky does an amazing job with the tension of justice and mercy.

Knowing that Noah is not going slay the innocent is not the point at all. The best part is watching him struggle and discovering why he does not. (Hearing Noah say this is my favorite moment of the movie. If you saw it you know it, if you haven’t, it’s the one thing I won’t ruin for you). It’s not that justice loses in the end and it’s not necessarily that mercy wins. Rather it’s that even in such a broken world, the greatest virtues we can know always find a way to prevail and coexist.

One of my favorite parts of Scripture is how it includes the flaws of those who are also praised for their righteousness. Abraham is considered righteous but gives his wife to a king so he doesn’t get killed. His grandson Jacob is going to scheme his way into blessing, then repents after he has acquired great wealth (yeah, that’s a convenient time for most thieves to repent right?). We could go on and on from King David the corrupt to the doubt and self-righteousness of most of the prophets.

And here we have Noah, drunk, naked, depressed – the Scriptures don’t hold back. For a moment, imagine the survivors’ guilt. If the experience itself wasn’t soul-crushing enough, leaving the ark with the feeling of “We are the last people on earth – what just happened and now what??” would cripple most.

There is the rainbow of promise but as Noah sinks into depression, there are no further visions of encouragement, no high-fives, no next steps in this divine plan, just a vow saying “We won’t do that again.” And so Noah mopes , isolates, squanders and drinks. Depending on your view of God, you might expect Him to throw a tantrum, “I single you and your family to be spared from catastrophe and now you’re in a drunk in a cave??” Instead, God seems content to give Noah all the time he needs to figure this out. Unfortunately, Noah and his family take an awkward route here.

There is this extremely bizarre part where Ham’s son, Canaan, gets cursed for seeing his “father’s nakedness”. Noah’s others sons come with a blanket but Noah is so angry he curses Canaan/Ham. Seems like an over-reaction since I imagine there was a lot of accidental nudity in a world of togas, loin cloths and robes and before the invention of underwear and zip-fly jeans and where does Canaan come from?? Aronosky uses more of a traditional interpretation here and relies on the building tension between Noah and Ham.

However, there are some commentators whom have speculated that “Noah’s nakedness” is a euphemism implying that Ham slept with his own mother and later Canaan was the result of such act(s). Is this why the brothers have to walk in backwards and cover the “nakedness?” They could be referring to the actual encounter(s) or the arrival of the new birth of Canaan. Is this why Noah gets so angry? It’s a tricky passage to dissect in a blog post as there are numerous theories along this tract and its difficult for interpreters to agree on the timeline and whether pieces of the story are over-laid and interpreted as they are given an account. That said, if something like this happened, well, yes, that might get you cursed and banished and frankly he’s lucky he was not killed.

To repeat, that interpretation is not in the movie and we’ll never know what actually happened but again, among my favorite parts of Scripture is how it includes both the miraculous, the scandalous, the great faith, doubt, depression and all the joy. Why does Noah become a drunk after having been part of an amazing experience of justice and mercy?

Is it possible that in the pain of all this, Noah begins to see a little of how God sees humanity. Is it possible that despite being so benevolent, wickedness can still happen, is it possible that a father saves his son’s life only to have him repay him by betrayal and possibly worse?

Is the anger of Noah at the end of the story a similar anger as God’s in the beginning? Is it possible to still love a humanity that is capable of committing such atrocities? If so, why does God nearly wipe out nearly all of  humanity? And why does He only do it once? That’s the content of the next post, hope you come back.

In the meantime, it feels the answer is that God loves humanity despite our flaws. The story of Noah and the rest of Scripture and clearly, Easter, confirms this. We are both despicable and beautiful and worth  redeeming through justice and love. May we not only see the tension, but like Noah, may we experience it first-hand so that we may be greater lovers of justice and mercy and in doing so draw closer to God and grow in our care for others.

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