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Posted by on Mar 30, 2014 | 1 comment

Noah’s Righteousness Contra the Wicked

noah

Noah confronted by Tubal-cain

This post is not yet another assessment of the recently released movie Noah. Others have done a good (and not so good) job of evaluating how this movie harmonizes with the biblical account. Instead, this post is using the excuse of a new and popular movie to return to a key biblical theme that carries water in our current age: wickedness and righteousness.

In Genesis 6:5 it is written:

The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. (NRSV)

The language at the start of this verse should be familiar. Where have we heard it prior in the book of Genesis? The last time the verb “to see” (ראה) contained God as the subject of seeing is in the creation account. God saw the light, the vegetation, the beasts, and the human, that is, all that he had made and it was very good. The next time the text points to God’s seeing is not in the goodness of what He has created, but rather in the wickedness (the literal Hebrew here is “the evil”) of humankind. The link between Genesis 1 and 6 is evident in the verse that follows:

So the Lord said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Gen 6:6)

Iain Provan (Professor of Biblical Studies, Regent College), hits on this connection between the first and sixth chapters of Genesis in his newest book when he writes that “the wordplay underlines the point that is being made: striving to change themselves into immortal beings, humans have succeeded only in changing the world for the worse.”[1] What the Creator saw good in the beginning has been perverted into evil in the hands of creatures.

Noah, as we know, is the exception to God’s proclamation of wickedness. Gen 6:9 describes Noah as “a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God.” The righteous designation here is glossed from two Hebrew adjectives: righteous/innocent/upright (זדיק) and complete/unscathed/blameless (תּמימ). The only other time these two adjectives appear together is in the book of Job, when in 12:5 Job laments that despite being a “just and blameless” man, he is the laughing stock. So, what I think we have here in Genesis is not a picture of Noah as a perfect, sinless man, but rather as a man who has not been taken in by the wickedness, the evils of his generation. Noah is a man who stands apart, much like Job represents in his own narrative a man who is not to be treated as though his suffering was simply divine retribution for his sins. Neither Noah nor Job stood on the side of sinners—this does not suggest perfection but a proper orientation.

So, what is it that makes Noah blameless and the rest of humanity guilty in Genesis 6? It is in providing an answer to this question that I believe the recent Noah movie provides a helpful imaginative lens. Here we have humanity depicted in its violence, its selfishness, its will to power, its insistence on self-sovereignty and we have Noah (and his family) in stark contrast as gentle, selfless, and an understanding of himself as a creature of the sovereign Creator. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his account Creation and Fall writes on what it means to be creatures who bear the image of the Creator. He writes:

In man God creates his image on earth. This means that man is like the Creator in that he is free. Actually he is free only by God’s creation, by means of the Word of God; he is free for the worship of the Creator. In the language of the Bible, freedom is not something man has for himself but something he has for others…No substantial or individualistic concept of freedom can conceive of freedom. I have no control over freedom as a property.[2]

Bonhoeffer recognizes that the technological age represents the shift from humanity having freedom over creation  to the enstrangement between the two because “we do not know the world as God’s creation, and because we do not receive our dominion as God-given, but grasp it for ourselves…There is no dominion without serving God.”[3] Here Bonhoeffer has hit on what distinguishes Noah from the wicked who filled the earth. It is not a perfect purity that stands Noah apart, but a rightly understood dominion over creation that requires the posture of worship.

In closing, the point I would like to drive home is that the wickedness of Genesis 6 is a wickedness not of a particular sort (e.g. lack of creation care or sexual perversion or violent relations), but wickedness of the general sort: a wickedness that is shaped by distorted view of what it means to be an image-bearing creature. A wickedness that confuses dominion for individual mastery. A wickedness that forgets themselves to be creatures in a subservient relation to their Creator. A wickedness that demands the freedom of the individual whilst forgetting that freedom is a gift, which is a freedom for the other. It is wickedness that Aronofsky’s Noah captures quite well.

 


[1] Iain Provan, Seriously Dangerous Religion: What the Old Testament Really Says and Why it Matters (Waco, TX: Baylor Press, 2014), 170.

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall, Temptation: Two Biblical Studies, trans. John C. Fletcher (NY: Touchstone, 1959), 39-40.

[3] Ibid., 43.

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Rachel

Living in Texas. Studying Theology at Baylor. Enjoying the company of a handsome bearded man. Interested in bible reading theologians and theologically-minded biblical scholars.
  • http://www.manyhorizons.com/ Kevin Greenlee

    Good post Rachel, and though you’re not talking about the film directly, I think it’d be a good post to show to someone (open minded) who was bothered by the film.

    And did you intend the half-pun with “carries water”?