April 20, 2014

Happy Easter 2014

This season of Lent, the kids and I did a study of all the "I am" statements that Jesus made in the book of John.  Here they are:
  • I am the source of living water:  John 4:1-14, 7:37-39
  • I am the Messiah:  John 4:15-26
  • I am the Bread of Life:  John 6: 25 - 40
  • I am the Bread from Heaven:  John 6:41-59
  • I am the Light of the World:  John 8:12-18, 9:1-5
  • I am YHWH:  John 8:52-58 with references to Exodus 3:14
  • I am the Gate for the Sheep:  John 10:1-10
  • I am the Good Shepherd who lays his life down for his sheep:  John 10:11-18
  • I have authority to lay down my life for my sheep and take it up again:  John 10:11-18
  • I am one with God the Father:  John 10: 25-30,  14:8-14
  • I am the Resurrection and the Life:  john 11:12-27
  • I am the way, the truth, the life; No one gets to God the Father, except through me:  John 14:1-7
I have always thought that John wrote with a sense of humor.  In the past, I have laughed through Jesus' "Whose Your Daddy" argument with the Pharisees in John 8.  This year, my funny bone was struck in John 9.  His disciples raise a theological argument when they see a man  born blind begging in the streets (which of course, is EXACTLY what Jesus wants us to do--NOT).  They ask Jesus if he is blind because of his sins or his parents.  Jesus tells them there is another option:  a chance to see the glory of God at work.  Then he hocks a goober, makes mud with it, and smears the man's eyes with it.  Not exactly what we think of when we hear the words "The Glory of God."  And yet, the man was able to see once he washed the mud out of his eyes.  The story has both a happy and sad ending.  The sad ending is that there were people who saw this miracle, the first unique miracle that Jesus had performed, restoring a genetic defect, and still didn't believe.  They condemned Jesus for breaking their Sabbath rules (not God's) and plotted his death, thinking that God wouldn't save him because Jesus was a sinner.  When they saw Jesus hanging on the cross, thought that God's judgment against him was complete.  Proof that we will believe what we choose to believe, even with evidence for God's existence, His grace, love and mercy staring us in the face.  We see the light, but prefer darkness and blindness to really seeing and really living. But the Good News is that God's Judgement, which WAS placed on Jesus at the cross on our behalf, was replace by grace and mercy when Jesus rose again from the dead, proving once and for all that all the claims he made before the cross were true.  And Jesus still offers grace and mercy to the blind and real life to those who are the living dead.  My prayer is that today, they would see and live.

Christ is Risen!  He is risen indeed!

April 3, 2014

A different perspective of "Noah"

My husband and I went against advice from many Christians and saw "Noah" at the theaters last weekend with some other friends.  Now, whenever Hollywood adapts a book, you know that it is going to be somewhat messed up.  As great a job as Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens did in adapting "The Lord of the Rings" Trilogy, there were several changes that they made that I really didn't like at all and for that reason, I don't like the second movie as much.  I also do not like what they are doing with the unnecessary love triangle in "The Hobbit" series, nor do I think that it needed to be three movies.  There are worse adaptations.  My daughter shudders and begins ranting whenever we mention the movie "Earagon" because the movie was such a hatchet job of the book.

And with the Bible having very various levels of detail in its accounts of history and some of its history sounding a bit implausible, it is ripe for speculation and modification.  Let's face it, very few movies based on the Bible include all aspects of the Bible story or make changes.  For instance, "The Prince of Egypt", hailed by the Christian community in general, has a young, handsome Moses, rather than an eighty year old man who probably had already had kids and raised them.   Therefore, I did not have high expectations of a story that matched the Bible.  I will try not to include spoilers in case you want to be surprised.

"Noah" stars Inspector Javert ("Les Mis"), I mean Russell Crowe playing Inspector Javert as Noah, a man who is totally obsessed with God's judgment and justice and totally blind to God's love and mercy. His wife is played by Alicia Nash ("A Beautiful Mind"), I mean Jennifer Connely playing Alicia Nash as Naameh, who has to hold the family together and still manage to love her husband as he moves from grim determination to grim reaper wannabe.  Earnest, smart and resourceful Hermione Granger ("Harry Potter") makes an appearance as Shem's matrimonial prospect and Percy Jackson ("Percy Jackson" series) plays the middle brother, Ham, who still has daddy issues and a chip on his shoulder that causes him to be sullen and resentful through most of the movie, though in this case, he actually might have a good reason to be.  There are other bit characters who don't do much, except, of course,  for the bad guy.  The movie is okay until the rain appears because there is hope and a wee bit of humor provided by Odin ("Thor"), I mean Methuselah.  Once the rains come and Methuselah dies however, the story grows unrelentingly grim as Noah abandons all hope for mankind and a snake enters the garden. Oh wait, that is flashback played multiple times throughout the movie, along with Cain killing Abel.

Artistically, the movie has beautiful cinematography.  I give kudos to Matthew Libatique, cinematographer, and ILM for the visual excellence.  The desolation of the land shows the utter desolation of man's spirit as he pursues his own selfish pleasures.  The sky is amazing.  Once scene reminded me of Jesus' promise that streams of living water flow from him.  And there are other visual treats.  The flood scene is spectacular and very similar to what I have imagined from the Biblical account.  The dialogue and characters, however are pretty flat, like out of a mediocre action movie. And the word grim seems to be the only appropriate description of the tone and message of the movie.

What the movie gets right:
- The evil people don't want to follow God.  They want to do whatever they want to whoever they want and use the world created by God for their own selfish pleasure as Romans 1:20-21 states.  It is only when their doom is impending that one of them asks God why He doesn't speak to him.
- God created everything*. He created it good, including Adam and Eve. (Genesis 1-2)
- Adam and Eve, encouraged by the snake sinned against God and soon after saw their son Cain kill their son Abel. (Genesis 3-4)
- The basic elements of the flood--Noah following God, God telling him to build an ark for his family and the animals as outlined in Genesis 6 &7 are followed with two major exceptions  which I won't divulge to avoid a spoiler.  In both cases the variation is a plot device to be consistent with the director's version and/or to get an idea across through repetition.
- God is powerful enough to throw down angels to earth and cause a forest to grow from desolate surroundings.  He creates beauty.  (Verses about God's power are too numerous to mention)
-  The earth was flooded, not just from 40 days of rain but from water bursting from the ground.(Genesis 7:11-12).
- God provides everything they need to carry out his instructions. (Many Bible verses again proclaim God's provision)
- Nephilim are mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 6:4
(* In the creation account told by Noah in the movie, the montage of images shows animals evolving, though God is credited with creating them)

Speculation with the purpose to advance the story or highlight some idea:
-  Noah and his family are vegetarian, flower children.  Considering that in Genesis 1:29, God only gives them permission to eat plants and in Genesis 9:3, He explicitly gives Noah and his family permission to eat food, this isn't purely a tree-hugger piece of propaganda.  Furthermore, even today, some Christians see the Genesis 1:28 verse as a mandate to be good stewards and caretakers of the planet rather than masters using it for our purposes.  This movie contrasts Noah's view with the bad guy's carnivorous eating habits, which some have deemed to be environmentalist propaganda. 
- Noah misunderstands God's purpose and focuses on the judgment of God, forgetting about His mercy and love.  This is actually a pretty well documented human condition (Jonah, Saul, the Pharisees, Peter, Paul, not to mention current leaders).   Heck, I have experienced the tap or whack of God's heavenly 2x4 correcting my vision of Him or the job He has given me to do on multiple occasions.  However, the director stretches this concept to almost the breaking point.
-  Noah received help from the Nephilim.  This is pure speculation.  The Bible doesn't specifically mention any help from outside sources, but then again, there is very little information about how it was built, including a specific timeline of how long it took.
- Tubal-Cain is the bad guy.  This could be possible because everyone lived a long time in Noah's day and the Bible doesn't scrupulously record timelines for Cain's progeny as it does for Seth's line.  What I did discover when I did a timeline with the kids several years ago is that Noah's great-grandfather probably had seen Adam alive.

Things that are outright wrong:
- There are two other big changes to the story as I have mentioned previously but I don't want to reveal them and spoil it for anyone planning to see the movie.  They are obvious to anyone who knows the Biblical account of the flood.  The only problems I have with one of them is that it might make God seem either remote or unable to accomplish His will.
-  The Nephilim are changed from the giant offspring of female humans and "Sons of God" (whatever they are) to angels that God kicked out of heaven for helping Adam and Eve after they sinned.  To me, this is a grievous change because it portrays God as vindictive and merciless, even though God shows His mercy in the Bible by clothing Adam and Eve and he even lets Cain live after killing Abel and offers to protect him.  Once again,  I have no problem with Nephilim as rock monsters and helpers of Noah, only as symbols of God's lack of mercy.
-  God is portrayed as solely a God of judgment and not of mercy.  Noah cannot see God's mercy extended to human through the ark.  And it is Tubal-Cain, the bad guy, that expresses the idea that man is made in the image of God, not the man who follows God.  Even when Noah shows love and mercy, he does not attribute it to God.  And this is where I do feel that God's name is trampled and blasphemed.

Considering that the writer/director is an atheist using Jewish mystical books and considers this a myth subject to artistic license, the fact that "Noah" gets anything right should be considered an act of God.  This is certainly not the worst adaptation of the story of God's great flood.  That honor goes to a TV miniseries called "Noah's Ark" and starred Jon Voigt as Noah, who was placed as a contemporary of Lot and Sodom/Gomorrah and in which God finished the ark for Noah because he became impatient (as IF).  My husband I turned it off after half an hour because we couldn't stomach it.  Maybe the awfulness of "Noah's Ark" has, in comparison, made this version seem less offensive.  My husband and I were, after all able to sit through the whole movie rather than walking out of it.  I confess that maybe I am working too hard to see God's word in this movie.  It definitely caused me to re-read the Genesis account of the flood, which is always a good thing.  I can see why Christians get upset by the movie and why they might not want to line the pockets of the "godless Hollywood blasphemers."  If you don't want to give money to the writer/director, then wait for it to be on Neflix or whatever movie service you use.  But I would encourage Christians to see the movie themselves and form their own opinion of the movie rather than parrot their pastors or friends or Christian critics or even reviewers like me.  And as Christians, we should be highlighting the story of the  flood and mercy shown by the ark providing salvation to some as a foreshadowing of the story of the cross and how God managed to merge His judgment with His mercy to save His beloved children by faith in Jesus Christ.

"On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”"  Matthew 9:12-13

"Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment"  James 2:12-13